Being Twins

What can one ever say about the unexpected loss of a loved one? That it feels absolutely absurd and utterly unbelievable—and continues to be exactly that as time moves on? Yes, the finality of an unanticipated death feels so much more impossible to accept. And there is a stubborn contradiction to this permanence—the loss continues to live on in the present all the while one remains incredulous of its presence. Surprisingly, it is the imagination that proves the most resistant to such a finality because it is so easy to imagine him still here with us. So easy to expect him at any moment. So easy to wait for (and then look at) his next painting. So easy to meet up with him in our dreams.

But the unexpected has no rules; or rather it breaks any of the rules you had before. The first rule, for us, I suppose, was that of being twins. And what a bizarre little game that is. And how can a twin ever stop being anything but that—even in death?

Keith seems very much still here. I mean literally here in this world. For example, some months ago (it was one of those wonderfully  and unexpected warm winter nights we sometimes get around here) I was leaving my apartment building when suddenly it felt as if I were actually Keith. I can’t actually explain it and I can’t even say I know why or where such a moment came from? Often, I do say something in a particular way or I laugh in a manner that—even I recognize—seems more like Keith’s laugh, or his way of phrasing something, than mine. It’s as if I am saying to myself, hey, you’re sounding just like him. But it wasn’t like that that night. It was something more than a momentary resemblance. That night, perhaps it was the look of the night sky or the sound of the trees, but suddenly I seemed to be him and not me. It’s as if I had suddenly stepped out of my body, all the while remaining in it. Perhaps it was just one of those imaginative quirks humans are plagued with but if so it was the first such quirk of that kind I have ever experienced.

Such moments should not to be confused with those times when I consciously find myself imagining being in a moment—such as standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid—in the way I imagine he would have been in the moment. I do this often, consciously, when looking at art, which I do  a lot, whereas the incident I describe above seemed to originate from outside me, from outside my conscious imagination. Perhaps with twins there’s an additional connection with this world that isn’t there for non-twins. Obviously, I’m romanticizing here but it did feel oddly as if I were for a moment somebody else entirely but a somebody else entirely familiar to me—my brother.

If ghosts do exist, perhaps this is one form of their manifestations? Since my brother’s death, he hasn’t returned in such a dramatic manner again—at least not yet. But then he was never dramatic—or rather melodramatic—in life. Certainly the drama was there and at times it felt certainly Shakespearean, both in its intensity as well as its comedy. Certainly Keith’s way though life was awkward sometimes, but it was also defiantly spirited, if not always charmingly understated, and always rich in some quietly startling ways. The richness is there in the exact details of his life—as it is in his paintings—rather than the trajectory (i.e., big story) of his life. His story is perhaps familiar enough. A person tries to paint in a world that doesn’t treat its painters particularly well. But let’s not romanticize this beyond what it really was, simply a deep commitment to painting.

No, Keith didn’t make it BIG, although I think he should have. And I think he will—eventually. But that’s a different story and one that is far from being over with just yet. You hear a lot about painters and lucky breaks and it seemed for a long while as if his would never come. What he accomplished (and eventually learned) as a painter and a person came at some expense. Hard lessons seemed the rule for both of us and sometimes the lesson took longer than either of us would have liked. I suspect I’ve still got a few difficult ones to learn. But Keith seemed past the hard lessons finally. And his final paintings began to take on a new quality, or, rather, a new seriousness and determination that was full of a heartbreaking promise, heartbreaking because he died too soon to benefit from his hard-earned new sense of what he could (and wanted to) now do with his painting.

We lived separate lives, to be sure. I was the one who first moved out to Colorado. He followed later. Although we lived in the same town, off and on for some twenty-five years, we had our own circle of friends, although several of these circles overlapped. After he graduated with his MFA, he lived in Reno, Nevada, from the summer of 1989 to the early winter of 1993. He returned to Nevada a second time for a year, this time in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, in 1997-98, where he managed—and kept afloat—a restaurant and bar. In the years since his return in 1998, he worked as a web designer (i.e., his day job). He looked elsewhere for teaching jobs but somehow he remained here; and in this last decade (1998-2008) it seems now, in retrospect, that it all managed to quietly fall into place for him.

It would be too easy to put all of this into a familiar narrative of the eternal bonds of our being twins. And such narratives always seem too Wagnerian to me anyway. Besides my brother preferred Puccini, especially his La Bohéme, that marvelous reworking of a collection of vignettes that championed those young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840’s. Bohemians were always Keith’s crowd, so to speak.

The fact—or rather accident—that for most of our adult lives we lived in the same town, and worked almost a decade in the same university department, seemed to us anything but a designed—or conscious—plan. If it wasn’t exactly an accident, then it was most certainly an on-going mystery. Certainly it’s not the sort of mystery that great lives are made of but it is the sort of mystery that now seems sacred to me. And when I think of the motif of ‘the lucky break,’ I’ve only now come to realize that it was always already there for us, right from the beginning! And Keith was the one who had sensed it first—he was always the one returning, whereas I always longed to go elsewhere. I was the one who needed something as stupid as his death to finally see ‘the lucky break’ for what it was.

When I look at one of his paintings now (or remember those times time he showed me a new one) I am both proud and amazed. I think his work is exceptional and I will always take great comfort from the fact that I have always been a steadfast advocate of his work. I will certainly continue to be so. But it seems now his work is something even more to me. It’s as if it has become on one level the surety for my life.

Keith often said of himself that “it’s not important to be the painter—anyone can be that. What’s important is to remain a painter!” Despite everything, he remained a painter to the very day he died. I am reminded of something the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño said once about poets. He wrote:

If I had to hold up the most heavily guarded bank in Europe and I could choose my partners in crime, I’d take a gang of five poets, no question about it. Five real poets, Apollonian or Dionysian, but always real, ready to live and die like poets. No one in the world is as brave as a poet. No one in the world faces disaster with more dignity and understanding.

I agree, however, I would choose painters.

Kevin Foskin, September 2011

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