Monday, January 2, 2012

For Esme Barrera 1982-2012

I feel a desperate immediate need to say something. To say the right words. To say the thing that will make me realize that this is all going to be alright. After all, that is what I claim to be good at. Words. I’ve used them for most of my life. Picking the right ones for this occasion should be no problem, right?
But those words... The right words... They don’t exist. They never have. Words will fail every time. And only time will make us all feel better about this. Slowly. A little bit tomorrow. A little bit next week. There will be set backs, for sure. For me it will be the start of the next Alternative Softball League season. For some it’ll be the next SXSW. Or the next Fun Fun Fun Fest. Or next New Years Eve... But everyday will make things just a little bit better.

Two nights ago, our friend Esme Barrera was taken from us in the most senseless way possible. And there really is no other word to describe it. There is no sense to be made from what happened that night. There was no reason. I really don’t want to rehash details, since they’re out there to be read on the Internet and the picture they form is so woefully incomplete that I’d hate to add any conjecture to the situation. But the blunt truth of that matter is that an unknown assailant murdered my friend in her house after she came home from a New Years Eve show only two blocks away from where she lived. Anything I might add after those facts would simply be the repetition of things heard in conversation, and I have no desire to do that.

It feels strange calling her my friend. Not because she wasn’t. She most definitely was friend to anyone who ever met her. You were powerless. Simply no choice in the matter. There was a magnetic thread to her personality that defined her and shaped everything she did. If you weren’t her friend, it’s just because you never got the chance to meet her. So, she was most definitely my friend. No, the reason it feels weird is because I wasn’t closer to her. Survivors guilt, being what it is, makes you look back on every missed opportunity or blown off party. It makes you second guess the choices you made that kept you from spending more time with people. Esme and I were never close enough to hang out together. We were in the same social circles, and saw each other often. But every time I saw her out, and every time I had a conversation with her, I always made a mental note to try and get to know her better. She made you want to be her friend.

I don’t remember the exact day I met her, but I know for goddamn sure it had to be at a softball game. As a former Waterloo Records Employee (as well as a former member of the team), I dutifully trotted out to watch the exploits of my former coworkers on a regular basis, braving the vagaries of the Texas weather and the cruelty of the morning hangover (the softball league does encourage its drinking, doesn’t it). For a while, it seemed (and sometimes actually was) that I was the only fan in attendance. But as the weeks went by, and the team slowly got its rhythm, more and more people started to come out. I started seeing old familiar faces from my days in the store, as well as a few new people who went to work at Waterloo after my time. And that’s how Esme Barrera entered my life. It’d be nice to recall what she was wearing, or the first conversation we ever had, but my memory just doesn’t work that way. As far as my Remember Machine is concerned, one day she was just there. But once she was there, she was there to stay.

She was small. Like almost CHILD small. Slight and slender enough to almost seem fragile, but just as up to the task of standing up front at a rock show. Sometimes she reminded me of a trouble making kid, hanging out behind the mall parking lot, just waiting for the security guards to leave so she could tag a wall. But instead of just throwing up a tag, she’d be more likely to spray paint a Jawbreaker lyric. At least the Esme of my imagination would. That’s how I saw her.

We bonded over both being border kids. She from El Paso. I from Del Rio. We were both Brown. It might seem superficial to some people, but in this lovely homogeneous scene of ours, people of color (no matter how light the shade) tend to look out for each other. We look for common ground, whether it be familial experiences or High School stories or fluency (or lack thereof) in a native language. In a lot of ways, I felt like I could have known her growing up. I probably did. Well, at least someone a lot like her. She felt a little like, if not a sister, at least a cousin. One that I ran into on a regular basis. A solid stand up person in every way.

