What can I say?
Lisa Empanada is gone.
Lisa was known to so many. Her death at 52 was eulogized by luminaries such as Jennifer Finney Boylan and Donna Rose. Her writing and generosity endeared her to so many people who never even met her.
As I write these words in my notebook, I’m sitting on the back porch of Lisa’s house in Baltimore. She built this porch herself.
I’m here for Sandy, Lisa’s wife. And I’m here trying to make sense of it all.
The family is mostly inside finalizing arraignments for the viewing. There will be no service. No funeral. Lisa didn’t want one.
Dylan Thomas exhorted us to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Lisa did not do that. So I will do it for her. I will rage against the dying of HER light.
So what can I say?
Lisa was a Sister to me. She was close as blood. Closer. We talked about everything and anything. We explored the Darkness that I knew, and that eventually took her.
We laughed. Oh, how we laughed.
And we cried.
Lisa, to the world, was about happiness. She had endless compassion. Full of love.
Some would say it was love that caused her to do what she did. They would be wrong.
Lisa was no stranger to Love. When she passed, the Internet became a tidal wave of love for her. People related stories. Wrote poems. Quoted songs. If Lisa saw it all, she would roll her eyes, blush, and laugh.
Lisa was loved because she loved. She loved everyone. But the love her life was her wife, Sandy. They are truly soulmates.
And Lisa left her behind.
In a recent Newsweek article about suicide, Dr. Thomas Joiner theorizes that people who attempt suicide have three things in common, and that all three need to be present: “Thwarted belongingness” or feeling alone; “Perceived Burdensomeness” or feeling like a burden; and “Capability for Suicide” or I am not afraid to die.
Remember that. I’ll come back to it.
So what can I say?
I met Lisa on January 14, 2012, at one of Jen Bryant’s Raven parties in New Hope, Pa. She sat next to me at dinner, and was drinking Coors Lite straight from the bottle. She looked at me and said “those bitches think drinking beer from a bottle isn’t feminine. Well this is what I say to that!” And she chugged one down.
I liked her immediately, and told her so.
So began our relationship. We talked a lot as we moved forward through our lives. She would come up to Pa. for Laptop Lounge parties. We would hug and laugh when we were together. It wasn’t until later that we cried.
And when she suddenly stopped her Facebook account in the spring, we spoke for hours as she fought the Darkness. She was suicidal. She had a plan and wasn’t going to be turned from it. She attempted suicide, but her daughter found her in time.
She got help.
And with Sandy’s love, we thought she turned everything around. But it was a lie.
She went full time as a woman, except for work. There was a party for her thrown by her family. I was honored to attend.
Lisa was angelic and happy.
So what can I say?
Shall I write about how this woman changed my life?
After her Affirmation Party I wrote her a letter that came to me in a dream. I sent it to her via FB message. And she wrote back.
I can’t comment other to say…thank you so much. I am crying but I don’t know if I am happy or sad. I feel pain for what could have been and for what I might have done to you and others, yet those missteps brought me to a real life dream come true. Yet still those feelings, that pain, so familiar to both of us is haunting. Thank you Sophie!
She used what I wrote as a part of what would be the finest thing I ever read from her. And the most horrific. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Then we discussed my transition plan, and she wrote this:
It is a sometimes seemingly horrendous journey. Thankfully we don’t have to do it alone. Take my hand….
I am so thankful that you extended yours.
And so I did. We would transition together. Sisters. A promise of shared experiences.
So what can I say?
Shall I write some soaring rhetoric that will make me cry and make sure that all knew how much she meant so many?
No. I won’t. Not now anyway. Maybe soon. No, now I’ll tell you how she died.
After all, if you read what she wrote on Facebook, which included my letter to her, she already told you. She told us all. But we thought the darkness was gone. It wasn’t.
No. It never left her. And she knew we were all watching, so she hid it from all of us.
She planned her death. Meticulously.
On Monday September 16, the sun rose on Lisa’s last day here on earth. She left work at noon, and her foreman said she had a strange and sad look to her face. The last person that we know saw her alive was a neighbor who saw her cleaning out the back of a painting van. The same van that she used to attempt suicide months ago. The one with the gas powered compressor in the back. She never cleaned out that van. See, she wasn’t the tidiest person.
She left a couple of things in the house for Sandy, including a short message, written with lipstick on a mirror. Sandy showed me the mirror. But those words are for Sandy alone, so I won’t write them here.
From there, the details are known only to Lisa and God.
The person driving the van was Tom. Tom was Lisa’s birth name. Tom was a tortured soul. He drove the van to a different part of the city, miles away. Maybe he went elsewhere first. No one knows when he parked the van. Tom brought with him something to represent each of his children, his “carry letter” stating Lisa was Transgender, and his drivers license. He brought a framed wedding picture. These items he laid on the front seat in plain sight. He carried something of Sandy’s as well, but I won’t say what.
