In the dream I had just gotten a sleeve tattoo, like the armor on a teenaged mutant ninja turtle, panes from a tortoise shell, orange and red. And I was walking into the Starbucks corporate office for a new job, having left there five years before.
Instead, I met my friend Donnie at the entrance to the office and he let me inside. He rents a small studio space where he cuts hair right in the office, not far from my old desk. I go there on Saturdays when the building is empty to see Donnie, and reconnect with the place. He rides his motorcycle over from Vashon island and plays ambient music in the little room all day, surrounded by art on the walls from local artists.
This time Donnie told me he’s studying with Ram Dass to become a death doula, to help usher people ‘out’: similar to a birth doula, just opposite. And as he started telling the story of how he got into it I remembered him telling it before: the woman who owned a small, second-hand clothing store in West Seattle…how you entered the shop through the back door off the alley and followed a cavernous hallway where she’d painted cartoon stars and crescent moons to guide you there. The shop wasn’t much to speak of and we never bought much, but I remembered the look of the woman behind the counter. That was Emily, Donnie’s friend.
One day she sent him an email with the subject, My Death Haircut. She was terminal with cancer, and wanted Donnie to give her a final cut. He agreed, but only if she’d get in touch with him from the other side. And he’d get a tattooed heron for her he said, and pulled back his sleeve to show me.
After she died, Donnie got a call from a friend in LA, a filmmaker Donnie didn’t think much of, kind of shallow. The friend was crying because he’d just learned a girl he knew had died and as he described her, Donnie realized it was Emily…and the two of them didn’t know they both had her in common. And Donnie had to laugh: she’d picked this unlikely guy to communicate to him through, a cosmic prank.
Emily did art but never made any money from it. She did portraits of Donnie he called “hideous” (he repeated it, hideous), one called Space Frog. But recently Donnie’s wife thought he actually resembled the portrait with his new motorcycle suit and helmet, so he posed while holding the painting, cocking his head to the side just like the portrait. And we had to laugh and wonder, was Emily able to see Donnie on a level no one else could, his future essence? And how some people are born out of time, and don’t…quite…fit.
It’s been a week now since we got back from Colorado, from celebrating Dawn’s brother Chip’s passing. But it feels like much longer ago than that. I texted Donnie a picture of Emily I found on the internet and he asked where I got it, and said I can still remember that dress. In the photo she’s waving a hand and smiling, and you can’t tell if she’s saying hello or goodbye.