Have You Seen Jake?
Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a walkthrough of the author’s experience in Nocturnal Fandango’s third fully realized event in the Have You Seen Jake trilogy: Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow. As this experience was extremely personalized, this is only the author’s experience, and other experiences should be expected to be variants of below. If interested in the first two experience, please read Therapy & Dreams and Water & Fire.
Idyllwild is a town of a little more than 3,800 people. It’s small, it’s quaint, and it’s beautiful. Tall, sturdy trees flank a two-lane road leading into town. Arrive early and you can meet Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller, the golden retriever mayor of the town, and pick up some sweets from Candy Cupboard. And when you’re ready, drive down the road to Silver Pines Lodge, a rustic series of cabins offering an escape from the real world. Here you’ll meet me and twenty others, all here to celebrate the birthday of our dear friend, Jake.
Act One: Yesterday
It’s March 19th, 2016—Jake’s 22nd birthday. I arrive in Idyllwild ready to celebrate. The property is small, with only a handful of cabins, offering a real escape from the worries back home. I check in and then head to my cabin: all wood with pictures of wildlife adorning the walls. On the table is a card with a drawing of a giraffe, its legs and head connected by a yellow balloon. The back invites me to Jake’s 90’s-themed birthday party. The address is a restaurant down the street. I quickly change into an old band shirt, a red and black plaid flannel tied around my waist, and my Chuck Taylor converse. As I leave, I find Sniffles, Jake’s sister, and Heather, Jake’s best friend, standing outside.
“Great, are we all wearing flannels around our waists?” Sniffles jokes.
She has a blue and green plaid flannel in the same position. I joke back and we begin to walk. We arrive at Ferro, a fancy two-story restaurant—and the whole second floor is ours. Kevin and Paul, two long-time friends of Jake, are already there decorating. We’re early, so we join in. I help Heather hang a “Happy Birthday” banner and then blow up balloons—shaped like penises of course. Jake’s chair gets a special balloon and plenty of streamers.
The remaining members of the party flood in and their outfits are perfect: nirvana shirts, tie-dye, and even a member of the Blue Barracudas from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Paul and Kevin introduce themselves, and Paul explains that his sister, Buoy, will be late. Although I haven’t met her yet, I can’t help but think I may meet her in the future—maybe in a bar or on a beach.
I sit across from Kevin and we chat about our lives and the various “haunt” things we like to do. “Three minutes!” Sniffles yells. The birthday boy is almost here. He’s bringing his new girlfriend. Her name is Ember. He met her in an art class, after Heather insisted he go talk to her. She is Jake’s first love, and is not without her own problems. Evidence of a substance abuse issue will be uncovered in the future—but right now, I’m just excited to meet my good friend’s new girlfriend.
“Happy Birthday!” Everyone yells in unison as Jake enters.
A lanky twenty-two-year old, Jake is handsome in a dorky kind of way. Ember trails behind him: shy and nervous with a quiet intensity to her. Jake looks flustered with all his friends here, all eyes on him. He spies Sniffles in the corner, hurries over to ruffle her hair. He thanks her and hugs everyone within reach. But I notice Ember move across the room and enter the bathroom. Dinner is served, but Jake is too busy seeing his friends to eat. He moves around to each table, sharing stories from the past and joking with each of us. He’s funny and witty. I remember now why I was friends with him. He’s really likeable.
Ember emerges from the bathroom. She has a tissue in her hand, it’s covered in blood. “It’s just a bloody nose,” she says—but excuses herself to the deck anyways. She steps out, and Jake follows her out to see if she’s okay. Her body language shows that she’s upset, but I don’t know the reason. They hug and return to the party. Ember takes her seat and Jake moves around the room again, trying to spend time with all his friends. Dinner is served. We eat, laugh, drink, and share stories. He introduces us to “Martha”, a wooden spoon with a face, and tells us her story. When Jake was younger, he would hide utensils from his parents, they would blame Sniffles for it. Like any little brother, Jake found this hilarious and would continue to do it, just to get his older sister in trouble. In time, it became a joke to them, so much so that a face was drawn on “Martha” and she became a character to him. Kevin often provided voices for her and acted out scenes with Jake; Jake was always so imaginative.
Ember makes small talk with our table, but she doesn’t really know anyone. She gets up and grabs Jake, pulling him outside once again; their arguing a little more noticeable this time. A few friends go out onto the deck to see if everything is okay. They return as Kevin cuts the delicious strawberry cake and hands out pieces to everyone.
“Jake, Ember just left.”
I hear Kevin say it. Jake looks worried. He apologizes; he wants to be here with his friends but his thoughts are with her. He hugs a few people and rushes towards the door. “Take some potatoes,” Kevin yells after. A hand appears from the stairwell and a box of leftovers is thrust into it before it disappears again. We walk back from the restaurant to the cabins. We’ve all experienced relationship troubles like that, but we’ve all made it through it—usually stronger.
