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Please don't submit copyrighted work; original poems, songs or prayers welcomed.
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(Ellen Taylor May 12, 20120)
Those of us who loved Jesse ache with his passing. Bill and I were Jesse's friends, but he was part of our family too. Dinners and parties over the years marking milestones brought us close and were the things that sustain us all and bring us closer together. Jesse was still in utero at our first dinner but even then he was eager to join us at the table, as Sheila went into labor during My Dinner with Andre. Food and conversation….from the beginning it was clear he was a Browning.
Jesse took care of Bill when Bill was at death's door, doing things for Bill which I won't mention but for which he certainly had no training but only his native skill and excess of good will. In addition to his nursing duties, he set up and fixed computers, put together oxygen tanks, worked with Bill on research for a memoir, and was on call for whatever was needed, however much it was out of his comfort zone. Uncompromising, meticulous, ultimately reclusive, he came at all hours, was always on time and dependable,, able to step up for us in ways that he couldn't for himself.
When Bill asked him to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate his good work, Jesse didn't get it, couldn't believe it was for him, or see what he had done that was so important. But believe me, it was!
Through the lens of his depression, he literally couldn't see straight.
What we saw as love and connection, Jesse saw as dependence.
What we saw as exquisite sensitivity, he saw as inadequacy.
What we saw as his talents and intelligence, he saw as useless dead-end dabbling.
What we saw as a young man with his life ahead of him, Jesse saw as having missed his chance.
Jesse Browning died on March 15, 2012 but, as it's been said, no one that you love dies once or ever stops not being alive, and nothing you do can change what's happened or bring back what's gone.
Sheila and Charlie, and Megan
When a child is born, parents' hearts are no longer their own
We love our children in ways that overflow the bounds of sanity
A family grows like the roots of a tree entwined.. not easily separated..
Tho we talk of death and remembrance today, this day is also about how we go on.. ..
Tho a part of each of you dies with Jesse,
Live on for him
Love each other fully and deeply..
Invest in life again..
Invest in life without fear.
(Elena Secondo 5/12/12)
I've been thinking a lot about this. (Maybe too much?) About what I might like to say, about what there IS to say. About what people might want to hear, also about what people might hate to hear… Thinking and un-thinking; ah, those famous stupid circles… And all that I'm left with in my simply complicated mind are the memories. So many memories that it seems vague to call them memories at all. All that I'm left with is life.
Life we shared, lo, for so many years.
By Starlight you kissed me, I said you were my best friend. We talked for too many hours, one time my dad even tore the phone right out of the wall. 45683968. On the terrace in Genova, you said we'd talk like the Beats, stream of consciousness, the never-ending roll of paper, the never-ending night, the never-ending life we shared.
And now nothing. Stupid silence. All these thoughts, all these memories. Just you and me, and you've taken yours off to the moon with you. That same moon that I looked at in Pugliola and you looked at in Thoreau. So comforting. The wind will blow or it won't, the stars come out or they don't, the world goes round or we get thrown into the stars.
So, sure, there's the laughter, the songs, the trips, the tears, and always the laughter again.
There's the Pumpkins and all the little notes in the Lupo Alberto diario. The Mine Tree and the Lake of Weirds. The little Buddy and the girl from the Greyhound. Marc still holding that nasty cigarette butt, and having a close encounter, face to face with a plant. Benhameen still the illy-na-na appreciated, just now less frightened, Megan's elephant no longer staring him down.
When Josh was Jash, with his twisted up backpack strap, and then Jungle Josh amidst Country Mouse, that girl with quite a sprawl, and all those other concocted characters you always seemed to bring to life. To Megan you would say “Ait Nai” and Dunni was just a silly snail o'er yonder, arid and squirming saltily. There was the time your pants were on fire, the song about nanotechnocology, and all the songs, always the songs, perpetually the one with Yeyo's name, waiting for him to roll through on his horse and chariot-- literally!
The house in Rome where all I had to do was whistle from below, and you'd always open the door for me. The crepes that tasted metallic, or kinda orange-like, perhaps.. That demonic bear you brought off the streets, only for it to subtly haunt our home, until Zack finally drop-kicked it, and shut it's orange face up, right before twisting off into his smelly wind again. The bleary-eyed milkshakes in the night-time, the blondies straight out of the scalding pan, the ice cream and maple syrup soups, the diagnosis of the cheese, and the selective hearing diagnosis too. And then the house on Amity, and the little tiny passport photo on the sunken pillow.
