Here are some other photos I took at Land’s End.
If you ever make it out to the west coast, it’s definitely worth a visit. Go off the beaten path - you’ll be glad you did.
Yay! Thank you so much! This totally made my night. Feel free to shoot me an email if you want to hang out while I’m in town! I’ll be there for about 6 days before I fly to Hawaii for museum classes the next week.
My flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco was delayed by four hours due to fog, but I made it there eventually. I was staying with my friend Chris for the first half of my trip, and because he didn’t have a car I took a shuttle to his apartment. Once I got my bags upstairs, we went out for sushi at his favorite restaurant, which served a small dish of jelly beans with the bill. It was pretty awesome.
On Thursday morning, I took a city bus for the first time in my life. Chris and I had breakfast at a small diner on a cliff overlooking the ocean at a park called Land’s End. This is a piece I wrote the week I was in San Francisco, and I feel that it is important to share right now.
A little over a decade ago, one of the most important people in my life committed suicide.
On Christmas Day of 2002, my uncle (my mother’s brother) sent out a few farewell emails and drove to the Golden Gate Bridge, where he leapt over the side and was never seen again.
I was twelve years old.
Losing someone to suicide is a feeling I cannot even begin to explain to someone who has never experienced it, especially when a body is never recovered. I spent the rest of my childhood struggling to keep it together, not only for myself but for my mother. She and John were extremely close and I’m not sure how much of a reality this could have even been, but I awoke every morning with the sinking fear that she had done the same thing as John because she was so immensely depressed.
At twelve, my grandparents thought I was too young to understand and that they should try to “protect” me from what had actually happened by claiming it was an accident. It took me about five minutes to figure out that it wasn’t. My family then tried to cover up who John had actually been, throwing out a majority of his music collection because they thought it would be “too sad” and I would kill myself too, Joy Division being my cause of death.
When we flew out to San Francisco to make arrangements for the memorial, I never laid eyes on the actual Golden Gate, either because it was avoided entirely or because my eyes were covered. I can’t remember. John’s apartment was already packed up and leased to someone else. I was given his too-big leather jacket and a Kate Bush CD that had once belonged to him, and that was kind of the end of things as far as my family was concerned. Sure, they were sad sometimes, but only the sadness was ever talked about. Who John really was was never mentioned again.
Over the years, I began reconnecting with John’s friends. Every time I reached out to one of them by email or Facebook, I prefaced my message with “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I’m John Pavlat’s niece” and I always got the response “Of course I know who you are! You were the light of his life.” I learned little things about him, was sent things that people thought rightfully belonged to me. I have what was recovered of his music collection. I have his 35mm negatives and contact sheets. I’ve learned that we listened to the same music and that I photograph architecture in the same style. My family spent so long trying to keep me from his memory because they were afraid I’d be like him, but I am anyway — all the parts except the suicide.
I think about what people tell me. I was the light of his life. I was the light of his life, but he missed my prom and my high-school graduation. He wasn’t there to make snarky comments when I brought my first serious boyfriend home to meet my family, and he didn’t watch me walk across the stage at U of M to claim my fake diploma last April. He’s not here now to see how I’ve built an entire business from a dead squirrel and a bottle of wine. I am sad every time I accomplish something that should be joyous because he had the opportunity to be present just like the rest of my family, and he chose to do this instead. His suicide pisses me off. Every time something important happens in my life, I will be happy for myself but this tiny dark cloud will always be over my head.
This week, I came back to San Francisco for the first time in more than ten years. I stayed with my friend Chris and on Thursday morning we took the bus to Land’s End, hiked a bit, and I climbed an actual cliff in sandals until we reached a flat spot. When I was on level ground and turned to my right, I saw the Golden Gate Bridge in person for the first time in my entire life. Chris wanted to climb a bit more so I sat down and took it all in. What I’ve written above is mostly what I thought about for the next thirty minutes or so, but it’s all been running through my head for a decade as I uncover more truths. Chris took this photo. I’m finally at ease with what happened, at least as much as I can be.
