Jacqui (jacqui) wrote,

Art Car Fatality At Burning Man 2003

This is the Temple of Tears or as many people called it, The Mausoleum, the last year we saw it. This year it was called the Temple of Honor. No mere photograph could ever capture the beauty and the feel of this deeply spiritual place.

This is the letter that the person who was driving the car that accidentally killed the woman who died at this year's Burn wrote. He has asked all of us to circulate this to help dispel some of the rumours that are flying around. I can't imagine how horrible he must feel and I feel so sad for the loss of this woman and for her family and friends.

As a side note, everyone knows how deadly dangerous Burning Man can be. Yo really do take your life into your hands when you go. It says so right on the back of the ticket. The last year we were there I think there were three fatalities so I'm baffled as to why, as awful and tragic as this is, that this is making such headline news when former Burning Man tragedies did not. When someone dies at Burning Man, everyone in the community feels it, we all truly do feel it.

The weird, spooky, spiritual part of this, at least for me, is that she died getting down off the bar car to visit the temple. This temple that is a shrine of remembrance, an enormous shrine to loss and remembrance. If you haven't seen it I don't know if I can do it justice. It's one of the most beautiful shrine buildings I have ever seen. It's delicate and breathtaking and Asian and East Indian in design. It's just really something, visually stunning, but emotionally there's just no way to describe it unless you've had one of these kind of experiences. It hits you in the chest and in the gut like a wave of sorrow and if you are a sensitive being you can't help but weep and weep openly with all of these strangers who feel like friends because they are part of this uniquely beautiful community and who are all standing there doing the same thing that you are doing, remembering people and things you have loved and lost. (The closest thing I have ever felt to this was when I went to the shrine for the Virgin of Guadeloupe. It hit me, the feeling, again, like a wave, and I couldn't stop crying, sobbing even, it just came and came, this intense feeling of sorrow and connection, and my Mother and her friends were embarrassed for me and there was nothing I could do but be this conduit for the emotion I felt and that vibrated through me and then poured out of me.) And scrawled over every inch of it's surface are words that people have written throughout the week, good-byes to lost loved ones, family and friends, flowers, candles, art, letters, memorials of every type. And the feeling is just palpable, as if you could gather it up and fill a jar with the heaviness of it and the letting go of it at the same time. I said good-bye to my Father and my husband there. I said good-bye to my friendship with my best friend and her family. I said good-bye to parts of myself that I wanted to leave behind. I said good-bye and it hurt a lot, and then it felt better and I felt cleansed in this powerfully ritualistic way.

The last year we were there we heard that a young man dancing near the burn of the temple fell into the fire and was killed, I searched and searched for news of this. I cried. I felt like I had lost a friend. I wonder if this is true, and if it is, if there is something about this spot, something sacred and powerful and more than this story about a bunch of partying burners and an accident that could have, should have, been avoided. If you were going to die somewhere, if it was indeed your time, if that sort of play of fate exists, then this would be the spot to do it in. I would die there and think I had died in just the right place. And maybe her body rose above the playa and moved up into the night sky and she could see the stars and look down on all the grieving people and maybe she felt joy and moved towards that light that children and so many people talk about and maybe she is out of the pain of being in a body and at peace and in joy. I'd like to think that.

"Please excuse the group e-mail but I wanted to share a couple of
experiences I had this past week that will explain my actions,
currently and hopefully not too drawn out future.

I was part of an annual 33,000 attendees week long party in the
desert called Burning Man. A gathering I've come to understand and
love. A community that to most is questionable, but to some
perfectly defined. Survival is extreme and the ideals and standards
are stentorian in every direction. It's a place where judgment is
left at home and inhibition has run wild, ultimately ending in the
spectacular burn of an 80-foot, imposing wooden structure of the
"Man". Primarily, an adult playground. Each individual interprets
the reason and meaning of the "Burn". Some see it as re-birth of
themselves, some see it as a
spiritual revolution, and others see it simply as a pyromaniacs dream
come true. Part of my draw is the creativity, selflessness, beauty
and the gargantuan events in partying. Outsiders and possibly, with
preference, some insiders see it as Sodom and Gomorrah, but I see as
a giant love and art festival that comes out to the middle of nowhere
for a week and leaves without a trace. can only scratch the surface
of what this is all about. Experiencing it first hand is the only
way to comprehend why so many people are magnetically attracted to
the "Burn".

Unfortunately, with this many people, coupled with the heightened
party environment, there are chances of misfortunes. I was a part of
one of those misfortunes this past weekend.

Some may have heard of a fatal accident at this year's "Burn" but
didn't get any definite details. The news traveled worldwide and is
continuing to grow as the days pass. Information remains vague
because of the nature of the "accident" and individuals are not being
exposed for protection of those involved and also for the fact that
no criminal charges have been placed from both the State of Nevada
and the members of the victim's family. But, for those that are
close to me, I want the story to be told.