The blaring music. It hurts and says: “They say we're too young, I think we're too old. Ugly as sin, pale and thin. They've been wrong before.” The silence.
So now what? I have my sorries. I have my whys. I have my thank yous. I have my life. I have my memories. I have my whatevers. I have my circles too, you know. I have emptiness and fullness. Smiles and tears. Contradictions. Pain and beauty. The sun and the moon. I have the moon. And I know you're looking at it too.
(Ben Umanov 5/12/12)
My friend Jesse Browning.
Jesse and I knew each other for his entire life. We met literally in utero – our mothers were in Lamaze class together. We grew up one block away from each other. We went to pre-school together. Though we went to different elementary schools, we continued to stay close through our childhoods. Weekends meant sleepovers, and sleepovers meant an opportunity to play Nintendo endlessly, with interruption only to eat and sleep. Heaven.
We'd meet up after school on Friday afternoons and beg our parents to take us to Blockbuster video, where we'd pour over the new arrivals in the Nintendo game section to select our source of entertainment for the long nights ahead. We'd stay up as late as we possibly could, trying to contain our excitement so we didn't wake up Sheila and Charlie, who at that time slept on a pull-out Murphy bed in the living room. Megan's arrival and Jesse's newly shared bedroom didn't put a damper on our good times.
Those memories are ones I'll cherish forever. In recent years, I knew that if I ever brought up something that happened on one of those nights – or any other time – no matter how seemingly insignificant, Jesse would remember it. His memory was absolutely incredible. Sometimes he'd bring up specific things or events from early childhood that I had no memory of whatsoever, and he'd recount them to me in detail. I'll miss a lot of things about Jesse – his warmth, his kindness, his smile, his presence, his hilariously predictable opposition to anyone in a position of power and “the man” – but most of all, I'm going to miss sharing the memories and looking back and laughing about them. Everything from the important stuff, the learning and growing experiences that we shared, to the minutiae, the in-between moments, the seemingly insignificant. Jesse and I spent so much time together between the ages of 0 and 12 that there were countless such moments. There were only two people in the entire world who had this specific set of memories, me and him. Now there's only me.
Jesse and I gradually drifted apart starting around the time we were in middle school, for no other reason than we were simply exploring and expanding our own worlds, although we stayed in touch, would talk occasionally, and get together with our families a couple of times a year.
I feel incredibly grateful that I was able to rekindle my close friendship with Jesse in recent years. We'd both returned to New York from college around the same time, and found ourselves in similar situations: suddenly thrust into the adult world, trying to secure our place in it, and single and ready to mingle. It seemed all too natural to be hanging out all the time again, and we fell into an easy groove despite the nearly 10-year lapse in having been really, truly close. When I look back on that period I have incredible memories as well; if not every weekend, we hung out at least every other weekend, talked about life, love, Jesse's opposition to “the man,” and got into innumerable shenanigans together. In a way, it was just like the old days, except that instead of the imaginary Nintendo worlds inside the TV screen, the entire city of New York was our playground. I'll miss sharing so many of those one-on-one memories, too. During that period I introduced Jesse to Eduardo, Stephanie, Emily Bauman and my soon-to-be-wife Emily Mitchell-Marell, who would all become Jesse's great friends as well, and I feel fortunate that we'll still all have each other around to share memories of Jesse during that time period. It was truly one of the most fun and care-free times of my life.
In a way, Jesse's death still hasn't really hit home with me. The last couple of years, we fell into an every two or three months pattern, where if it started to feel like it had been a while since we'd hung out, one or the other of us would get in touch and try to make something happen. So while I know for a fact that Jesse is gone, it's somewhat hard for me to grasp since we'd often go long periods without contact. I keep expecting to get a text one of these days from Jesse asking me if I want to meet up for burgers and beers after work. I know it's not coming. But because I hadn't been seeing or speaking with Jesse very often over the past couple of years anyway, it's really hard to conceptualize and digest his death.
I really miss him.
May 12, 2012 Memorial
There are no words nor time enough to describe the emotional landscape we have been traveling these past 8 weeks.