After we change in our cabins, we move to the great hall, which resides in the center of all the cabins. Coon skin caps hang from hooks, a large bear head hangs over a massive fireplace, and an antler chandelier blankets the room in warm light. Various cookies, candy, and chips line the counter tops, and there’s plenty of beer and wine waiting to be enjoyed. But look closer and you’ll notice little signs of the experience: the amethyst crystals put in our hand at Water & Fire can be found on almost every surface and the large painting of She from the end of Therapy & Dreams hangs in the corner. These little touches made this place feel a little more familiar. This is our home for the remainder of the night, a place for friends to be there for each other in between the events we will witness as the night continues.
The Bear’s Den
I leave the cabin and head to one of the other locations on the property. This one is labeled “The Bear’s Den” and has a note taped to the side of the door: “Come in at your assigned time and quickly take a seat (the individuals in this room cannot see or hear you).” I hear talking inside, so I open the door and enter. Jake is casually laying on the bed while Ember applies make-up in the bathroom. Stephen King books sit atop the nightstand on Jake’s side, and two bottles of pills can be seen on Ember’s. I take a seat on the floor and watch as the scene plays out.
“Do you want one of those tutorials? Seriously, don’t poke your eye out with the—the thing,” Jake warns Ember.
“Oh, that’s articulate. It’s a pencil, Jake,” Ember says sarcastically. Ember is obviously frustrated with this. Jake is trying to be as understanding as he can be, but he’s obviously uncomfortable—throwing a ball around as a distraction.
“When we’re old, I won’t care about what we look like. We’ll both be saggy and gross… Why don’t you try it on me?” Jake offers.
She walks over to Jake, hesitant, and touches his face gently. She brings the pencil up to his eye and begins to draw. “Just around the rim,” she says. And together, they both snicker.
Ember is transgender; putting on eyeliner for the first time is an intimate look into Jake and her life. The scene is sweet, but there’s an obvious unease. Jake uses humor to ease the tension, “I’ll be the prettiest raccoon in the forest. All the woodland creatures will be my friends.” I try not to laugh.
But Ember is self-conscious. and hurt by Jake’s jokes. She comments how weird this is and retreats from the bed. Depeche Mode’s ‘Somebody’ plays and Jake asks her to dance. He holds her close and they move slowly, barely moving at all.
But this intimate moment of theirs is interrupted by a loud phone ringing. They don’t seem to notice though; as if it’s a moment of time separated from the current scene. A voice answers it—it’s Dr. Roberts, Jake’s long-time therapist who we met at Therapy & Dreams. Jake tells her he feels sick; he needs someone to talk to. I watch the two lovers continue to dance as the voiceover continues.
“When I tell Ember that I love her, it’s true. But when I say we’re going to make it work, it’s not true—it’s a lie.”
Dr. Roberts assures him that we can’t always change in the same way as our partners. Sometimes we just move in different directions. It’s not his fault this is happening. Jake understands that he can’t be with her, despite loving her. He’s grown in so many ways, but she hasn’t grown in the same way. He needs to be honest; his needs matter.
The phone call ends, and Jake and Ember stop dancing.
“I don’t think I can be with you,” Jake admits to her out loud.
Jake tries to to explain himself, but the damage is already done. She rushes to her side of the bed, grabs something and rushes to the bathroom—slamming the door. Jake rushes forward, pounding on it, kicking it, screaming—but it’s futile. He slumps to the floor defeated. I worry for her—for him.
The phone rings again—another moment separated from the current scene. Jake is sobbing. Dr. Roberts voice is soft, concerned. “I told her she couldn’t drive. I tried to take the keys, but she wouldn’t listen,” Jake forces the words out in between the tears. Dr. Roberts tries to calm him down, to get him to breathe.
The voiceover ceases as Ember emerges out of the bathroom. Jake tells her, “Hey, you promised me you wouldn’t use anymore!” Ember heads for the door with her keys. Jake reaches for them, but she pulls them away. “You don’t get a say anymore,” she says firmly. And slams the door in his face.
The voiceover resumes. Jake cries, “She was all fucked up. She’s dead. She took the car and spun out on the 405. She hit another car—and—and everyone died. Blue is coming to get me; I know he is. I’m broken now. I pretended to be strong, but I’m not.” Dr. Robert assures Jake that she’s coming, and hangs up as we leave a broken Jake crying in his hotel room.
The Owl’s Nest
I head to the next room: The Owl’s Nest. A similar sign hangs outside. The occupants can’t hear us. I enter and find a seat. The hotel room looks much like the first. Drinks and a stereo can be seen, and a suitcase in the closet. But no one is here. But then I hear voices outside. They are laughing—having fun. The door opens and Heather and Sniffles stumble in, after a fun night on the town. Sniffles hangs back to finish her cigarette as Heather keeps the party going and offers to make them both a drink. She pours two rum and cokes as Sniffles turns on some party music.
“I just met the love of my life at that gas station. If you are that hot, why would you stay in a place like this? You should share that hotness with the world,” Sniffles jokes, clearly already drunk. Heather jokes back, dismissing her crush of the week, but Sniffles retorts, “Oh, trust me. I’ll prove it to him on our first date.”
“We should get just separate rooms next time.” Heather is trying to be funny, but there appears to be an element of truth behind the banter.
