Tchaka Is


I don’t look up to many people.  My dad wasn’t much of a dad when I was growing up.  I looked up to my mom but she passed away before I left Arkansas for NYC.  I tried to look up to religion, find the wisdom in the purpose, but every time I told them who I was, they said if I didn’t change I’d go to hell.  I tried, in the name of God, to change, but I could not deny my taste in music, in art, in life.

I’m not saying that man should put all his/her faith in science.  It’s been wrong many times.   But some things are indisputable.  Such as the law of the conservation of matter: “Matter can not be created or destroyed, only transferred.”  There are still a few people I look up to.  Though they may have never met Tchaka, I look up to them for the same reason I look up to Tchaka: their wisdom, their kindness, their ability to listen without judging.  And I know there are people who look up to me.   And though I can never be half the man Tchaka is, I can do my best to live up to his standard.  And that is why I don’t say Tchaka was a good man, I say Tchaka is a good man.  Because he’s still alive, our physical limitations don’t allow us to visually see him, but if we look with our mind’s eye, we’ll see him everywhere.

For example: I went to help the BAC move from Queens to Rhode Island the day after I heard about the accident.  A couple days later we were in Rhode Island.  I was fairly intoxicated and there was an old Fire Truck parked outside the circus.  The town had brought it there for the kids, I guess.  Anyway, I was climbing around on it and decided I’d get behind the wheel and pretend to drive it.  I was playing with the buttons on the dash, because I thought “There’s no way they’d put a working fire truck outside the circus and not lock the door.”  But sure enough, I managed to turn the engine on.  So there I am, super drunk, with no driver’s license sitting behind the wheel of a running fire truck.

Thankfully, after everyone rushed over and screamed at me to turn it off, I finally figured out how to turn the thing off (it’s keyless)  and we left it alone the rest of the night.  The next day, when I was taking Bosko around to take pictures with people I decided I wanted a picture of him in front of the fire truck.  There were people sitting in front of it and I asked them “will it be okay if I take a picture of my little friend here in front of the fire truck?”

“Sure,” they replied, “as long as you don’t try to run away with it.”  They were completely joking, but they had no idea!

I looked at Bosko and said, “They’re talking to you, buddy.”

Right now, a lot of songs remind me of Tchaka.  This one in particular I play every day:

“Wherever you see a cop beating a guy,

Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries

Wherever there’s a fight against the blood

And the hatred in the air,

Look for me, mom I’ll be there

Wherever someone’s struggling for a place to stand

For a decent job or a helping hand

Wherever’s someone struggling to be free

Look in their eyes, Ma and you’ll see me,

You’ll see me.”

(Bruce Springsteen “Ghost of Tom Joad”)

Because that’s the kind of guy Tchaka is.  Wherever someone needs help, he’ll be there. Also, wherever someone’s having an awesome adventure, Tchaka will be there too.  Tchaka is the spirit of good times, and he’s the courage we summon in the bad times.  He’s the anticipation of a new day, and he’s the limitless possibilities of the dreams that visit us as we sleep.  He’s our angel in this life, and our guide in the next…



month one….