There are TOO many words, and not time enough to share our 30-year journey with Jesse in our lives. And NO words for the journey ahead of us.
In Jesse's too short life, all of the love that he has brought into our lives is here today, in this meeting house. It lives in all of us and in all of the beauty of life surrounding us.
Jesse will live on in all of the people who's lives he touched. We carry him in our hearts.
I want to read a poem that expresses my feelings in words that I could not write myself.
(See: The Dream Keeper by Langston Hughes)
I wish that I had had a blue cloud-cloth to protect my beautiful boy from the too-rough fingers of the world. I see Jesse now, wrapped in that blue cloud cloth…
And I know that now he is free to dream his dreams.
Your loving mom.
Megan-about Jesse, May 12, 2012
My parents told me that before I was born, when they told a 6-year-old Jesse that he was going to have a little sister, he stopped eating lunch. He would come home from school everyday with his lunchbox still full. I also heard that he used to respond “what?” whenever anyone spoke to him. “How was school today, Jess?” “What?” “What do you want for dinner?” “What?” “Do you want to go to the park today?” “What?” Needless to say, I don't think he was too excited for my arrival.
I haven't heard a whole lot about the details of Jesse's reaction to me when I was born, but from what I can tell he eventually warmed up to the idea of me. As we got older together, he found things to like about being a big brother. Jesse set up this situation between the two of us in which he would tell me things and I would believe them. He actually told me a lot of made up things when we were growing up and I totally fell for all of it because why not? He was my cooler older brother and he knew everything cool so I listened.
A large part of our relationship over the years, was his ability to influence my taste in music. Although I was not aware of it when I was young, from a very early age, Jesse asserted himself as the authority on cool music, and, being 6 years younger, and always wanting to impress my cooler, older brother and his cooler, older friends, I completely fell for it. In all honesty, he didn't really give me a choice. It was just the way things were. An unspoken understanding that I would only listen to music that Jesse thought was cool. Looking back I realize, and I wish I was kidding, it wasn't until I got to college that I realized that I could listen to whatever music I wanted to. And that it was okay to enjoy any music I enjoyed, not just music I thought Jesse would like.
I thought today I would take a few minutes to tell you some stories about me and Jesse and music. There is a lot of sadness surrounding Jesse's death, but today I wanted to focus on something positive, and tell you about a way that Jesse is still with me, and will stay with me through the rest of my life.
Growing up, Jesse had always been into alternative music. The longest and strongest phase of his musical taste that I can remember are the years he listened pretty exclusively to the Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana. And introduced me to the band Hole. And had me convinced that Hole was my favorite band. And I was in elementary school. He taught me to play a Hole song on the bass, which at the time was probably as big as I was, and in second grade I dressed up as Courtney Love for Halloween. I remember coming home after a successful night of trick-or-treating, filled with people opening their doors and asking “Who are you? Marilyn Monroe?” and I would answer, “No, I'm Courntey Love” I came home that night and declared that next year I wanted to dress up as Patty Schemel, the drummer from Hole. Thank goodness that idea was squashed.
I remember watching music videos with him and he would comment on them. Which ones he liked, which ones he didn't. And I was listening. He never said, Meg, you should listen to this, or like this, he just sneakily made himself the cool older brother that I would want nothing other than to be just like. I remember going with him once to band practice when he was in high school. I'm pretty sure it was just because my parents needed him to watch me and that's what he was doing that day, but it seriously worked out in his favor. Watching Jesse in this practice studio, playing music with his band just solidified in my mind how cool he was, and how I needed to like the music he liked. And I'm still not quite sure if at that time, my love for the band Hole was purely out of wanting to impress him and his friends, or because I actually liked them.
And, while he never had to directly tell me what to listen to, he definitely made sure to stop me if I were to stray from the road of cool music. I remember a time that my friend Kayla came to visit for the weekend. We were best friends from camp and she lived outside of Boston so we didn't get to see each other too often during the school year, but this one weekend, she came to New York to visit. I guess I had never rubbed my musical taste off onto her because she showed up with a mix CD that she had made for me and it just so happened to be all the popular, mainstream music at the time that normal kids my age were listening too. It was music you would hear on the radio. Of course, I had never heard any of it because I didn't listen to the radio, I listened to my Hole and Smashing Pumpkins CDs. We were listening in my room with the door open and before I knew it this crumpled up piece of paper comes flying in through the door and I hear footsteps walking away from my room. I went to open it and it said something like “What is this Z100 crap?” For those of you who don't know, Z100 is one of the pop music stations in New York City. Super mainstream, and not at all grungy and cool like Jesse at the time. I'm pretty sure I just kind of laughed it off while Kayla was there, and then never listened to that CD again.