The conversation shifts and Sniffles looks more concerned. She asks Heather if she’s heard from Jake lately. Heather says Jake’s fine; they’re hanging out in a few weeks in October. But Sniffles is serious.
“No, really. He usually calls me. I mean I don’t answer, but he leaves a voicemail, calling me Crapsack or whatever. But I haven’t talked to him this time and I’m worried. He’s not strong enough for this. He really isn’t.”
But Heather believes in Jake. “You need to give him more credit. Ember just died three months ago, Jake needs some space to be by himself, to work out his feelings.” Heather relates it to her experience with her father:
“My dad and I didn’t have the closest relationship. I was always alone. But after he died, I realized what it was to be truly alone. It didn’t matter who was there or wasn’t there. I needed space to get through it—and that’s what Jake is doing.”
Sniffles turns up the music to drown out Heather’s words, and retreats into the kitchen. Heather tries to rectify the situation: “Why don’t you come to the show with us. Come on, it’s a one-woman show in Santa Monica. You can see for yourself.” Sniffles wants no part in that kind of show! But the air is partially diffused. They aren’t going to agree, but that’s okay—but friends don’t always need to agree.
Great Outdoors (Side Entrance)
I enter with four others through the side door. The sign warns us to enter at our exact time and take a seat—but this is the first that does not say that the occupants won’t be able to see or hear us. We enter and find ourselves in a kitchen. Against the wall is a table with five chairs and five matching note pads with sharpies, and a large sheet, depicting a red stage curtain and a black and white tiled floor, separates the room. We take our seats and wait for the show to start.
‘Entry of the Gladiators’ by Julius Fucik begins to play. This song is reminiscent of a circus—and then we hear the voice of an over-the-top ringmaster. It’s Mr. S., a disembodied voice that has called many members of the search party. But he’s not speaking to us this time, he’s talking to Jake. He asks Jake what’s been troubling him and Jake responds that there’s too many to count. Mr. S instructs him to make a list of all his troubles and spend the rest of the night reading it over, really committing it to memory. This sounds all too familiar.
Mr. S speaks of puzzles Jake enjoyed as a child. But Jake can’t see the bigger picture through all the pieces. There’s a common denominator to all his problems—and it’s himself. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries to put things together, they never fit. He wishes Jake goodnight and ends the call.
The circus theme begins to play again, and a real-life Mr. S. emerges from behind the curtain.
“Good evening! How are you? We are going to have some fun tonight, aren’t we?”
His face is dark, formless, but he’s extremely well dressed: a grey suit and matching hat, pink bow tie and matching handkerchief. The body definitely matches the voice.
“I consider myself a bit of a teacher. And it seems like I’m not a very good one because I keep teaching the same lessons over and over and over and over again,” he hits me in the head with each repeating word, “but you don’t seem to get it.”
Two associates emerge from behind the curtains. As anonymous as Mr. S., one is in all black and the other is in all blue. Mr. S. tells us they will demonstrate a few tasks for us—and it is our job to criticize their performance. We start with something very intellectual: act out your favorite Shakespearean sonnet. They speak unknown gibberish and make over-exaggerated movements. The girl gets on one knee and holds out a fake imaginary skull. I try not to laugh, but I end up snickering at their ridiculousness.
Mr. S. changes the subject to math skills. How about the square root of 7524? The two get together, muttering in their unknown language for a moment, circus music still playing in the background. Then they turn to us, and in unison yell “Sixty-nine!!” as they erupt into laughter. Mr. S congratulates them and offers another: the square root of 9220. They mutter again and repeat: “Sixty-nine!!” laughing again. We all laugh. But Mr. S. doesn’t think they’re right. They look sad.
“How about a different activity: criticisms of each other? I like that one!”
We start to write down criticisms, and Mr. S. moves around the room. He grabs one notepad. “Ohhhh, you think she snores too loud!” Then he grabs another person’s notepad. “This is a good one! You think that Jared’s penis is too big!” The room cracks up in laughter.
Now it’s time for a guessing game. “Can anyone guess what the “S” in Mr. S. stands for?”
We think it over, and one of the girls in our group shouts out: “Shame!”
“Brilliant! Although you are usually stupid—you are actually right!”
He pulls a sheet of paper down from the ceiling, revealing the definition of Shame. And then turns to us, pleased with the outcome of his lesson. Maybe he’s actually making progress this time. He has some advice for us too:
“I call on Jake, but not nearly as much Jake called on me. Jake, Chance, William, Ember. So many calls. Now, next time, you get to decide, whether or not to answer. The choice is yours.”
We exit the room as he wishes us goodnight. I don’t think I’ll answer his call next time.
I pass the other cabins and walk down a dirt path. The familiarity of the lodge disappears into the trees and I reach a dirt driveway leading up to a remote cabin. I see the warm glow of the kitchen lights as I walk towards the house. I pass three cars in the driveway and arrive at the door. A man is standing in the kitchen—someone I have never seen before. He’s eating grapes and scrolling through his phone. The sign on the door asks us to wait—and again, that the occupants will not be able to see or hear us. I watch the man inside, until we hear a car door slam behind us.