One month later.
One month later, and time moves backwards while everyone moves forwards. It took so much effort and life-force to fill out the 50 thank you cards from the funeral. It was surreal and took a lot out of me. There are still so many more people to thank. I am forever indebted to everyone.
I am thinking of you; re-living memories, tripping upon reminders, desiring resolution…anxious and angst-filled. The check-ins have subsided; people move on with their lives, and here I am–still carrying the pain so fresh. Everything is upside down. My heart is beating, pumping life into my body. But I feel hollow, empty, paper thin. I am a tiny shard. But I am also a warrior. Somebody told me I am a woman now. I understand this. Profoundly.
My body is stiff, as if I am becoming a living dead myself; I can barely dress myself in the mornings. Look at me, Papi. I am a mess without you. There is so much work to be done, and this is such a heavy burden to bear. I know you don’t want me to suffer, but I still need your help, you are my Angel and I need you.
So many words shuffle and dance in my mind. So many thoughts of you. Past, Present and Future.
In the present, I imagine you are in the Spirit World, The Happy Hunting Grounds where life is easy and effortless. I imagine you are so very busy pontificating with the likes of our mentor Louis–you guys had a lot of catching up to do. And Brother Bartee, and Zizwe, and Sekou… you are rapping with oh so many heavy hitters of the movement. Sometimes I think you have no time for me; you’re off having more adventures as you did in life.
In the past, I used to be so mad at you, so irritated because you wouldn’t return my calls. I would get so stressed and worried–because goddamn you were so accident prone. How many scrapes did you get into? how many times did I get so upset because your crazy ass wound up in yet another accident, another fender bender?
“Your friend has a Death Wish…” an elder and confidant once told me, when I ranted about your numerous accidents.
“We all choose our own Death…” said another.
Oh how true. How so very true.
But I will reflect on month one with a new found wisdom. At the service, people added to their contributions with closing statements that rang out words like. “Tchaka taught me..” and “The lesson I learned from this is…” Well, What have I learned? What lesson did I come away with? Firstly, I learned that Death is sneaky and unpredictable. And just because we are young, healthy, vibrant–is irrelevant.  What is certain is that there will be people hurting when you’re gone. So what is your plan? Do you what a funeral? Memorial? Burial? Cremation? What are your debts? Account numbers? Passwords? Life insurance? How can we help? Because we the living need to know. Dealing with our grief is burden enough; now there is a service to plan for. And your debt. And your stuff. Help us to help you. Because this is hell. So the lesson I take away from this is: have a Living Will. It’s uncomfortable to think about, but please do it for your loved ones. You can download the forms online. Notarize and secure it somewhere. And let a trusted person know where it is.
Secondly, I have to agree with Tim is–Tckaka has taught me to forgive better, and love more. Now, Tchaka and I had this in common already, but certainly I can improve. And as Jay said, Tchaka didn’t complain much. Now for the record–Tchaka’s complaints went UP, so believe me, he complained A LOT in my presence. But that meant he had CLASS. And classy men are hard to come by. So I have to continue my life on that tip–BE AS CLASSY AS POSSIBLE. This is my third lesson.
So looking forward–through the fire and the pain and the sorrow and this hell that I am experiencing… I am trying my best to be more forgiving, more loving and more classy… and I will also update my paperwork so that my family and friends will not suffer as much as I have had to in the past month.
Thank You, dear Angels who have not forgotten, and those who still check-in. I appreciate you all.

So Many To-Do’s

I am still walking around–existing in–a fog.
For those of you who were close friends of Tchaka, those who “knew” him–then you know who I am. And you would know that we loved each other very deeply. They say your closest friends reflect who you are…. this makes me happy. For if Tchak is a reflection of me…. well then, shucks.

From the moment I met him, at the Pratt cafeteria (he and Ivan were interviewing me as a potential roommate)–I instantly fell for him. At the end of our interview, I began to chat candidly with him in Spanish, and he waited ’til I was done and said (with a chuckle), “That all sounds good but I don’t speak Spanish…”

Oh God, the everything we shared. I have stories that could fill a book. Where would I begin? How we rode bike together and he made me so mad because he’d zip away too quick. How we walked along the Brooklyn Promenade after 911 with his friend Ken Park; all of us staring at the columns of smoke across the river, sharing our deep sorrow in silent disbelief. How we partied one New Year’s Eve and I had busted my (fake) leather pants across my ass and he burst out laughing harder than I’d ever hear him laugh. He was in tears, watching me bounding up the steps in shame, him screaming, “YO SIS YOUR PANTS IS BUSTED! BWAHAHAH!” How I traveled so very many times to Boston from New York to visit him and his ailing Grandad. How deeply saddened he was those days. How I held his hand, caressed his neck during his loss when his Grandad passed. How I wanted to see him happy, but he always had a sadness behind his laughter and it rested beyond his eyes. I knew why.

How many gifts did I give you, Papi? You never wanted to accept any gifts, because what you truly desired was long ago denied. I knew you. And I spent nearly 20 years of my life dedicated to you. Always available. Your cheerleader and champion forever. Even in death. I will never giver up on you, Papi. You know this. Please help me to help you, accept the gifts that I and those who love you are willing to give. Thank you my love for all that you have done in life and in death. I’m here for you.

Since you have passed, I have thrown away the couch that was your 2nd home. It was too much to look at. I have since rearranged the living room; I had to. This place had too much of you in here for me to exist another day. You once told me that breakups hurt, loss hurts, but “one day it will hurt a little less…. and a little less…and so on….” Papi I want to believe you. I understand the way forward is with a broken heart. I am so very heartbroken without you.

And there were so many things we planned. So many things we looking forward to share with one another… So many To-Do’s. We were planning a big blowout for your 40th birthday–Strippers and all, baby! We were supposed to go camping. We were supposed to go to Mexico. You were supposed to come back AND make a comeback. Room to paint, draw, craft…. so many things yet to do.

To the man who could never get a break, to the man who was frequently robbed of what was rightfully his, to the man with the sad behind the smile–I am determined to place his ashes over the finish line. North of the Pacific Coast Highway. He truly deserves to hang out for the rest of days where he felt accomplished and happy. How could I possibly settle for anything less?

Here’s to a top priority on my To-Do list. I hope Tchaka will accept the gift.

In Love and Revolution– Your Girl, Cielo.

Tell Me About Horses.

“Hey Jill, I was hoping you could tell me about horses.”

“What about them?”