PS: Not to turn this into a PSA or anything, but suicide sucks and if you’re depressed, get help. Ending your own suffering will create something infinitely worse for many people.
The last weekend of July, I had a class scheduled in Los Angeles. I ordered all of the rabbits for the class from a company called RodentPro and had them shipped to the hostess Olivia’s apartment. Unfortunately, she lived in a gated building on Sunset in Echo Park, which meant that FedEx couldn’t deliver the box. I called her frantically until she called me back, and she sent her friend Demetra to pick the rabbits up. Crisis averted.
I boarded the plane in Cleveland, dreading having to sit in the very last row with no reclining seat. Next to me were two pretty friendly guys, and the one right next to me was actually cute, which is the first time that had ever happened to me. We got to talking, and then the guy on the other side chimed in, and over the course of our non-stop flight I learned that the hot guy had a girlfriend and that the EXTREMELY muscular guy on his other side was a professional arm wrestler on his way to film a pilot for a show about arm wrestling. He also introduced us to his friend, also on the plane, who was the world champion of arm-wrestling. It was by far the most interesting flight I had ever been on.
When we arrived, I hopped off the plane at LAX with my dreams and a cardigan. I had Miley Cyrus stuck in my head. Olivia picked me up and took me out to dinner at a restaurant with flaming margaritas. My first time in Los Angeles was off to a good start.
On Saturday and Sunday I had classes, and both went extremely well. One of Saturday’s students was the set dresser for the show Workaholics, and we made arrangements for me to send her some taxidermy pieces to use in the designs.
Sunday afternoon, after helping me clean up, three of my students from the Long Beach area took me out to late lunch at Brite Spot. Michelle, Mayra, and Melissa split my bill and paid for it while I was in the bathroom.
Monday night, I had a date with the “one that got away.” Nicky and I had met in 2010 in the fitting room of H&M in Michigan. I worked there, and he was looking for some pants. I knew quite well that the size he was looking for was out of stock, but I seized the opportunity to flirt with him anyway. What I expected to be a one-night stand turned into a strange sort of relationship that ultimately ended when he went back home to Las Vegas a few weeks later. Since 2010, Nicky had established himself in LA and I was looking forward to seeing him. I wore the same low-back Fotoula dress I had worn at my dad’s wedding with those sticky chicken-cutlet bra thingies because I couldn’t wear anything else under it.
Nicky picked me up outside Olivia’s apartment in his fancy car. Realizing he had forgotten something at his apartment, he asked if it was okay if we ran back there. Inside, on the couch, sat Nick’s roommate Alex, drinking PBR and playing a video game. Alex asked if we wanted to have a drink, and after doing shots of Maker’s Mark at their apartment my fancy date with Nicky turned into drinking at a local dive and eating tater tots with Nick and his BFF.
When we walked back to their apartment (I was so glad I had opted for sandals instead of high heels) the two of them invited me inside. We spent the remainder of the evening with a mustache taped to the TV, watching Orange County, and taking a drink of PBR every time someone’s face lined up with the mustache on the television.
After the movie ended, Alex went to bed. Nicky and I switched out our beers for glasses of water and migrated into his bedroom. When I woke up the next morning, my chicken-cutlet bra had somehow stuck itself to my wallet.
Nicky drove me back to Olivia’s, where we had breakfast and went about our day.
Fotoula, who had also recently moved to Los Angeles, took me out for lunch at the Venice boardwalk and I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time in over a decade. My business had literally taken me coast-to-coast in less than a year and I couldn’t wait to see what the future had to offer.
On Fourth of July, Adam invited me to his parents’ house for a family gathering with his aunts, uncles, and cousins. We had so much fun and I felt like I had found a family to belong to in Cleveland.