Jake stands in the cold night air—wearing a thin hoodie and basketball shorts. He approaches the cabin door, nervous and shaking. He pauses and pulls out his phone.
“Hey Crapsack, do you have a moment to talk?”
“What do you mean by a moment? Like an actual moment or a Jake moment? I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
He’s called his sister, but she’s too busy to talk to him. She offers to talk to him tomorrow; she asks if he’s okay—and he’s too scared to ask for help. He says he’s fine and hangs up. He dials a second phone number. It rings, and rings, and rings. It goes to voicemail, and Jake speaks:
“Hey Taylor, uh… if you have the moment to call me back in the next five or ten minutes, that would be great. If not, that’s fine.”
My face turns red—wait, he’s calling me? That’s my voicemail. And I didn’t answer Jake’s call. My stomach sinks and I’m ashamed, horrified that I didn’t answer. And now I’m faced to relive that moment—and the consequences of not answering.
Jake looks exhausted. With no other options, he walks up to the door of the cabin and knocks. The man in the kitchen walks over to the door and opens it. He is wearing a white button-up shirt tucked into slacks. He has a tie with a paisley pattern. I also notice a suit jacket and a blue fedora sitting on the table inside.
“You made it. I’m Jamie. Come on in! This place is great, isn’t it?”
Jake is reluctant, unsure. He introduces himself, then quickly says he should go. But Jamie wants him to stay. Jake wants to leave, but Jamie’s voice changes: “I want you to stay.” Jake enters slowly and takes a seat at the kitchen table. Jamie stands over him, and the boy slumps down in his chair a little further, I look in through the window, feeling oddly voyeuristic—but don’t dare enter the scene.
Jamie offers him a drink to ease his nerves, but Jake refuses.
“Don’t drink?” Jamie pushes.
“No, but I just don’t think—” Jake is cut off.
“Do you want a drink?” Jamie is used to being in a position of power, to being the one in control. And Jake gives in. He asks for a glass of water. Jamie pours him one and hands it over.
Jamie makes small talk; mentioning how beautiful this place is, how he should bring his wife up here, and how his wife gets sad when he’s away from their daughter, Chloe, for too long—she’s one. Jake looks so uncomfortable. Jamie picks up on this, “Not a big baby fan?”
“No. I’d just rather not talk about your wife, and kid.”
“You just want to go for it then? You’re dirty, bro. I’ll pay you—got the money right here. So how many times have you fucked for money?”
Jake fidgets and looks down. “I haven’t…” He whispers it as if not to let it be real. He is ashamed, but he needs something to take away the pain. Jamie pulls out a glove, one singular glove, and puts it on. He also pulls out a Wartenberg Wheel, a medical tool with a wheel of small spikes on the end, and asks Jake if he’s ever used this before. “I haven’t…” Jake can’t even look Jamie in the face—and neither can I.
“You know—I don’t think, I don’t think I…”
“Exactly. Don’t think. You make bad decisions when you think.” Jamie has control now. “So, the safe-word is Fandango. Say it and I won’t pay you. You get jack-shit, copy?”
“Copy,” Jake mutters.
“It’s hard to pay your rent if I don’t pay you. I think you’ll be just fine. Now go shower. Clean up. I got to make a call first.”
Jake unzips his hoodie, giving in. He is not wearing a shirt underneath. He walks through a back door and shuts it. Jamie steps out of the cabin towards me. His phone rings and his wife answers. He tells her he’s safe, he’s drinking at the lobby bar. He asks to put “dear sweet Chloe” on. He talks baby-talk to her as he begins to walk around. He circles the area almost running into me. I move out of his way, but it’s almost as if he can see me—he moves right towards me again, stopping directly in front of me. He looks me right in the eye, and I freeze. He keeps talking to his daughter as he moves his hand to my face and brushes the hair from my eyes. He then takes a singular grape from his hand and pushes it into my mouth. I feel dirty, but I swallow anyway.
“It’s time for you to go now.” He says it directly at me.
And I’ve never been so glad to leave.
I walk back, my skin still crawling. And I see Buoy standing by the creek, wearing athlete gear and holding a lantern.
“I was just going to go on a nature hike—would you care to join me?”
I agree and she hands me a lantern. We start to hike. Darkness blankets the area and pale moonlight seeps between the trees. We hear the stream splashing against the rocks and the distant sound of crickets. But I can’t help but feel unsafe.
We reach a fork in the road and Buoy offers us a choice: we can either hike upstream or relax on the creek-side deck. Whoever was rewarded for taking the easy path—I choose the upstream hike. Buoy smiles, and we continue. The ground is uneven with rocks and roots. Buoy stops me at a large tree stump and asks us if anyone knows how to determine how old the tree is. We look at the rings in detail as a large beetle scurries away from our light.
We continue to hike following the creek-side. Buoy stops suddenly. As if in a trance, she begins to recite “Alone” by Edgar Allen Poe, a gloomy poem depicting a flashback of an adult narrator looking back at his childhood. Once she has completed, we continue to hike.
