Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Damned, Unnerving Uncertainty of It All
— A Miniseries (Part 4 of 4)

Love’s Labor’s Lost
In my research of the major stories written about Penner’s death, including an unexpected conversation I had a few weeks ago with yet another of he and my brother’s co-workers at the O.C. L.A. Times, it is clear to me, if not to all who have commented on this sad tale, that perhaps the linchpin of Penner/Daniel’s ultimate demise was the one thing he couldn’t reverse; the devastation of the loss of his ten-year partner in marriage, fellow Times sportswriter, Lisa Dillman.

On July 19, 2007, exactly twelve weeks after Penner’s groundbreaking coming-out article, he legally changed his name to Christine Michelle Daniels. That same day, Dillman filed for divorce. Throughout the year in which Mike was Christine, those close to him indicate that he honestly thought the marriage could somehow be reconciled; that Dillman could eventually embrace his decision to live as a woman.

That reconciliation never came.

According to Friess, during the summer of 2008, as Daniels detransitioned back to Penner, he repeatedly told friends that it was his last-ditch effort to somehow reunite with Dillman.

Nevertheless, the divorce decree became final on October 24, 2008. The disenchantment and frustration endured as the impact of his life-decision registered, coupled with the reality that his true love would no longer be a part of his life, appears to have been the ultimate blow to Penner’s will.

A little more than a year later, the holiday shopping season’s official beginning would also be Mike Penner’s ultimate end. On the day after Thanksgiving — now so commonly referred to as, Black Friday — November 26, 2009, in his apartment building’s parking garage, Penner rigged a vacuum hose attached to the tailpipe of his running, parked car through a window, into the passenger compartment, ending his previously very vocal life in silence.

WHY? Can somebody just tell me, please, why??
It’s okay with me if you tune me out at this point, because I’ll give fair warning: I’m gonna wax quite a bit philosophical/metaphysical here.

The human interest aspect of the death of Mike Penner, as well as that which is imminent for my brother Alex, really have only the slightest of true relationships — that being that they were friends and that their lives ended or will end far too early.

I don’t really know why I was so compelled to spend the inordinate amount of time I did writing this post. I don’t know if it was simply because I felt the need to mourn the loss of Penner; someone I felt a great deal of respect for; someone I sort of felt I knew via association with my brother. Perhaps it’s just that it’s such a tremendously story, and it makes me realize how much I already miss Alex.

How very fragile, our existence seems at times; and though we actively acknowledge that this is true, we still ask, “why?”

Why am I losing my brother years — even decades too soon?

Why has the world lost a great writer and a great person in Mike Penner?

Why did Penner feel such despair in his life that he couldn’t bear to go on living?

It's almost poetic that prior to his death, Penner’s final regular assignment at The Times was writing the Morning Briefing column’s “Totally Random” feature. It seems the inexplicable machinations of fate that caused whatever physiological affectations responsible for laying askew my brother’s brain through Alzheimer’s and Penner’s self-image through his condition, known as dissociative gender identification, were equally ‘random.’

I mean, think about it. These were two people in the prime of their careers, who literally had the world by the tail. Only good things appeared to lie ahead for each of them.

How does any of this make sense?

Both were betrayed by genetics — my brother, with absolutely no recourse. As for Penner’s circumstance, if you choose to judge him, that’s your business. I choose to judge neither his choices nor his biological reality, but only to regret his tragically mistaken notion that you can go home again, because truly, more often than not, Thomas Wolfe was right.

Who would have ever thought 25 years ago that anything so tragic could become the current reality for each of these talented and cherished individuals?

Why it happened, and to what purpose we can never know.

The only correct response, I believe, is to remember both of them for who they were, to say a prayer in support of their families, and realize for yourself that each day, each moment, each simple pleasure we experience in this life is a gift.

Never take it for granted; never assume it’s deserved.

Be grateful for it. Savor it, lest that damned unnerving uncertainty that stalks us all, be allowed to steal our joy.

Life is not fair. The sun is caused to rise on the evil and the good, and rain upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Here’s hoping that each of us can make the most of things while we’re still high and dry.

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