About a month before, I had purchased tickets to a Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers game. I wore my Tigers shirt and Adam wore his Tribe hat. The two of us sat together right behind home plate, elbowing each other when our respective teams got runs and booing when they struck out. Alex Avila (a Tiger, for those of you unfamiliar) hit a foul ball back into the stands and I almost caught it, except for the whole Adam-being-six-foot-four thing. He snatched it out of the air right above me and then wouldn’t let me have the ball, stating that it was his “lifelong dream to catch a fly ball” even though a) I had purchased the tickets and b) it was a ball hit by one of MY team members! Again, warning signs.
Two days later, Adam came over to my house to hang out. I was showing him some of the handmade books I had completed recently, and in the middle of our conversation he just said “I think we should just be friends.”
I laughed. I thought it was some kind of weird comedian thing he was doing.
"I don’t think we should date anymore," he said. I laughed again. He looked me in the eye.
"Seriously. I don’t feel anything for you.”
"Oh…" I said.
"So are you okay?" he asked. I was still holding the journal I had made. I shrugged.
"Yeah, I guess…"
"Alright! Well, you’re cool so I’m sure we’ll see each other around!" He gave me an awkward sideways hug and got in his car. Crammed halfway under the back seat floor mat was the packet of Trilobite eggs I bought him in Seattle. It was only after I called Candra to ask her to come over that I started to cry. I went outside to wait on the front porch, and Mandy was outside with her dog. Despite being a little strange, she was still a great comfort to me. She listened to me cry, and when Candra arrived the three of us sat on the porch eating Italian ice and talking about how he had been acting weird for a few days.
I went through all the stages of grief in about fifteen minutes, finally arriving at the conclusion that Adam had been kind of a jerk in recent days and that there were plenty of fish in the sea. I also realized that I would be in Los Angeles in a week and a half, and that my “one who got away” lived there, so I had high hopes.
I spent the time leading up to that trip hanging out at Salty not Sweet with Candra, making jewelry and talking shit. We went to the beach a lot, and one evening the two of us invited our friend Melissa to the beach as well. On a whim, we stripped down to our skivvies and jumped in the lake. I babysat my tattoo artist’s sugar glider and traded her for a new tattoo. Single life was great and I knew I was gonna be juuuuuust fine.
Sending anonymous/mean messages calling me a bitch (and other rude names/adjectives) is extremely childish and definitely not appreciated. If you don’t like what I post on social media, don’t read it. And certainly don’t go bullying me under the veil of anonymity simply because you can.
The way you make others feel about themselves says more about you than it does about them. The fleeting sense of satisfaction you get when you make someone feel bad about themselves is just that - a fleeting moment. It’s over as soon as it begins. When that moment ends, you aren’t any better off than you were before and the person you were mean to feels lower than low.
You may be sending a digital nastygram but the person on the receiving end is still a real person deserving of some level of compassion and decency.
Adam and I spent all of June doing boyfriend-girlfriend types of things. His family lived about forty-five minutes south of Cleveland in a town called Medina, and I didn’t mind that he still lived with his parents because their house was on a lake and he saved enough money on rent for us to be able to go out for nice dinners. We also shared meals with his family sort of often, and after going out for ice cream Adam would take me out on the lake in his canoe and we’d go fishing.
I was pretty confident in our relationship and figured we’d still be together by the end of June, so I invited him to my dad’s wedding in northern Michigan on June 29th.
My father and Wendy chose to get married at the Horton Creek Bed & Breakfast in Charlevoix, and my mom lives quite close to there, so Adam and I figured we’d knock out meeting my whole family in the same weekend. I left Clementine with Candra at the shop and we brought Osiris with us to my mom’s house, where Osiris would get to hang out with her five golden retrievers and one chocolate lab while the wedding was happening.