Then there was the time that I watched the Spice Girls Movie and after coming home later that week with some new CDs, Elena asked me what I bought. I had bought two CDs, and one was the Spice Girls. “I won,” she said. Apparently she and Jesse had bet on whether or not I would buy the Spice Girls CD after seeing the movie. I guess he had expected more from me.
Needless to say I really never went through the Brittney Spears, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys craze. It was just so. Un. Cool. And I think in a way, I prided myself as having pretty great musical taste since it was a reflection of my super cool older brother. Don't ask me how Jesse let me get away with my Good Charlotte obsession in 8th grade. I guess he figured as long as I wasn't listening to boy bands and pop stars, all was well.
I remember that at an inappropriately young age, I knew all the lyrics to every song on Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette. Good thing I was too young to have any idea what they meant.
And summers and summers of road trips to our house in the Berkshires listening to the Magnetic Fields and Apples in Stereo on tapes that Jesse had recorded from CDs since our car didn't have a CD player. I'm pretty certain that most kids my age were not listening to music like that. But in a way I felt so lucky to have this cool in to the music scene.
Some time in middle school Jesse sent me two mix cds while I was at camp. I remember listening to them all summer. I'm pretty sure I still know all the words to every song on the two discs. I recently found them again on my shelf and noticed that on the cover where he listed all the tracks, he referred to himself, the maker of the CDs as ‘Mix Master J' And that's what he was.
Funnily enough one of the songs on one of the CDs was “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka. My good friend Ari recently reminded me that I put that song on a mix I made her years later in high school.
I remember visiting Jesse in Italy when I was in high school and going to a Cappa Rezza concert there. He was an Italian rapper and this concert was outside and such an incredibly unique musical experience.
Although I often thought I had it all figured out, and knew exactly what I should like and listen to, there were always some surprises. There was the time that Jesse introduced me to Trapped in the Closet by R.Kelly, which, for those of you who don't know, was self described by R.Kelly as a “hip hopera.” It is totally ridiculous and Jesse could not get over how hilarious it was. I remember watching it years later with friends from college who were all just discovering it for the first time and feeling like they had totally missed out on this hilarious thing that Jesse had shown me years ago. Or the time that he told me about liking Ludacris. Or Lady Sovereign. What?! These were artists in a musical genre way outside what I thought Jesse had established as okay. I realize now that I think Jesse actually had a much more diverse like for music than I fully understood at the time.
And all this time I had no idea that I was under this influence. And then I got to college and learned about the radio, and mainstream music. And all the while Jesse was sending me tracks via email and suggesting music. And I still loved it, and completely respected his taste in music but I came to understand my own independent musical likes and dislikes.
Over more recent years, I ventured to suggest music to him sometimes, and if he liked it, it was truly the ultimate compliment. I would often hear music that I thought he would like and if I played it for him and he didn't know it and he liked it, I don't think he realized how much his opinion meant to me.
It's strange that in the weeks since Jesse has died, I have had a very difficult time listening to music. It's as though even in death, Jesse is dictating my interaction with music. And, ironically enough, the only music I can listen to is the pop music, the mainstream music. The music on the radio that I can put on and completely tune out because it is so stupid and shallowly entertaining. Good music has always been somewhat of an emotional experience for me and given these circumstances, I can't bring myself to listen to good music. Or music that I know he would have appreciated. Because it makes me think of my brother Jesse.
I know that in time, I'll get back into music. I'll allow myself to appreciate good music again. I'll be able to critique and judge music again and it will still always include an element of Jesse and his influence. I'll stop avoiding music by listening to so much NPR. And I know that no matter what, I'll always think of Jesse when I listen to music because through music, my brother Jesse is a part of who I am.
Megan Browning May 15th 2012