As the softball season went on, she started coming out to as many games as I did. Cheering runs and screaming out admonitions at questionable calls. Usually holding a tall-boy that seemed just as big as she was. Volunteering to run the stereo that played out each batters’ intro music. Yelling out her opinion on why a certain song was all wrong for a batter and offering to bring a better selection the next time. There were a few die-hards out there with us. Sometimes the team did so badly that we felt like those lone fans in the bleachers in the movie MAJOR LEAGUE... And sometimes they made magic. David Blaine, street magic. Not David Copperfield, make a jet disappear magic. but magic nonetheless. And Esme was right there along for the ride. She could get a little annoying. Like the time during World Cup season when she started bring her Vuvuzela to the games. That got old quickly. But what I wouldn’t give to have her annoying me with that fucking thing one more time.

Eventually, the team did the statistically impossible and managed to luck it’s way into the league finals. I say this with all the love in the world, but following the Waterloo Softball team is bit like following the Bad News Bears. Some days they got it. And some days it all goes a bit pear shaped. And much like the Bears, (spoiler alert) Waterloo came up short and lost the finals. But Esme was right there with me, cheering every second.

When the league awards were given out at the end of the season, I went to the party. Esme was there too. Aside from the actual championship trophy, and the usual stat based awards (best pitcher, most home runs, etc) there were also some others given. I think Waterloo’s come from behind performance earned them the “We Can’t Believe They Made it To The Finals” Award, or something like that. And at some point in the night, they announced an award for Best League Fans. Waterloo won. I remember being pulled along toward the front to accept the award with some of the other Super Fans, but the whole time I felt like it was all Esme’s. Even when we were losing 20-5, she made every inning feel like this could be the one. This could be the start of the biggest comeback in league history. It all seemed so very possible.

The Super Fans got team jerseys at the beginning of this last season. Hers read “Esmiracle” with a number 7 emblazoned on the back. As the season went on, I didn’t see her so much. She was busy. She didn’t make it to as many games. She missed out the last game of the year where the team pretty much got beat in the first inning, but had to keep playing for another eight... I gave her a hard time about it, the next time I saw her. Questioned her loyalty to this rag tag band of lovable Waterlosers. Told her I didn’t want to hear her excuses. It was playful teasing. But sometimes I’m afraid I might have really made her feel bad. But probably not. That kind of shit just bounced off her like Nerf.

I have a few other stories about her, that mostly involve hanging out on the benches outside of the Liberty bar, but I’m certain I’m not the only one with stories like those. But being one of the Waterloo Super Fans, that’s something that I shared with only a handful of other people. And I’m glad Esme was one of them. She made every game seem like it was the only place to be at that moment in time.

In the last few days, as I’ve read recollections from other people about this amazingly beautiful soul, I’ve learned or been reminded of so many things about her. She was a teacher. The single most unappreciated profession in this country of ours. She was a mentor at Girls Rock Camp Austin, where she taught fledgling young riot grrls the merits of being more Chrissie Hynde than Courtney Love. She was one of the biggest music fans in a town bursting at the seams with music fans. She was the genuine article in a scene often accused of being loaded with artifice.

Even as I write this, it still seems so very impossible that she isn’t here anymore. That she’s been gone for almost two days. And that number will just grow. And it will never stop. But neither will the outpouring of love from everyone who knew her. I was oh, so very lucky to have never have had to deal with losing a friend in this manner until now. I’ve lost friends before. But never like this. And the sudden, gratuitous nature of the crime puts everything else in a brutal new perspective. Just like that, anything that seemed like the most pressing worry you could possibly have gets examined in a cold harsh light and you find that it really isn’t the be all end all that you made it out to be. There really are worse things in this world.

And so people are reexamining their lives. Taking stocks as we so often do in times of tragedy. Though it really is a damn shame that it takes something like this. We talk about how we want to be better people. We want to do more with our lives. We want to help others. We want to love unconditionally and be loved in return. We want to be more like Esme.

That’s not a bad goal to strive for at all...

Watch this girl do what she did best: Being a goddamn rock star.

Here's some more people who felt the same way

Please help her family with their upcoming expenses