13 September, 2013

JeremEy Tiger

He pulled up in the driveway.

It was the spring of 2000 and Jeremey was driving across the country— from Oregon back to Northern Michigan in his beat-up, late-80s, light blue Oldsmobile station wagon named Estelle--the engine grotty, the edges rusted.

He brought the car to a halt and jumped out with uncharacteristic elation, practically dancing as he swooped me up in his arms and kissed me, then theatrically kissed my mother’s hands and bear-hugged my father. He set the stage for his excitement, concealed within the back of the Olds.

     “Okay,” he said, “are you ready?

Jeremey lacked practically all sentimentality in his everyday interactions with others. With his characteristicly harsh, judgmental armor, Jeremey prescribed to the life-theory of: It-hurts-too-much-to-laugh-and-I-am-too-old-to-cry-so-I-am-just-going-to-be-a-dick-to-everyone-until-I-feel-better. Today’s enthusiasm could have been the result of either genuine zing, an illegal stimulant trip, or a combination of both.

     “Ta-DA!” he said, opening the back door of the car with a flourish, revealing a giant, full-on child-sized stuffed white tiger…in a seat belt. He laughed out loud. I laughed too, we all did. As much for the brain-crushingly adorkable tiger (wearing, I should mention, a black leather spiked punk-rocker collar) safely secured into the back seat, as the equally gorgeous gesture. It was so out of character, and the moment so genuine. I don’t think I shall ever forget it.

Whenever I think of that memory my face grows a permanent half smile. One identical to the stitches expertly sewn onto the face of what we all came to call, Jeremey Tiger.


I never rebelled.
I was the squeaky-cleanest kid you had ever met, terrified that any trespass into the world of adolescence might only add further to the already crushing burdens of my parents. Not that either one of my parents were in any way terrifying, no. I was terrified of my own volition: a perfectionist almost crippled by the terror of error, for to disappoint (or, more crucially), to burden them would have been a weight too great to bear. I felt as though I was the only source of hope and joy and promise. And any mistake--even the tiniest of transgressions--was my contribution to not curing cancer.

I went to school.
I excelled in my extra-curricular activities.
I got straight As.
I over-achieved.
I was the hope, the future, the pleasure, the reason; the source of their focused strength.
And so I took it upon myself to provide my parents with every excessive joy and pride imaginable.
Not because I always wanted to exactly,
     but because I was terrified the entire world would collapse if I did not.

When I did socialize it was one-on-one, or in intensely G-rated settings. Safe. Hermetically sealed. I needed to be in control of everything to avoid making 'mistakes.' My parents wanted me to have as normal a childhood as possible, and so they kept me away from the bulk of the health difficulties.
Who could blame them?
But because of that, I spent a great deal of time alone.
There was no one to share the childhood, or the burdens with.

And so, to the companion of perfection—the only contribution I could truly offer to making Dad well again.


I arrived at the (full-time boarding) Interlochen Arts Academy in the fall of 1999, ready to continue on my path, when of a light switch went on.

As previously explained I was a “lifer,” and found myself returning to the Academy with big hopes for the year and big plans for the future.

But this Jeremey person: the strange, pierced, leather-jacket-wearing, punk-music listening, Antonin Artaud spouting, left-handed, red-headed, pseudo-intellectual guy named Jeremey (spelled with three “E’s, much to everyone’s curiosity and oft-time irritation) was rebellious, dangerous, über-damaged, and fiercely arrogant; plus, to a perfectionist ready to bust-the-f***-out: utterly irresistible.

Because in truth, Jeremey was just a sweet, rejected, floundering youth trying to find his way. Trying to find his way like all of us.
And though he was as strange and all-out-there as a Bruegel painting,
though he was ofttimes selfish,
     oh how I loved him as only a sixteen-year-old could!

Sure! He dyed his hair constantly (my favorite being “Number 44B for African American Women”).
Yep! He had a piercing in both ears (and eventually in his nipples)
Absolutely! He was more than a little manorexic, and  
Okay, he waxed on and on (and on) about how everyone on planet earth besides him was a philistine.

But he also held me like a cross between a boy, a man, and a desperate teenager, all of which he was. He wrote love letters, and poetry, and the best book inscriptions you have ever seen, and hell, it all came from a pain (and I mean: what assholish behavior doesn’t)-- a pain I think he probably--at least at the time--had only ever shared with me.

Growing up in Nowehere, Oregon is never easy, but in a Catholic family split apart by unnameable troubles which all led to his emancipation at the age of fourteen, well… no one expected Jeremey to even finish High School. But he found a mentor and an advocate in a local lawyer who made certain he was educated and taken care of at a place like Interlochen.

....I mean, all this said, my parents were still, understandably horrified.

I’m not about to brag about falling for the pseudo-intellectual-without-a-cause routine, but I’m willing to own it. Jeremey was my “motorcycle guy!” He was an assertion of my independence! Now that I was away from home full time,  I was free to explore, discover the boundaries with my own judgments and moral compass.

So after an initial flurry of someone-has-to-do-something-to-end-this-relationship-type phone calls back and forth to Interlochen, I think Mom and Dad resigned themselves to the fact that I would work it out on my own. That the world was not going to come crashing down if I dated a rebellious redhead with one-too-many Es in his name.

And oh how they tried.
I can’t even tell you how many patient, wonderful talks I overheard him having with my mother.
Or the vigorous banter he had with Dad. 
Or, how lovely the meal was that we all shared together after his graduation.
Or how (beyond all social mores and general parental reasoning) they allowed me to visit him over the summer in Oregon for a week. By myself.
Or how, at Thanksgiving, we all decided to have an early Christmas! And Mom remembered a story he had told about loving a 'Transformer' toy he'd lost from his childhood, tracked it down, and gave it to him.
Or, how Dad drove me all the way to Chicago to bring him home for Christmas, (and also where, in the car for the first time he tried to talk to me about sex and I turned into a Church lady while he locked me in the car and nearly crashed as he laughed and laughed at my discomfort. Awesome.)

So what happened?
As is everyone’s want Freshman year of college: Jeremey got out into the big bad world and learned more than he ever had, but still not enough to realize that he actually knew nothing.
It happens to us all.
But when you mix it with a preconceived proclivity to be holier-than-thou, with a dash of I-was-burned-as-a-youth entitlement? Well good ol’ Jeremey—already a little obsessed with himself— became more obsessed with himself, and he had to go.
No hard feelings but, you know, people were, like, dying.

Still, though.
When I look back, all I see is what he gave me.
My first true love, a taste of rebellion, a box full of poetry, the best-ever book inscriptions in earnest, left-handed scrawl, and of course, a stuffed tiger I could never let go of as long as I love.

Jeremey gave my family a different kind of conflict to overcome,
     and the opportunity to understand one another even more deeply.
The Silbers believed in Jeremey, gave him a family to be a part of.

In the end, I think we all loved one another.
Very much.

for Prom: his nail polish matched my dress. That's love.

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