May 26, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: Of Fairy Wings and Broken Things


Ah, Topanga Days weekend!

How many have we known? How many parades? How many fairy crowns? How many children?

There was just one at first, or at least that is the way I remember it. Sure, there was just the boy for those first few years and Pine Tree Circle wasn’t even built yet. There were several scattered shops and Allen Emerson was in charge of negotiating the traffic. My, that guy could yell. Our son would have been only a year old that first year and probably in a stroller, still too young to have one of the water squirters that were, at that time, still allowed. He had them later, he and Chester, bigger and better each year, able to spray water further and faster in response to the friendly fire-truck that would douse the delighted crowd with their water hose and the people on floats who threw water balloons. It was fun and I always called the device a water squirter, not a gun. I didn’t like guns.

On Sunday morning, I’m in the shower and thinking over a Sunday school class I am teaching that morning at Lake Shrine. I’m also thinking, here and there, about Topanga Days and what I’m going to wear and doing the math to figure that this must be our 20th “Days.”

My son is out of town at some music concert and this may be the first Topanga Days he is not in attendance and it makes me a bit sad. But my dear daughter has enthusiastically chosen her festive outfit so we are buoyed by her youthful vibrancy. I hear the telephone ring in the background. In a moment, Miranda hands me the phone, which I grab with my wet hands while manipulating a towel and wondering who is calling. It’s a good friend, the same good friend who has presented me with some wonderful rainbow, puffball cat ears to wear to this year’s Topanga Days, but she is not calling about butterfly wings or fairy crowns. I can tell from her voice something is wrong.

“Have you heard about the shooting in Santa Barbara?” she asks.

Yes I had followed it briefly, yet another horrible story about someone going berserk with a gun and killing people. However, I didn’t know many details. My concerned friend continued, “The shooter wrote a manifesto and Riley is mentioned.”

I try to pull the towel around me more tightly, but it’s flimsy and ineffective. I’m wet and vulnerable and my mind seems muddled as if it is soggy from the shower. “What?” My mind spins. “Riley? My son? My little boy? Does Riley know this guy? How? When? Was he mad at Riley? Did Riley do something to cause the young man’s outrage? Is Riley safe?’

I’m thinking all this while Judi explains what was written and it’s hard to listen and understand what she is saying while my brain is trying to process the fact that I, a silly, ageing woman standing in the bathroom on a Sunday morning in Topanga now have some unfortunate direct connection with a tragedy about which, until a moment ago, I had only a vague knowledge. But we are all related.

Elliot Rodger wrote: “He was named Riley Anapol and he was 2 years younger then me. A first grader. I played with some other younger kids and peers of Riley and I had a good time. Riley became a common friend for a while. The significance of that is that Riley Anapol would eventually become someone I would harbor great hatred for. Riley would grow up to get lots of girls. But back then he was a friend, a peer and we played together as equals. It’s funny how the world works.”

Oh, Elliot. The Sunday School class I’d planned is about prayers. We make little prayer flags, which in the Indian tradition are supposed to release healing energy into the wind and float to all people. The students stand and share their own flag creations and again and again they explain in their dear innocence what they designed. “I made a sign for peace,” or “The heart means love,” “The swan stands for peace,” “The sun means warmth and happiness,” and “The flower I drew on the flag is for peace.”

I want to take all the flags and wrap myself in them.

We connect by phone with Riley out in the desert at the music event, “Lightning In A Bottle.” Yes, word had reached him but he is, naturally, confused, troubled and can’t remember Elliot. Reporters are trying to contact Riley and calling our home as well.

What can we say? Is there anything that can possibly be of help? How do you put a healing prayer flag in words?

Elliot Rodger went to Topanga Elementary School. I, too, try to recall him but can’t. In addition to Riley, other neighborhood children are mentioned, kids Elliot hung out with and had fun with. He seemed happy in Topanga. Where did it go so wrong? The next day is the Topanga Days Memorial Parade. Of course, it’s festive and fun and filled with tie-dye colors and bubbles in the breeze.

Once again, Steve and Leslie Carlson generously provide our community with a rallying point and the turnout is good.

The sounds of surf-guitar reverberate throughout Pine Tree Circle. Heidi is there with the goat, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is Grand Marshall, the Cub Scouts are in uniform, faces are painted, Grayson is wearing a chicken suit, James and Tony are taking photos, peace signs are flashed, children are grown up, and new little ones reach out to catch the candy. Up at the Community House, Billy Portman, looking fine and fit, and along with ever youthful, Adam Silbar, is on the job, running the activities and MC-ing. The water balloon contest begins and they fly through the air, colors bursting like magic rainbow balls being juggled by wizards. The crowd cheers and here on this Memorial Monday we are a community. A community that can grieve and love as we shared encounters throughout the day with saddened and stunned citizens who, like us, feel a little lost, as kids run by with sno-cones, laughing. The bands play. I sit in a beach chair for a moment under the Rhodes’ umbrella. I pretend it is a throne (delusions of grandeur?). If it were my world, I think, I would ask them not to sell wooden guns up the hill at that one vendor’s booth. I would decree that colored balls fly through the air at least once a day. I would make a deal with the surf God to bring perfect waves for the beleaguered husband and all who surf Topanga. I would make sure everyone had a friend. I would require Debra Silbar to wear that outfit every day. I would hug and thank all those wonderful teachers at Topanga Elementary School. I might ask that my daughter stays just the age she is. Tuesdays would be tail days. All lost boys and kitties would be found. That we put down the bombs and knives and guns and take up the glockenspiel.

Finally, after cheers and beers and buying a Topanga Days tee-shirt for our son, it’s time to leave the fair. We gather Miranda and her tall giraffe boyfriend, Daniel (his first Topanga Days), and just as we are walking up the trail, there suddenly, as if by the wave of a wand, is Riley. He made it! Somehow he made it to Topanga Days 2014. I hug him as much as a woman in cat ears can, in the middle of a crowded public place. I hug him because he has so wonderfully and completely surprised me. I hug him because he has soft brown deer eyes. I hug him because he is safe and smiling. I hug him because he is my son and because there are parents who are weeping because they cannot hug their child. I am weeping too.

Not One More.