I notice the dark outline of a person standing in a clearing. But as we approach and the light from the lantern illuminates her—it’s not a person at all; it’s BusyBody, the mute bird-masked member of Them. She holds a sign that tells us to dig. We find a shovel and begin to dig. I hear Bossman, leader of Them laugh menacingly in the distance. We continue to dig and find a large black trash bag with a wooden box inside. We open the box and there’s a tape-recorder and two pieces of paper. One is a poem, and the second is a Newspaper article on blue paper.
Man Dies in Drowning in Montauk, New York. The body of a 19-year old man was discovered on Tuesday at 3am in Montauk. Police are not investigating this further because the death appears to be a drowning, and it looked as if he was prepared to go for a swim because he was wearing a bathing suit. The coroner identified the man as William Xavier. He was a resident of Oyster Bay and was residing with Chip and Lila Stewart.
BusyBody has a new sign: “My beak is quivering. Care for a cuddle.” I agree, and she holds up a new sign: “Why don’t you shove it in your little fuck-hole?”
We push play on the tape recorder. It’s a message Jake left for William:
“There’s some things I never got to say to you; so, I need to say them now. I don’t know how to forgive myself for what happened to you. I don’t know how to let you go. My parents brought you home. I knew why you were there; so, I couldn’t get too close to you. I couldn’t protect you; instead I build walls. But those walls crumbled and I wanted to know you. I would lie in my bed while they hurt you. I wanted to die, and I felt like I should do something, say something, be something… for you—but I didn’t. I remember the day before they took you to the water. I was your friend. And it wasn’t my fault—but, but, you got in their car. And you never came back. I wanted to love you. I hope wherever you are, you have love. And you feel it every day. You were one of the really good ones. I met someone I really like. And for me to love him the way I need to, I had to tell you that. You’d like him—he’s quiet and intense. His name is Ember. I’m going to leave these memories here. Forever. I think you’d really like it here. And Blue says hi.”
BusyBody holds up a new sign: “In the silver trees, the blood runs black.”
We hike back in silence, only stopping to hug Buoy goodbye.
I open the door and step in alone. This room is different than the others. It’s dark, but bathed in a red hue. Plastic covers the bed and the surrounding areas. A distorted, home-made recording of ‘Clementine’ plays. I step forward, across the plastic, and move towards the bathroom. Rockclimber, the often-nude giraffe-masked member of Them sits in a bathtub. We’re old friends by now, so I say hi.
Rockclimber asks me how I’m doing and I respond that I’m doing well out of habit. Bossman emerges from around the corner and grabs me.
“If you’re doing well, then we aren’t doing our job yet.”
I am pushed onto the bed and forced to sit. Bossman begins to berate me. “You have been a pretty fucking shitty leader out there today. Your troops have wept like little fucking pussies. They’ve given me wrong answers, and they’ve been fucking late.”
They take an animal mask out and place it over my head. They tell me it looks better than my actual face.
“Do something to him, Rockclimber. Make him feel, Rockclimber.”
I am pushed onto the plastic on the floor. My arms are pulled behind my back and duct-taped together. Bossman emerges and starts running his hands through my hair and across my face. They’re sticky—covered in blood. Rockclimber slaps at my sides and hits my back with large mallet. The pain stings and lingers to remind me.
“I don’t think this is a test of what you can endure, Sunshine.” Bossman reminds me. And I feel pain shoot through my body.
“Do you know what we are, Sunshine? You have an idea, but you choose to keep coming back to us, over and over again. You were the first one—and now you’ll be the last. Does that mean you’re special? Or does it just make you a fool?” I answer that I was dumb to keep coming back. But I’m learning. Rockclimber pounds on my back more.
“We take people from Point A to Point B. We take them to Her. Come on, what are we?”
They ask me again as Rockclimber pushes into my back and the breath escapes my lungs. I struggle to breathe, and lose focus of the question.
“Maybe if you fixed your fucking friendship with him, you could have answered his call. But you were too fucking busy.”
“We are Trauma. You’ve known that for a long time. I want to ask you something: is it more important to be right, or to be whole and complete?” I tell them I want to be whole; I promise I want to be whole.
“I like you better naked. I don’t have to see the blame; I can just look at your pretty parts.”
And with that, I am lifted and dragged to the door, pushed out into the cold air, my arms taped behind my back and my face covered in blood. But I don’t feel the pain as strongly, as real. I’ve identified my trauma, and I can start making amends to be whole again.
Act Two: Today
Great Outdoors (Front Entrance)
After a brief interlude of enjoying drinks, games, and conversation with friends in the Great Hall, I arrive at the Great Outdoors. At my time, I open the door and enter. Chance, the tragic man I saw at the end of Water & Fire, the man who died in a fire, the man who was tortured by Chip and Lila, stands before me. I give him a warm embrace. The room is small, and fits only a singular bed. The ceiling is illuminated with a projection of clouds, rain, and a storm. But I hear Blue’s voice and I am calmed by it. Chance leads me to the bed, and I lie down. Chance kneels next to me, near my head.