After a seven-hour drive Adam, Osiris, and I arrived at my mother’s house. She gave us her bedroom to sleep in and we crashed pretty hard. The next morning I had Cheerios with my mom, showered, and gathered everything we needed for the wedding. Adam and I headed to the B & B, where he hung out with the rest of the guys in our family. A few months before I had asked my friend Fotoula to make me a dress for the wedding. What I ended up with was a black dress with a gloriously low-back dress that I couldn’t wear underwear with.
I got dressed, put my hair in curlers, and then spent almost an hour trying to curl my soon-to-be-stepsister Reagan’s impossibly long, beautiful, and thick hair.
When we finally emerged from the suite, Wendy formally introduced Adam to everyone as my boyfriend. My dad sensed a little hesitation on Adam’s part and said “Is that okay? For us to use labels?”
"Yeah," Adam said.
Our family gathered together under an arbor of flowers for the ceremony. I was in charge of the music and Reagan was in charge of the rings… but my obsession with capturing everything on Polaroid film meant I was also noisy and distracting for the entire ceremony. Sorry, Dad & Wendy!
However, I did get some good shots.
After the ceremony was over, Wendy and my dad asked me to be one of their witnesses. I was extremely honored, considering my dad’s two best friends AND Wendy’s parents and brothers were there. I had never signed a marriage certificate before!
At dinner, the restaurant had some kind of deal where you could order two entrees and get a free bottle of wine. Adam and I opted for that, and downed the whole bottle. When dinner was over, I told my dad I wanted to buy him a drink once everyone else left. We went outside with our family members to take some photos, and then everyone else started to leave.
When only Wendy, Adam, my dad, and I remained at the restaurant, I had the bartender pour us each a drink. Wendy got some kind of cocktail, and I ordered shots of Jameson for myself and my dad. For whatever reason Adam was incapable of handling whiskey (should have been a warning sign!) and ordered Patron instead. Weirdo.
Wendy took a photo of me and my dad taking our shots and it’s definitely one of my favorite photos.
When we returned to the bed & breakfast, Adam and I changed into our swimsuits and headed for the pool. Though it was chilly, we did a few cannonballs and I managed to snap this bad boy.
Late that night we returned to my mom’s house and she headed to bed soon after. In the morning, she took us to eat brunch in Alden and then to see Torch Lake.
Adam, Osiris, and I made the seven-hour trip home on Sunday. While he was driving, I got out my notebook and started writing this story about a taxidermy bear my grandparents owned. When we finally got back to Cleveland, Adam simply gave me a hug and went home. I should have known something weird was going on.
Even though this blog is (mostly) in chronological order and I’m still on last June, I HAVE to share some photos from my most recent trip.
In June of 2013 I was scheduled to teach a taxidermy class at Woolly Mammoth in Chicago. For some reason I also thought that weekend was a great time to adopt a living, breathing rabbit of my own. Unsurprisingly, whoever was supposed to watch Osiris for the weekend totally bailed on me, so on top of my usual taxidermy supplies I piled Osiris and my new baby Clementine into the car as well.
The three of us stayed at a seedy hotel that appeared nice online and was also one of the only accommodations on Hotels.com that allowed pets, so I dealt with cigarette smell and getting accosted by weirdos in the parking lot in order for my critters to have a place to stay. Clem hung out in the bathroom for both nights.
That June got REALLY hot. It was so hot, in fact, that after cramming twelve students plus myself into the tiny shop and putting on our vinyl gloves, that our hands literally started growing mold under the plastic. My fingers were covered in green formations of slime. Grossness aside, it was one of the most interesting things I had ever seen up close. We all washed our hands with soap, put on hand sanitizer as an extra precaution, and got new gloves.
Other than the mold, the classes went extremely well. For the first time, I got a group photo with all of my students. Leaving the hotel on Sunday morning, I stopped in for the continental breakfast and poured myself a cup of orange juice for the road. When I took a sip in the car, it was actually Sunny Delight. Small victories!
Osiris and Clementine snuggled the whole way home, and when we finally got there we had Adam to look forward to seeing. Things were shaping up to be pretty great.