Welcome back to my Aural Autumn series! It feels good to be back on track with my weekly music posts. While many of them will be weighty and very personal to me, you can also expect for me to share a decent number of songs that are uplifting. Hopefully they will also stoke your own creativity and introspection.
I wasn’t sure about my pick for tonight. For the past few days, I vacillated between a couple of songs, trying to decide which one has been most impactful for me. Then I saw a single post on Facebook reminding me that tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my friend and teammate, Chris Shulman’s, death.
Chris Shulman was one of my goofiest buddies. For three years, he was my first real lifeline to the world of triathlon. He was also never afraid of cracking open a beer with me. The night before I did my first duathlon, the 7th Annual Texas Motor Speedway Du, it was Chris who took the cassette off of my road bike and swapped it for an eleven-speed cassette so that I could use his race wheels. He and I shared a few drives across Lubbock just to chill and talk about our next race or our usual class struggles.
When I got the news that Chris had passed away on October 27th of last year, my heart and my world were undone. I was still reeling from my dad’s sudden death. Not again, I begged the universe. Not Chris. Suicide had cloaked me in its dark shadow a second time.
There’s still so much that connects me to Chris. The races that we did, but also the struggles that we endured. Chris lost his father a couple of years after I graduated from Texas Tech. Part of me knows that, if I had reached out to Chris after the death of my father, we would have tripped over our words and been unsure of ourselves — at first. Then we would have started talking in a language that only the two of us could fully understand. Going through grief and bereavement teaches you new words and states of being that often, at least in my experience, startle and drive away others who haven’t been through something so profound as the death of a parent.
To this day, I’m still sifting through all the unanswered questions and memories that I made with Chris. Part of finding my own place of healing involves both writing and music. Though there’s no constant rhythm to grief, I find some stability in the lyrics of “Repine,” a song from the band Pianos Become the Teeth.
“Keep You” is an album that I discovered months before my dad passed away. However, it wasn’t until just last year when I realized that this entire album is a testament to being a man without a father. Kyle Durfey, lead singer of PBTT, lost his father to pneumonia in April of 2010. The more research I did, the more the lyrics of “Repine” shifted and took on a whole new light for me. They began to echo that language, that symphony of pain and survival that I had, up until that point, never heard sung before.
Wear me out, like a sister haunting absence,
like a sister who’s finally had it
Like a room left open,
just for being kept like some lonely facet
Like the promise of a place and knowing
you’re neither here nor there
My loved ones have passed on, but my pain and my bereavement remain. They are a part of me now, like a new spirit that inhabits my body and occasionally rears its ugly head. I know that, for some, this same old tune of death and loss will wear out and lose its emotional heft. But not for me. Writing fiction and singing at the top of my lungs with Kyle Durfrey are but two of countless ways I live on and carry the memories of Chris and my father with me.
This one’s for you, Shulman. I can’t wait until we’re riding our bikes side by side again one day.
Side Note: Out of the Darkness Walks
Christopher’s loved ones are participating in the Austin Out of the Darkness Walk. I joined this cause, and I hope you will also take the time to help us honor my friend’s life. You can sign up for “Team Toaster” here. Your participation would mean everything to those of us who were touched by Chris’ humor and his unforgettable smile.
Your wick won’t burn away,
Your wick won’t burn away.