I mentioned in my last post that we recently attended a friend’s memorial service. Our friend Esme was murdered on New Year’s Eve. That loss has colored everything since. Lots of other people have written powerful things about it… this is just another little something from pretty far afield, to join the constellation of rememberings that are spackling the internet. And because I didn’t know her well, I’m writing mostly about me. I’m sorry about that, because it would have been great to know her better. But grief is always about the griever in any case, so here it is.
Esme was super awesome. No, really, she was, I’m not just saying that out of deference or with my rosy hindsight glasses on. If you’d asked me about her before, I’d have told you the same then. I’d have sighed, smiled, and said, “Oh yeah, Esme. Isn’t she so awesome?” She had hundreds of friends, acquaintances like me, deep connections with many others, and all of us feeling that she genuinely loved us. If someone aimed to send this city into a howling tailspin, taking out Esme would’ve been tactic #1. And that’s basically what happened. We’re all still reeling. Though I doubt the person who took her life realized it would have such an effect – and wow, what a giant shit-pile of bad karma he landed in, didn’t he.
Esme was the Ultimate Fan. She was the girl in the front row, grinning and rocking out. I knew her as a music fan and an enthusiastic karaoke singer – she came to a bunch of our Karaoke Underground shows over the years. Kaleb and I have always said our favorite thing about KU is that it brings together people who aren’t afraid to be seen having an all-out irony-free good time, and Esme did just that. She was a great duet singer, getting people up on stage, pulling them into the fun.
I don’t know why it’s so uncommon, so remarkable, to be openly enthusiastic and warm and welcoming, but I know I don’t do it, and I know Esme did. It was kind of magic, but also the simplest thing. She just loved. The overriding feeling I have in reaction to this mess is a desperate need to become awesomer, to spread that love, to be less selfish with myself. What does it take to smile, to let people know you appreciate them as they are, to get right up next to the stage and let the band know they’re rocking it? I don’t think it is magic, actually. I think it takes a tiny little risk of the ego, and a habit of just taking that tiny risk, over and over, until it becomes you. I’ll be working on that.
Know what else I’m going to be working on? Finding ways to make the world less *actually risky* for women to exist in. It’s not just about getting one guy off the streets – it’s about making ours a culture where violence like this doesn’t happen. My raging feminist has been reawakened, and I don’t even know where to aim her.
Well, there is one obvious direction, actually. Esme worked with Girls Rock Camp, an amazing organization you should check out if you’re not familiar with it. She poured herself into it, touched a lot of young lives in the process, and changed the course of things a bit. Me, I went to the showcases and cheered on the bands, but I’ve never volunteered, because I didn’t think I rocked enough. Clearly, I was missing the point.
At Esme’s memorial, so much love was given voice. My favorite story was from Emily Marks, remembering when Esme started as a volunteer with GRC and the camp staff had a policy of not referring to the campers as “cute,” but instead commenting on other facets of the girls’ awesomeness. Esme was into that idea, but confessed she had some trouble implementing it because “Dude, they’re all so adorable!” and declared they needed a code phrase. To this day at GRC, if the urge to point out a girl’s cuteness is too strong to suppress, you’ll hear “she’s just so full of unlimited potential!” Favorite new phrase of all time.
A person could get pretty angry thinking about the unlimited potential that was wasted when Esme was killed. And that anger would be righteously justified. And also… it’s a heavy, and light, thought… Esme’s own potential is us, now. We’re all full of unlimited potential. We always have been, but now that she’s gone…
Dude, we’d better get to it.
* UPDATE: I got my P words mixed up. Like Gerald from the Jimmy Castor Bunch, only backwards. (How do you say P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L? POSSIBILITY!) This is to say that the phrase is Full Of Unlimited Possibilities. Oops. I was alerted to this by the creation of the Esme Barrera Unlimited Possibilities Scholarship Fund, which you should donate to right now.