WHEN we arrived at the morgue, in a rental car, navigating via Google maps to a suburban neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, we were given a bag with the small collection of items found in Roger’s possession at the time of his death. Among the items was a head massager.
I had never seen one before. It’s a metal device with a dozen or more spiky, springy prongs, with a plastic nubbin at each of the many tips. It was multi-colored, and according to his girlfriend, it was a favorite possession. Perhaps it was also good for stimulating hair follicles. Who knew?
On the night of his death, Roger had been partying with friends at the Edgefield Hotel, which was originally built in 1911 as the county poor farm and is now a funky resort in a stunning outdoor setting not far from Portland. Our family had loved staying there when visiting Roger at college.
GRIEVING in our hotel room in the days following his death, isolating ourselves from family and friends as we struggled with the impossible reality of his absence, it didn’t take long for me to discover the pleasure of the head massager. It delivers a delightful sensation to the scalp, a feeling that is simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing at the same time. It was a self-soothing tool.
TODAY IS THE THIRD TIME that I have not given Roger a birthday present. He would have been 31 years old today. My mind wanders to the possibilities of what his 31st birthday might have been like, had he lived to see it. Would he have treated himself to a new suit or a new tie? Would I have sent him a book? Or a bouquet of flowers? My mind wanders back to birthdays past.
I REMEMBER SPANGLES in his beautiful blond curly hair, a shower of red and blue confetti that rained down on him as part of his 8th birthday celebration. Sitting outside under the catalpa tree at our old farmhouse in Harvard, Massachusetts, it was a delightful summer day. Roger was surrounded with school friends, his sister, and our family friends. Was it a pirate-themed birthday? I had thrown a small package of metallic confetti into the air at an unexpected time during the celebration. Roger had never experienced it before. It was such a shock to him as the metallic glitter filled the air and tiny pieces of it landed on his head and body. His face contorted in pain. As the metallic spangles fluttered in the air, he began to cry.
IN THE YEARS TO FOLLOW, as he grew older, I came to understand Roger’s unique sensitivities, his gentleness. I understood how big, unexpected events sometimes made him uncomfortable, how he recoiled from loud music and fast-moving objects. He was not a sensation-seeker. All the adventures he needed were in his mind, as the stories poured forth from him with the Last Laft (his comedy newspaper), Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons and in essays and plays and poems.
ON THAT BIRTHDAY, I whisked him away from the party guests, soothed his tears and cuddled with him quietly in the house, gently picking the metallic glitter from his hair. How well I remember: Birthdays can be exhausting, overwhelming days.