Thursday, March 15, 2007


Today is the Ides of March.

When I was in high school and I was first learning photography, I saw an art exhibit in one of my school's display cases. They were photographs, all by one student, that had been entered in some art show. I don't remember the show, but it was significant enough that the staff had elected to put these images, by one student, in a main display case.

I was mesmerized by them. They were phenomenal, and I couldn't believe a mere high school student had created them. Every day, for as long as they were in the case, I would stop and scrutinize them. The student's name was Kevin Thayer, and I had no idea how to meet him. I didn't even know if I wanted to meet him. I'd be embarrassed, as my own fledgling photography attempts paled in comparison.

One day, many months later, I was working in the darkroom at school. There was another student in there, and even though I normally got agitated when I had to share the darkroom with anyone else, we were working well together. Could be that he didn't make the rookie mistake of turning on the enlarger without a negative carrier, which pretty much guaranteed the ruin of the images of everyone else in the room. Plus, he wasn't all chatty, which was a good thing. Photography is a very personal thing for me, and I don't like to talk while I'm doing it.

After an hour or so (yes, I skipped a lot of classes my senior year to spend time in the darkroom), he said, "You're Amy, aren't you?" "Yes." "I've seen your work. I really like it." "Thanks. And you are?" "Kevin Thayer."

I could have just melted on the spot.

I'm pretty sure from that moment on we were friends. Somehow my other friend, Ryan, was in the mix, and we three were pretty inseparable. We seemed to be the only ones who loved the stink of fresh developer, and we spoke our own language. We formed the photography club, called ISO, and did let a few other students in, but it served primarily to put a name on our little trio. We made photographs together, developed together, and printed together. We mounted prints and cleaned the darkroom and experimented with new techniques. And we laughed.

Kevin introduced me to so much. He made a mix tape for me with bands I had never heard of (The Vapors, among others), and they are my favorites to this day. It turned out that he wasn't only one hell of a photographer, he was a true artist, in every sense of the word. He could sculpt. Paint. Draw. And it was all incredible. I had never met someone so talented, and modest at the same time. He loved art...all art. He was a creative genius, and I adored him.

Best of all, he never, ever, made me feel inferior, or stupid, or weird. I could be my quirky self and he just accepted it. He never laughed at me, but with me. Ryan was the same way. They were my best friends senior year of high school, and I thought we'd be best friends forever.

Graduation came, and I got ready to go to Rolla. I was still fighting all my creative juices and hatred of all things math and had convinced myself I was going to be an engineer. Stupid girl. The summer flew by, and Ryan, Kevin and I drifted a little. We were all headed in different directions. I found out later that Kevin had been accepted to the prestigious Chicago Art Institute, but had been told by his parents that he could not go. It was too expensive. Ryan was going to attend community college.

Off I went to school, where I studied too little and had too much fun, and tried to find myself. I'd wander the campus and make images, but having no access to a darkroom was somewhat limiting.

Then, on March 16, 1992, as I was laying in bed sick with a cold, I got a call from my high school photography teacher. Even though I had severe medicine head, I was so happy to hear from him. He didn't sound right, though. After exchanging pleasantries, he said, "Ryan's on the phone." Ryan said hello, and choked back a sob. Then my world spun out of control. Mr. H. said, "Amy, Kevin is dead. He committed suicide yesterday."

I don't remember much after that. I remember crying for what felt like weeks. I remember feeling like my insides were hurting. I remember feeling like I was living in a daze. Because I had no car, Ryan came down to Rolla and brought me back to STL for the funeral. I wore my black Chuck Tayler Converse hightops, and someone told me that Kevin was wearing his, too. I also wore my men's tie (black with olive green polka dots) that Kevin loved.

I swear there were a gajillion people at Kevin's funeral. It turned out he was a friend to all. High school students, obviously, but not just our little art clique. He had the jocks, the geeks, the motorheads and the nerds. Now, this was almost a year out of high school, so it wasn't like all these people were going to "be seen." They all had stories about Kevin, too, that proved that they really did know him. There were little old men he had befriended when we went to the park. There were customers from his job at the frame shop, and coworkers from his job at Steak 'n Shake. The line went out the door. I had never seen so many people at one person's funeral, and I still haven't.

He had to have a closed casket, because he had stuck his father's gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He had surrounded himself with his art, and placed a plastic bag on his head to avoid ruining his work. The art filled the room at the funeral home, and I remember thinking that the world was really going to miss out on what he could have created, but was blessed to have what he had done.

Word was spreading that he had left a note, a letter to some girl no one knew. People said it was because he couldn't go to art school. Or because he had wanted to break up with his unstable girlfriend (who was actually living with him at his parents' house) but every time he tried she threatened suicide and so he felt trapped. Or that he has mental issues and hadn't taken his medicine.

I don't know why Kevin did what he did, but I know it had to be pretty rough for him to reach the conclusion that life wasn't worth living anymore. My mom was intensely worried about me, because she had read somewhere that people can get so upset about their loved ones' suicides that they might want to do the same thing. I never felt that way, but instead just felt a profound sadness that I couldn't ever quite shake, and guilt, that I hadn't stuck around to help. Of course, at graduation I was just an idiotic 17-year-old, too, and I wasn't sure how to make my own way either, so I got past that okay.

The sadness, though, is still here. Sometimes it goes deep, sometimes it's right on the surface. But it's always there.

I put down my camera after Kevin's death, and didn't pick it up for about 10 years. I transferred to another school, graduated, got a job, got married, bought a house. I didn't even think about photography.

Then one day I was sitting on our sun porch reading, and something clicked inside. An internal shutter. And the click said, "It's time." I retrieved my camera, loaded a fresh roll of film, and made images of my neighbor's flowers. And it felt good. And I've been shooting ever since.

I'm in a different house now, and I am a mother along with being a wife, and I work full time and have an active social life. Sometimes I go a few days without thinking about Kevin. I must be healing, I think, finally, because I don't dwell on the coming Ides of March like I used to. This year it whacked me upside the head this morning as I was driving to work. I had a missed call on my cell and the date said March 15 and it was the first I'd seen the date and it hit me. Kevin. Thunk.

I miss him, it's true, but I think I miss more what he could have been. I miss what he could have contributed. And that saddens me more than anything. I doubt we'd still be as close as we were (hell, I don't even know where Ryan is these days), but I'd at least be able to see his art. Instead, we'll probably go see his grave this weekend sometime, and I'll wonder if anyone else goes to see him. For a few years after his death there were flowers on his grave, but that hasn't happened in a long time.

I have just two precious prints Kevin made for me. My favorite shows me shooting Ryan, while Ryan shoots Kevin. We three had gone out on a photo jaunt, to shoot and spend the day together. He titled it "Latent Love Triangle." He wrote a little blurb on the back, which I won't share because it's private and quite frankly, none of ya'all would understand it, but "Latent Images of the Mind" comes from that.

So. Now you know why my blog is titled what it is. And why I hate the Ides of March.


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