Chance talks to me, in a soft voice. He asks me how I’m doing, but we don’t say much. I hold his hand and he stares into my eyes, his big dark eyes keeping my gaze.
I keep my eyes on Chance, but let my brain focus on Blue’s voice. His voice is like a lullaby. He speaks of poetry, of love, of the hardships of life. He focuses on the similarities between people, our common bonds. We’re all born, we live, and we die. We learn to walk, we learn to talk. We obsess over things and look forward to the holidays. We get a pet—a dog, maybe a cat, or maybe even a snake. And one day that pet dies. But we keep going. We go through puberty and we spend two wonderful years locked in our rooms. We get a crush; we fall in love.
My mind relaxes to his words and I drift into the abyss of Chance’s dark pupils. Blue’s words shift from life to death. Chance squeezes my hand tighter.
“You find ourselves in a white room, a room that replays your life. You decide to watch it, from the beginning. You relive the worst moments, the beautiful moments, and the moments that break your heart. When it’s over, a woman enters the room. She takes you by the arm and leads you out of the room and into another—filled with pictures of every person that you have ever met.”
Chance tells me to stand. He has something to show me. He leads me to another door and opens it. It’s a small closet, but brightly lit. All the walls are filled with pictures. Faces I don’t recognize; strangers, all staring back at me. But as I look closer, I see familiar faces. I see Jenny, and Maxwell. Crystal and Beth. I see Kim and Rizzo. The door closes behind me and I am left alone with these faces watching me. But I don’t feel alone: I am comforted by these faces, and by Blue’s voice. I don’t fear what lies beyond life.
The door opens again and Chance looks at me. He doesn’t need to speak. I know why he’s showing me this. I understand. I hold his hand and together we listen to Blue together:
“You find yourself in one last room, filled with people you know, and don’t know. You have to tell these people something. And you know exactly what you have to say. Now that you know it, you’ll be able to tell them what happens when you go. You’ll be able to tell them what happens when you go.”
“And you’ll be able tell them what happens when you go,” Chance repeats this in unison with Blue. “This is what I saw when I went.”
He again holds me close. He whispers to me that he wishes I could stay, but it’s not my time. And with this, I leave—a little less afraid of the unknown.
I find myself back outside the Tahquitz Room. After the trauma I felt during my first time in this room, I dread reentering. I open the door slowly, alone, and realize the room has been transformed. It’s almost welcoming: a roaring fire, no sign of the plastic, and a cozy bed. I hear a voice, soft and sweet. A woman’s voice, singing a haunting melody to me. It’s Lepidopterist, the snake-masked member of Them. I cross the room, approaching the bed, and Lepidopterist follows closely behind, still singing. Foxy, the fox-masked member of Them, is sitting on the bed, beckoning me closer. I sit next to him, and Lepidopterist sits on my other side.
“Trauma leaves its fingerprints on victims; They don’t leave like bruises do.”
Foxy thrusts his hands onto my sides and starts to tickle me. I laugh loudly and kick my feet.
“Traumatic experiences rob you of your identity.” Foxy is speaking to me, but between the tickles and Lepidopterist’s singing, I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t hear the words as much as I try. The singing is louder and my laughter drowns out the remaining sound of their words.
“There’s nothing here for you now.” A new voice says. A slow, methodical voice. A morose voice.
The singing stops and the tickling teases. Foxy and Lepidopterist retreat into the darkness. And I realize I know the voice. It’s She—and this is the first time I am seeing Her in person. She was the first one to call me in the experience, finding me all the way in Kansas City. She’s been a part of me for a long time, and it’s almost comforting to finally see in her person. She’s small, just like her drawings, and her hair is as curly. She’s not wearing her trade-mark coat, but She is barefoot. And She’s beautiful.
She asks me to stand and to dance with her. I put one arm round her and hold her other hand with the other. We slow dance as a recording of Lepidopterist sings Conway Twitty’s ‘I’d love to Lay You Down’. She whispers to me that she likes to think of people’s lives as films, frames woven together to create an existence.
She then asks me if I can see the film of my life. I softly tell her I can as we sway back and forth, our fingers intertwined. I begin to play that film, moving backwards frame by frame. She asks me to stop at a particular one—the first one I felt the pain of loss. I think of it very clearly and I feel the pain again.
We stop dancing and sit down on the bed. The song shifts to ‘She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain’, but a softer version, a slower version. It’s Lepidopterist and Rockclimber singing it together. She asks me to describe that frame, that moment with Her. She asks me how it made me feel and I tell Her it made me feel sad and lonely.
“Such boring attributes. Sadly, that’s how I remember it for you too. But you are missing two things. It’s faint, but it’s there. The sound of the ocean crashing into stones. Can you hear it now?” She’s practically whispering and I lean closer to hear her. “Do you remember who else was there?”
“You were there.” I remember now. I remember her voice.
“You’ve met me many times since then. Too many to count. So, what am I?”
I ask if she’s loss. And she laughs, “I’m so much more permeable than loss. I’m Grief.”