“Well, how much do they cost?”


“Okay so I was asking Jenny about monkeys and she convinced me not to get one.”

“Um, yeah, good idea.”

“So I was thinking, maybe I could get a horse!”

And that was the beginning of my hilarious conversation with Tchaka about how he could keep a horse. You know, easy! Shortbus tows his bike now, but it could tow a horse trailer with the bike behind it! Tchaka’s own personal caravan of commodities.

Perhaps a week after the first conversation about horses, he approached me in the cookhouse and said, “so I found out you can buy a wild mustang for $300! How cool is that?”

I’m a rather practical person, so when someone starts asking me about animals who don’t really know anything about animals, with the intention of possibly owning one I start throwing out all the “THAT’S A BAD IDEA BECAUSE” reasons. Which I did with Tchaka because I can’t help myself. But I also joked with him, because of all people to figure out how to own a horse while living in the circus (besides being a performer) it would be him. I told him I would train his wild mustang.

So, Tchaka, someday I will train a horse for you. I will do it in your honor. I can’t promise it will be a wild mustang, but it will be for you. Your gentle, genuine spirit was so admirable, and I wish I had thought to introduce you to the horses here so you could learn some things first hand. Horses gravitate to spirits like yours. You probably could tame a wild horse just by being you.

Thank you for the conversations and the laughs. Thank you for being a light in my life and making the circus that much more bearable on the days it is just a little too rough. I am so glad to have known you.

I Miss You Tchaka

Impressive looking bike that was wheeled in wh...

This is a rest in peace blog…

I got news of a freak accident and senseless death of a good friend.  I’ve known him since I was twelve.  As a sixie, (The name given to the seventh graders because we have six years left to twelfth grade.  Yeah, I saw his art before I ever met him.  There were several beautiful drawings of a woman on the hallway walls.  Who.  Made.  Those?  I had an instant crush on the artist sight unseen.  The artist would soon be revealed to me.  He became a good friend.  I remember helping him plan how he could ask a girl to paint her since he was too shy to ask her out.

He lived in the art room.  The art teacher was like a mother to him.  He spent so much time in the art room.  I wondered how he got any other class work done.  Was he skipping everything else?  He did graduate and get into Pratt University in Brooklyn with a handful of other visual artists from our nerdy high school.  They were the crew that walked me around Greenwich Village when I was trying to decide what college to go to.  They were all roommates.  One of them is the big sister I never had to this day.  She and he are best friends, brother and sister more accurately.  Having no family, we all are his chosen family.

English: Taken from original description of th...

English: Taken from original description of the image: icon for wikipedia WikiProject Visual arts – I created it and release it to public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past several days memories keep flashing through my mind.  My brain still can’t quite process that he’s gone.  So fast.  So Soon.  Just like that.  How many people can say they actually know someone who made good on the threat to run away with the circus?  I can.  He did it.  He travelled doing lights for a touring circus.  The circus is where he made another set of family.  Like most artists, he’s had a myriad of survival jobs.  He had also been a bike messenger & worked at a bike shop.  I wonder if one of these gigs fostered his love of riding.

Photo credit: Luchian_Alexandru from

He had a motorcycle as well as a pedal bike.  I keep thinking of all the times I’d hug him and warn him to be careful on that motorcycle.  Like many riders, he’s been in his share of accidents.  But he was always ok.  There’s breath taking irony in the fact that he died on a pedal bike.  He was taking a post work bike ride.  Someone opens a car door and he flips to his death.

This left me with many feelings.  When people close to me pass, I had gotten to a point of celebrating the fact that they are now back in the realm of spirit.  I also usually feel a surge of inspiration to do all of the things that I fear or procrastinate from doing.  This time though, I started feeling like I mind as well just go get a menial job, collect a pay check, find some television programs to tune into each night and bide my time till death.  If it can end just that fast, what is the point?

Photo credit: darrenhester from

I am reminded by my younger sister (I call her my big little sister), of a very important point.  The way that I have chosen to live my life, gives me some level of joy and happiness each day.  This is true.  Even with the challenges, the roller coaster ride of ups and downs of being a performer if I die tomorrow, I will have died going after dreams I dreamed up for myself.  I have been trying to figure out what the lesson is in loosing such an open, big-hearted friend in this way.  I can say that knowing him was a lesson in being open, unconditionally loving, forever curious and always learning.  I can say that if it can all be over in a second, I mind as well be doing what gives me joy.

Photo credit: kfjmiller from

Thank you for always being a bright light to everyone you met.  Thank you for always making everyone feel great about whatever choices they made.  Thank you for being LOVE.  I miss you.  I’m glad to have known you.  I will treasure all of the memories & continue to learn from your spirit.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Bicycle Party

Bicycle Party (Photo credit: Where is Clifford The Big Red Dog?)