And he brought a pillow. Sometime during that day or night, he started the compressor, lay his head on the pillow, and waited for the carbon monoxide to do its work. Which it did.
And Lisa died. Tom took her from us.
Sandy returned home from work, saw what was left for her, and started calling around, and texting people. She called the police and filed a missing person’s report.
I woke early on Tuesday, September 17. 4 a.m. And I saw messages from several people asking if I’d heard from Lisa. I hadn’t, which was unusual. In fact, my last message from her was Saturday early morning, September 14, at 12:44 a.m. She wished me a happy belated birthday, as well as something else, which I will not write here. That one is just for me.
It was odd I hadn’t heard from her for a couple of days. I wondered if I’d pissed her off. But she had pushed me away. As she had with everyone over the previous week, one by one. She had her plan, and wasn’t going to be deterred. Not this time.
Tuesday ,September 17, 2013. Lisa and Sandy’s Eighth Wedding Anniversary.
So what can I say?
I contacted Sandy, offered to help. She said it wasn’t necessary — that the police were on it.
At 1 p.m. I received the text that I expected and dreaded from Sandy. And with it, I left work and headed south toward Baltimore at high speed.
“They found Lisa in Essex. She’s gone.”
And with that, my life changed.
My Sister was gone.
I started this post two days ago with the scribbling in the notebook. As I type this part, it’s Thursday night. Tomorrow is Lisa’s viewing. I will wear the black dress I wore the night we met. Then I will pack it away and never wear it again.
Tomorrow the community will say goodbye. She had been doing that for weeks. The stories I’ve been seeing online tell me this. I saw her last at SCC. I cried on her shoulder for an eternity. The last things she told me was that only by being whole … by being Sophie, could I be the best possible parent to my daughter. She urged me to be the best parent to my daughter that I could. When we hugged goodnight, she held me firmer and longer than ever before. I thought it was because I was upset.
I know now she was saying Goodbye.
I never said goodbye to her. Tom deprived me of that.
All we have left are memories and questions for which we will never know the answers. What were her last thoughts on Earth as she drifted off to that final sleep? Was she smiling and at peace, like she wrote before? Or did she cry, knowing who and what she was leaving behind?
We know the last thing she heard — the sputtering rumble of a gas powered compressor that was her chosen method.
Now we are all without her. And there is pain. Why did she do it? She told us all.
She felt she was hurting Sandy. And she couldn’t stand it.
Tom died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning sometime between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Monday. That’s the medical fact. But Love was not the true reason Tom did this.
Tom died because he was transgender. And that fact led him to his death, of this I am sure. As sure I am of my daughter’s love.
Tom died, taking Lisa with him. Taking my Sister. My dear friend.
And I have cried for days.
How will I feel many years from now about her? Time will heal the pain, and someday I will be able to think of her and not cry. Thirty years from now, God willing, what part of my heart will still ache for Lisa Empanada?
Will Lisa be waiting for me on the other side when it is my turn to pass over?
After her April attempt, Lisa told me many times that I saved her life. I didn’t. And I have found myself thinking about that. Was that a waste of time? And it struck me. No. It wasn’t. It bought us all five extra months of Lisa.
We all had five months more of her in our lives. Her smile. Her words. I personally had one of the most moving and affirming experiences of my life thanks to her party.
Right now, I’d give everything but my wife and daughter to speak to Lisa for just a minute. To hold her close and feel her tears. But we had five months of “borrowed time” already.
And tomorrow is goodbye.
She promised we would transition together. She promised to call me before the Darkness took her. She didn’t. And she’s gone.
I previously mentioned Joiner’s theory on Suicide. And it fit Lisa to a T. I have had those three things a few times in my life. And survived. Right now, I strongly feel two of them.
But there is one that is NOT there.
I Know I am not alone.
That knowledge keeps me from calling out to my Sister “Hey Lisa! Wait up! Let’s explore the Light together!” and following her away.
I know that my sisters are there for me. They’ve proved it these last few horrible days. I know I will never be alone. And even if they are not, I will always have Lisa in my heart, where I will keep her all the days of my life.
I will transition to the Woman I truly am, and carry Lisa with me into the life she denied for herself.
There have been many ways people have said “Goodbye” over the years. I could paraphrase Shakespeare.
“Goodnight Sweet Princess. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
There are many songs I could quote. But only one really fits.
One of the final verses of Brokedown Palace by the Grateful Dead.
Fare thee well,
Fare thee well,
I love you more
Than words can tell.
(Photo @ right). With Hayden, celebrating Lisa’s failed attempt with Champagne and Banana Crème Pie. May 2013
Goodbye Lisa. I will always love you, my Sister, and I will always miss you.
Category: Body & Soul