16 Dec

Suffering and Flourishing

“Hey Poponi.”

I don’t think he ever used my first name. And it doesn’t matter, just a funny thing to note now. Stephen Pierotti, was a friend of mine for the past 15 or so years. We met in Gunnison, Colorado at a very important place and during a very important time in my life.

I’m glad he was my friend.

We did things.

We played hockey together during the “Gentleman’s Beer League” (GBL) which was largely absent of gentlemen but lived up to the Beer standard. Now three men from the GBL are gone, two having taken their own lives and the third leaving us with questions about whether his passing had intent or was accidental. A harsh reality and reminder that suffering is everywhere.

He was a challenging friend.

No doubt about that. Stephen was brilliant. A grand thinker. Thoughtful and yet still indifferent, irreverent and always different. Stephen, or Dr. Pierotti or Dr. P to you, was fearless in his actions and opinions.

And he hated pants and hated bananas. And so he appropriately named his company Banana Pants.

The Doctor and I went to City Council meetings and talked local politics. Going back and forth on how to shape our community over beverages post-council meetings.

At his suggestion, he and I poached the Cattlemens Day parade on a tandem bike to promote the now defunct MyGunnisonValley.com. Zig zagging across Hwy 50 and 135 to avoid notice by the heavily un-armed and 0% malicious “Parade Marshalls” who frenetically scoured clipboard data to see if we were rogue participants.

We were.

We shared meals at Tuesday Night Supper Clubs and he’d often stick around for Tuesday Night Late Night Drinking Club held after.

He was one of four “celebrity” roasters at the nearly world famous “Roast of Anthony Poponi” held at the now gone Gunnison Brewery. The roast was to “celebrate” my departure from Gunnison Valley for Hawaii back in 2012. Lots of people celebrated me leaving. Touching, I guess. I cried my eyes out that night, agonizing over leaving the place where I found myself and also knowing clearly it was time to leave to pursue something else.

I’ve cried in similar fashion since hearing of his passing. Knowing in a way, that Stephen might not be long for this Earth just not knowing how long.

When he left the Gunnison Valley in pursuit of happiness it was time to leave. I helped him load the last of his things into a U-haul. Sliding closed the rear door. The U-haul and a silver Jeep headed south and east towards Layfayette, Louisiana. I left that day with two items from his garage sale turned last-minute garage clearing out giveaway: a MyGunnisonValley.com coffee mug and a blue tuxedo jacket. I still have both and now they are to be cherished.

I hoped he would find something in Bayou Country to bring him joy or at least peace. He didn’t find either or if he did it was fleeting. Louisiana was a struggle. A mismatch of culture. But he went with Bel and Bel was everything to him. And my heart sinks so deeply for Bel now.

His move to Louisiana was an attempt to find happiness. It didn’t work. The tortured soul didn’t find solace, he found more frustration. And the frustration came in many forms and in layers. A pattern.

And over the last few years we slowly drifted apart. Our connection faded as some naturally do as time passes and exacerbated further by distance. Maybe this fading will make this losing of him easier, but not right now. And it’s ok. I’ll smile and I’ll suffer, and I’ll cry and I’ll wish for a different and now no longer possible outcome that he would rekindle his spark.

I tried. And this story is the same from others who tried. The man and friend I knew from our past receded and withdrew from interest in public life first and over time withdrew from my friendship and the friendship of others.

I tried again. In 2018, or thereabouts I offered him a job.  Flexible hours, tasks I knew he’d excel at, autonomy, low pressure, things I also needed done.

He said no.

I tried another time. “Be a podcast host with me!”

He said no.

And I waited and wanted him to find his spark again. I wanted it for me as much as him. To help him find that again.

He didn’t want it.

And the friendship slowly faded. The feedback loop was broken for me.

I wanted Dr. Pierotti to be happy (at least on the outside). To be the vibrant, the zero-fucks given, fun, irreverent and the always different Dr. P.

He occasionally went to dark places. Maybe in retrospect he resided in those dark places with brief respite in sunshine and smiles. I’ll likely never know, and be grateful to not, what it was like to struggle like he did.

And now he’s gone.

In my presentations I often close with an image of the night sky taken from the James Webb telescope. An image capturing 1/13 millionth of the night sky and meant to provide perspective on how insignificant our amount of time is on this planet.

All I can hope is that with this preciously short time I leave an indelible mark on those around me. Through this loss I’m pretty clear I’m here to ease the suffering others experience and motivated to stay the course.

I’ll keep asking if my friends are ok and challenging them when I don’t trust their reply. I’ve emceed and DJ’d the “Out of Darkness” suicide prevention walks in the past and will be doing the same this year for the NAMIWalks in Oregon. And I’ll keep sharing messages and tools on how to craft happiness. Reaffirming my purpose through this personal loss isn’t much but it’s something and I’ll take it.

Goodbye Dr.Pierotti.

–  Poponi.

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