She takes my hand and leads me through a back room. We are now outside. She is barefoot, yet we are walking down the back wooden stairs of the cabin and up the dirt road to Foley Cabin, where Jake visited Jamie previously. I don’t want to go up there—I don’t know if I’m ready to see what I tried so hard to forget. But I know I need to. I can’t stay with Grief and Trauma for much longer. I continue to walk up the dirt path and we reach the door.
“Are you ready to remember?”
I nod, and She opens the door. We cross the kitchen and she opens the door, revealing a harrowing scene.
A naked Jake is crumpled in the shower. His head resting against the tile—blood trailing down the side. His body looks so frail. A man in a blue Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants, and no shoes sits next to Jake, holding his hand. This must be Blue, our friend, our guide, our protector. I have not seen him, but in this moment, I need to see him. I walk forward, and sit.
“Right on cue. Right on cue,” Blue says regarding Grief/She showing up at this very moment.
“I’m nothing if not timely, Blue,” She responds.
“I’d like to say horrifyingly persistent. But I guess it’s all a matter of opinion, isn’t it?” He turns to me and says hi, and I grab his hand. Blue is crying, he’s grieving—and She is calm and deliberate. She questions why he has to be like this with her.
“I don’t want to listen to you. I want you to leave us alone.” He begs.
“Oh how I wish I could. I’ll see soon, Blue.” She leans and whispers, “I’ll see you sooner, Sapling.”
“Do you remember who I am? Don’t you remember; don’t you remember when you were a little boy? Don’t you remember how we were friends, and no one else could see me? Jake drew me when he was four. And so I was born out of Trauma. He was a special case, but I walked with him, through far more than any one kid should have to face. But then he forgot me. As you all do. But things got really bad; he asked me to come back. When you have children of your own, when you are a father, you can’t look away for a moment, no matter how old your children get. I looked away for a moment, and he got in his car to drive to the mountains and got paid for something that should not involve money. And after all he overcame, he couldn’t overcome taking a shower. He slipped and hit his head and called for help—but no one answered. Do you remember the four of you finding him now? We knew in September.”
I break during this. I start crying. Realizing how much pain Jake has been through in his life, but that he always had a best friend next to him to hold his hand during those hard times. But also, how hard it must have been on Blue, to be born out of trauma and to walk beside a boy who felt more pain than he should.
I cry and squeeze Blue’s hand tighter. But someone else needs my hand. Jake opens his eyes; I have one last chance to say goodbye. But it’s Blue who talks first.
“Taylor, and Michael, and Stu, and Jenny. They found you and they took care of you because I couldn’t. And they told the others. But we all forgot, because when you combine Trauma and Grief, it’s easier to get sick and forget than to remember the truth. But I knew I had to bring your friends back to you to remember. And I’m so sorry. But your friends are a family.”
I tell Jake, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry I didn’t answer the phone.” And he says he’s sorry that he didn’t try harder. He says he was a little shit, but I understand. With all the pain, with the trauma, I understand. I hold his hand tighter and look at him through the tears. I miss my friend, but I’m so glad I get to say goodbye one last time.
Blue promises to stay with Jake and to take him where he’s going. Jake is not alone, he has all of us to support him, to love him. And he has Blue.
Blue tells me I have one more person to meet and leads me through a second door. This room is in stark contrast to the last. The cold tile is replaced with a warm glow. Candles are lit around the room, and the room has a faint pink glow. The candles fill the room with the scent of lavender and vanilla. A woman in a white robe and blonde hair stands in the center. It’s Hope, the woman I fell asleep next to during Therapy & Dreams.
She greets me and holds me tight. Soft music plays and I can stop crying enough to say hello back. She takes me over to the couch and we sit.
“You and I haven’t been seeing too much of each other. That’s because sometimes when we have a lot of Trauma, and Grief, and even fear, it’s hard to see things like me, or to have courage, or strengths. I want to tell you something so hopefully we can start seeing a lot more of each other.”
She hands me a small sapling. She begins to tell me a story; a story of Jake as a child. He loved trees for the very simple reason that something so small and fragile can become so big and mighty—almost as if by magic. His favorite were the Sequoia trees because they were the biggest. She speaks to me softly, but warmly—almost like a mother. I stop crying and continue to listen.
“Imagine you are looking at a full clearing of Sequoia saplings. The weather is perfect, the ground is filled with nutrients, and there is enough rainfall. Most of those, however, will never become trees. Sometimes, even when you do everything you can, when everything is going in your favor, when you have Hope, and courage and strength—sometimes, things just don’t go our way. And that’s no fault of yours. That’s just how things need to go sometimes.”
She looks down at the plant and tells me to keep it somewhere I can see often. It will help me remember that although the likelihood of me staying small is pretty big, it’s okay. The only person that can fight for me is me. And I have to keep fighting until the perfect combination of my efforts and chance let me succeed. And when that happens, maybe I’ll grow to be one-hundred feet tall.
“Now dream of me a little less, and think of me a little more—because you deserve that.”
She gives me a long warm embrace that seems to last a lifetime, and takes me to the door. She tells me to leave, with Hope at my back, and to remember this for the times I need it most. I exit back into the darkness—a little less cold, and a little less alone.
