Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Death of a Friend

I interviewed one of Kyle Knapp's very good friends, Amanda Shaw, and asked her for a little insight into her time with Kyle, of the work they did together, and how Kyle's death has impacted her.

How long had you known Kyle?

Amanda Shaw
I've known Kyle since I was fourteen, so 8 almost 9 years. I was sitting outside during lunch hour at school. He liked my moccasins and Green Day T-shirt so he sat beside me and just started talking to me; he tried to teach me to play hacky sack, but that didn't work, so for 8 years we just kept talking.

Were you aware that he kept scores of notebooks in which to compose his poetry and other writings?

He didn't tell me about his writings until a couple years into our friendship, but I think the moment I became a part of them is when he told me about them. Last fall, after I returned from Colorado, was my first visit to the Mill Street house and the first time I actually saw the physical volume of his work though he’s always sent me a story here and there to edit; he always seemed to trust my opinion on his writing, but honestly I was usually just proofing his grammar. From early on I realized his works were special and unlike anything I've ever read.

You worked together on a short story inspired by Salinger, right? How’d that come about?

Kyle believed in me as a writer. I am really private about the things I write, mostly because they are the ramblings of the inner workings of my head, but I guess also because I am not confident in what I put on paper. I shared them with Kyle though; he was one of the very few I trust most. So anyway, last semester I was retaking creative writing and of course Kyle had to know about every assignment. I had a simple journal exercise that involved writing out a conversation between me and my favorite character; I shared that journal assignment in class and my professor really enjoyed the way I wrote the conversation with Seymour from “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” by J.D. Salinger. My professor suggested this be the start of my short story assignment. I immediately called Kyle and told him about how I was going to attempt writing a story within another story. He had never read “Bananafish” so I loaned him the book Nine Stories. I worked on the story by myself and periodically sent Kyle the most recent version of it. He would add little edits here and there, but one evening he said he was bored and edited the entire story into his style of prose. For my final draft I mixed my final draft with Kyle's version. We had so much fun working on the story; we were planning to write a story together using the same basic idea, and plot line from my perspective and his perspective. I am really sad that didn't come to fruition; I think it would have been really great.

How did you find out he had died?

Amanda and Kyle.
The two weeks before Kyle died were really rough; I am only mentioning this because it is important to the day I found out he had passed. He had started drinking again, and we were really at odds. He wanted me around to help him, and I couldn't because I wanted him to stop drinking, and I had vowed to him a long time ago that I wouldn't be around him if he was drinking. I would talk to him on the phone and through email all he wanted, but I guess in my way of thinking, hanging out with him and driving him places was enabling him in some sort of way. The day before the fire, a Monday, he called me and begged me to take him for ice cream; he was drunk, so I said no. The fire happened that night, but I didn't find out until that Wednesday. Anyway, on Tuesday I was driving to Rochester for a concert and my boyfriend asked me if I had talked to Kyle that day because Kayla, Kyle’s sister, had posted a Facebook status asking if anyone had heard from him. It hadn't crossed my mind until that moment that Kyle had not called or texted that day, and really for 8 years, a day did not go by that he didn't make contact with me at least once. My heart sank and I said to my boyfriend "What if he is dead?" I called his phone and he didn’t answer; we both decided to ignore the fact that he was missing and enjoy the concert; Kyle would be okay. During the concert, I received text messages from a few high school friends stating "We love you" and "we're here for you," and I just disregarded them not connecting any dots. The next morning Steven, my boyfriend, woke up before me and logged onto Facebook on his phone; he told me to log onto my Facebook and all that I saw were a series of "RIP Kyle." My heart sank, and all I could hear was this weird wurring sound in my ears. I texted Kayla and said something like, "Tell me this isn't real." She didn't respond right away, so I just kept saying this is fake and calling Kyle's phone. Kayla finally texted back with something along the lines "I am so sorry, Amanda. Kyle is gone." I cried the entire rest of that day; Kyle's death is the first death I have ever experienced. Experienced feels like an odd word to use; what I mean is I have never lost a family member except for a grandfather when I was very young, but we were not close. Kyle was my best friend. I am not sure I have ever been closer with another human being. I tried to seek comfort from my grandmother, my mom, my friends, but no one knew what to say and all I could hear was that strange wurring sound in my ears. I wish I had taken him for ice cream.

Tell me about going to where he died and finding the notebook?

