I recently had to renew my driver’s license and while digging for some documents, I picked up a folder and sat down with Joe’s old Washington driver’s license. Of all the photos of Joe, his expression in his driver's license captures me. It was issued in April of 1996 at the age of 27, staring straight at you with a gentle smile. All the other photos are of him as a kid growing up with his siblings, among others. This is Joe, alone, in Seattle, where he spent a lot of his time as a kid and later as an adult. Joe is my brother-in-law, Mike’s big brother, and Pat and Gene’s first son - born in the spring of 1969.
I never met Joe, his story is assembled together in what his family has shared over the years: his work ethic, his expressive artwork, his vivid bright blue eyes, his tenacious biking and walking habits that covered all of Seattle, his ability to connect with children, his knack for juggling, and, of course, the harder parts of his life too.
Over the years his absence has been populated with those stories and I ponder what it’d be like if he were here: visiting us on vacation, birthday gifts, seeing his new artwork, or if we had children that “Uncle Joe” might teach them how to juggle. I miss him, even though I never had a chance to meet him, and that void is surely much larger and more complex for Mike’s family.
I’ve cobbled together a mirage that I know isn’t real, but it’s something I continue to do, because I‘m invested in his smile. I've reflected that despite knowing someone as well as can, we never really see those intimate, interior parts of each other. Which has lead Mike and I to a question: Who speaks for us in our absence? And, when your story is told on the lips of someone else, how do we listen? Knowing that pieces are missing, projections of self intertwined, and interpretation ubiquitous in the prism of how each of us sees the world. This creates the mirage, and as much as I imagine Joe in a projected state of success and happiness, his artwork speaks for him as much as his smile does and I’m reminded, humbled, to not project beyond what he’s left behind and listen to those that knew him the most.
In the months ahead, we'll be sharing a bit more of Joe's artwork which was dark and also whimsical at times. Several carry a humorous bent and cartoon like character. We'd like to share a little more about Joe with you, and his artwork speaks for him better than we ever could. Until then, Krista and Mike.