I return to my cabin. I avoid the Great Hall, the festive friends, and the delicious drinks. I need to be alone, I need to process this feeling, I need to commit it to memory. Twenty, maybe thirty minutes pass, and I am startled by a knock at my door. It’s Kevin and Heather.
“I’m so sorry to be stopping by so late; were you still up?” I invite them in and together we sit on the couch. I hug Heather, and the tears well up again. But when I hug Kevin, I begin to cry again. He holds me tighter.
“I know that technically we are hosting this a little late. But Sniffles and I wanted to allow some time between Jake’s passing and his wake so that we all can grieve individually, so we can celebrate together.” She begins to cry. “I want to apologize in advance, but here’s his official wake invitation for tomorrow morning.”
She hands me a beautiful card. A large tree with branches reaching out, wide enough to reach the edges of the card. A Celebration of Jake Stewart’s life.
“I’m just really glad you’re all here. I wouldn’t want to have a different group of people here. Jake had the ability to bring together some of the most diverse, and beautiful, and just really fucking cool individuals. I’m glad you can be here for it.”
We share our tears, we share stories, and we share the comfort of each other. Heather leaves to distribute the rest of the invitations, but Kevin stays behind to make sure I’m okay. He tells me a dumb story to make me laugh, and it works. I give him a big hug
And after Kevin leaves, I sit and reflect on the evening until I am ready to rejoin the others, have a drink, and enjoy the brilliant company of Jake’s closest friends.
Act Three: Tomorrow
I arrive a few minutes before the wake. The air is somber, quiet. People move around slowly, drained of emotion and tired from a lack of sleep. The door opens at nine-fifteen. The room looks similar the prior night, except for three rows of chairs in the front, a podium, and a large picture of Jake swinging on a tire-swing, looking happy. I move to the back and make a much-needed cup of coffee. The food remains relatively untouched.
We find out seats as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Silver Springs’, sung by Lepidopterist, plays. I sit next to Kevin and he grabs my hand, gripping it tightly. When the song concludes, Heather takes the stage. She starts with a beautiful poem by Jake’s favorite poet, E E Cummings. Then she shares that her and Jake used to make lists for each other, “these dumb, dumb lists”. At 3am this morning, she decided to write one more list for him. She begins to read this list, which is both heartwarming, funny, and empowering. She even mentions her relationship with Trauma and Hope. She fights back the tears as she reads.
Heather concludes, and calls up Dr. Roberts to talk. A small woman wearing her hair up approaches the podium. She introduces herself, although she recognizes most of us. Dr. Roberts comments that she’s broken a few health care acts in her career, and today she’s going to break one more (please don’t tell, she wants to keep her license). We’re here to celebrate Jake, and that’s an easy task for most of us. From their first encounter, she saw the strength in him. And after many sessions, she learned that he had the soul of a cantankerous poet, the heart of a lion, and an inability to let his experiences to impact his need to care and love those in his life. And all of us being here is testament to that. She concludes with a beautiful quote from Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who shares the same initials as Dr. Eileen K. Roberts.
A few friends stand and tell stories about Jake, of his humor, his caring, and his big heart. And when his sister, Sniffles, reaches the podium the room grows quiet.
“I’m not speaking today, because there is absolutely fucking nothing to say.” She’s crying. “Other people have said words better than myself, so in Cole Porter’s words: “Every time we say goodbye, we die a little. Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little…” She sings this beautiful song through her tears. And her voice hits me hard as I start to cry as well. I squeeze Kevin’s hand a little tighter.
Out the window, behind the podium, I notice a familiar trio of animal-masked tormentors walking passed. But they don’t come in. They are merely a reminder that trauma is still out there; it’s not gone—just understood.
Kevin lets go of my hand and begins the final speech of the morning. I cry, and keep crying. He won’t allow Jake’s life to be defined by one singular moment, but by a collection of so many of them. Some were traumatic, some were painful, but many of them were beautiful. And those are the moments we will remember. He ends in the words of Flavia Weedn mixed with his own:
“’Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.’ Jake was with us for what felt like just a few moments. But his brilliance, his goofiness, his resilience, and his love, those are his footprints. They are indelible.”
This experience was far more than a story; it was real. It was real because the people were real, the emotions were real, and the situations were real. For a rare moment, I allowed myself to be truly vulnerable, to open myself up to this world, and it immersed me in a reality of trauma, shame, and grief, but ultimately hope. And it’s that message that stuck with me. It’s okay to feel, it’s okay if things hurt, and it’s okay if I’m not a tall tree yet. Just keep trying; always keep trying. With a little Chance and some Hope, I will be a tree one day.
Although Have You Seen Jake? has concluded, keep an eye on Nocturnal Fandango for future projects.
Thank you to The Organizers for such an emotionally powerful experience; and thank you to the community for sharing this experience with me. Finally, thank you to Kimberly Stewart (Jake’s Aunt), Chelsea Morgan, Jared Liebenau, Tim Redman, Ben Taylor, Julie Rei Goldstein, Dennis Tong, and Maxwell Robison for pictures for the article.