A page from Kyle's notebook.
The first few days after Kyle died were the most bizarre days of my life. It felt as if everyone wanted to talk to me. I was bombarded with questions and "I'm sorrys." Many of our mutual friends visited the place where he died--I'd been referring to it as the Mill Street house--and described in horrifying detail how it was just gone. I decided I was not going to go there. The day of his memorial service solidified this decision; I would not visit where he died. I would not see the destruction. It was too hard, I just couldn't. I had been reading every day the last letters he sent me from his time in Florida [in rehab]. I've mentioned them before, but in one of the letters he wrote, "I still want to walk through walls in my dreams, and learn how to find you long after we die." I read and reread this line; I don't know if it was just my deep desire for him to be able to do this or he actually succeeded, but the night after his memorial service, I believe it was a Sunday, I had a dream; Kyle and I were sitting on the back deck of the Mill Street house drinking that organic dark coffee he loved so much, smoking cigarettes and talking. It was a fall day, there was a slight breeze, the air felt as if it had just rained though the sun was shining through the trees. I asked him directly, "Are you really dead," and he replied, "Yeah, I am really dead. I need you to do something. I need you to go back to the house. I left something there." I don't often have vivid dreams, and I hardly ever remember them if I do, but this was like a movie, clear as day. The next day I drove up and down Mill Street trying to gain the nerve to go to this place I had refused to go back to. I finally pulled in. The basement of the house was surrounded by yellow caution tape. I just stood by my car for a while trying to feel something; I guess trying to feel Kyle. I decided to cross the tape line, Kyle would have for me, and I walked around the house. First I went to the spot where his pseudo study was in the front of the house, nothing was there. Then I walked and stood above where the living room was; all I saw were dumbbell weights and charred magazines. I was getting so frustrated at this point. My heart had broken more than it was before seeing that place and I was not finding anything. I began to walk back to my car and happened to look down right at the place where his bedroom use to be and sitting there right on top of all the ash was a stack of charred papers. Even from above I recognized the handwriting as Kyle's. I didn't grab the papers then; I was too afraid that if I jumped down I wouldn't be able to climb out without getting cut by glass.

The next night, all I could think about was that notebook. A bunch of my friends were at the Dryden Hotel. I went to them and asked if they would come with me. I assembled a group of five people all of which were Kyle's friends and we went to the Mill Street house. We all kind of dispersed; I think everyone wanted to pay their respects and say goodbye to Kyle. Two of my friends and myself went to where the house was and they helped me get down to the notebook with tiny cell phone lights. I grabbed the pages. My mind was clear this night. I felt almost brave like I was on a sacred mission. Upon grabbing the pages, we stayed awhile longer. We didn't really talk to each other much. I guess grief is really personal, so even feeling similar none of us knew what to say to each other. Many of us were in tears as we left. I had to dry out the pages as they were wet from rain the previous day, and once they were dry they were so fragile. A few of the pages fell to dust at the slightest touch. The ones that I salvaged though, I can't even describe the feeling. I remember at the memorial I heard more than one person say how sad it was all of his writing was gone, but knowing that not all of it was gone was almost a relief. These small fragments from the year 2010 somehow survived. I don't think any of the pages show a complete poem or short story, but some very raw and honest thoughts survived. I gave the pages to Meta and Kayla. I don’t really believe that the dream was actually Kyle, and I don't think I really could have avoided going back to the house forever.

Celebrations on Amazon
Kyle's writing was his entire soul, his mind, his heart, his entire life existed through the written word. I know if I hadn't found the notebook someone would have. Anyone who loved Kyle, even half as much as I do, knows how important his work was to him. We all had hopes to save some of it.

And you did, Amanda, thank you. And thank you for sharing some memories of Kyle with the rest of us. Deeply appreciated.  


Ron Scheer said...

It would have to have been "Bananafish." Thanks for such heartfelt words.

David Cranmer said...

Ron, And Kyle (the last time I visited him) recommended Nine Stories to me. I'm reading it now for the first time and "Bananafish" is a deserved classic.

Heath Lowrance said...

This is profoundly touching. Thank you for posting, David.

David Cranmer said...

Gladly, Heath. I'm doing my best to get Kyle's words out there and there's no better way than through his friends and family who also meant a great deal to him. I'm very thankful to Amanda for stopping by. I know its not easy, so soon after Kyle's passing.

Unknown said...

I really admire what you’ve been doing here, David. This ongoing tribute is really something special. To lose a loved one is perhaps the most painful thing that any of us can endure. But by remembering them we do begin to heal.

Be well, man.

David Cranmer said...

I appreciate your kind words, Dyer. Thank you.

Randy Johnson said...

I don't think I conveyed how much I enjoyed Kyle's words, David. For someone as unsophisticated in poetry as myself, I saw a lot of related things in my own much longer life.

Such a shame he was taken away so early.

David Cranmer said...

You did so much more than I can ever repay you, Randy. Let me explain this way: Kyle was a writer who wanted to be read. He wasn't interested in sales. He never asked me how well his first book was doing?! He just wanted his work to have a fair shot in a reader's hands. Look, I'm a small time publisher with zero funds to promote beyond strong word of mouth, through my friends on Twitter, Blogger, etc. When you take the time to do a blog post and leave a heartfelt review on Amazon and other outlets it makes a HUGE difference. Salud, sir!

Sarah Laurence said...

What a beautiful way to remember a lost friend. How tragic to end a creative life early. Kyle sounds like a special person and a good friend to Amanda. I'm sure he will be missed. My son loved Bananafish too.

David Cranmer said...

Sarah, And now I'm a fan of J.D. Salinger's short stories myself. I was never able to get through Holden Caulfield (I read it too late in life) but gems like "Bananafish" still pack an edge to them.

Mates said...

I am so grateful to Amanda for so many small treasures she has found in words and pictures. This interview is truly a tribute to Kyle and the special friendship they shared. He loved her very much and she will always be a part of our life.

Charles Gramlich said...

Powerful. Emotional. To be so loved and remembered is a wonderful tribute. I did finish reading his collection and posted my review on Goodreads and Amazon.

David Cranmer said...

Mates, I enjoy sharing another part of Kyle's life that only his friends can provide. So many sides to this human life. I want to savor them all.

I saw your review, as did his family, Charles. Many thanks.