First, a little background on the "I'm OK, You're OK Corral"; I'm
second year burner and have joined a beautiful circle of old and new
friends. Most have attended the "Burn" for many years and have
always encouraged me to go; now I'm hooked. This last event, the
group has grown to fifty plus, ranging from young and old, rich to
poor, artsy fartsy types to corporate types - you get the idea. Our
camp is composed of rented motor homes, custom busses, small tents,
moving trucks and the hand built, two stories high "House of Folly". Our
pride and joy-center piece is called "Bar Car". Certain individuals
in our camp have converted a simple van into a serious, moving party
machine that can only be described as a two story high, extremely
loud and bright, rolling night club. This year Bar Car was also
pulling a trailer with additional bass speakers, full size couch and
beverage containers. Following "Bar Car" was a self-powered "chill
out" lounge comprising of an Air Stream trailer. It was call "The
Love Sub". The spectacle was a magnificent sight and truly a magnet
to anyone nearby.

A typical night out starts around 9 or 10 and continues anywhere from
2 to 5 in the morning. We cruise around to many of the hundreds of
theme camps, parties and dance areas, occasionally visiting many of
the freestanding individual art pieces sprinkled about the two-mile
diameter of the open "playa". The art pieces range from big to
bigger, with a wide range of expression and costing anywhere from a
few bucks to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Part of the beauty
and immensity is that no one is out to make a buck. All the money
goes back into the event's art and organization.

Friday night was an evening of enormous proportions. We started off
with and event called "99 Brides" where everyone from our camp, along
with folks from a few other camps, wore wedding dresses. We all went
out and got married to the "Man" and to each other. Not to be taken
literally by most, but a fun event nonetheless. We traveled around
the "Burn" and just had a ball. A few hours later, we all decided to
go back to the camp to re-group and change into warmer clothing.
(Desert weather is brutal in both directions of temperature). Around
2AM we were on our way again, this time with me in the driver seat.
We cruised around the camps for a while before I started to head for
the "Temple of Honor". The "Temple" is the second largest icon of
the "Burn" and goes down in flames on Sunday night. It's a
multi-story structure made of black and white patterned paper on a
cardboard and wood frame, a dignified architecture where people leave
written messages and gifts to those who have passed on. Doubtless,
the most emotional area, filled with an infinite amount of grief,
pain and reminiscence. I passed by the "Temple" and moved on so as
to not disturb those inside by the high volume of the sound system.
A few moments later, the most horrific tragedy ensued.

Cathy, our newest and youngest member was a tall and beautiful young
lady, a quiet person with eyes that enjoyed every second of her
newfound experience. If a camera that could take a thousand pictures
a second existed, she would've owned it. She wanted to take home and
share this event with everyone at home. I only knew her for a short
time, spending maybe a total of 2 of hours of interaction with her,
but in those brief moments I found a new friend. We had a couple of
conversations, we danced, I watched her dance, she danced some more,
and I guess you can say she liked to dance. Her long straight, black
hair flowed with every move and all I could think was that her
expressions were genuine, full of life, full of passion. Even though
we all just met her, we all knew her. She was each and every one of
us the first time we stepped foot on that ancient desert lakebed.

Cathy decided she wanted to see the "Temple of Honor". She climbed
down from the second story, stepped to the back right of "Bar Car"
and jumped off while we were in motion. Somehow, she ended up
falling back towards "Bar Car". I will never forget the feeling that
surged into my hands through the steering wheel. My worst fears were
followed by a myriad of terrified voices, screaming for me to stop
the car. I ran back and discovered that the trailer ran her over.
Her life was slowly coming to an end as she breathed less and less.
Revival was attempted, but failure was inevitable. Someone grabbed a
spectatorís bicycle and speed off to a nearby ranger. Soon after the
Sheriffs showed up with an ambulance, taking her to the medical
center. A helicopter was on its way. As I was writing out my
statement, a deputy told me that the helicopter left without her and
that she didn't make it. My heart sank deeper than the oceans; my
life paused for what seemed to be an eternity. The terrible news
eventually reached everyone on "Bar Car", a new level of desolation
proceeded and the mourning began. The standard criminal
investigation started and lasted just passed 5AM. I took two
Breathalyzer tests, both coming up zero. I also volunteered to take
a legal blood test. Most of you who know me are aware of my
preferences to keep any illegal substances out of my body. Needless
to say, for my sake and for the outcome of the accident, I was
relieved the situation went only this far.

Saturday's events took place. A funeral, a few moments at a
memorial, a visit to the "Temple" and a slow walk back to the camp.
I went back with my cousin and found the location of the accident.
We constructed a simple shrine made up of extra pieces from the
"Temple". I slowly walked back alone with my collective thoughts.
Back at camp, everyone floated around in gloom and sadness. The
sounds of crying and quiet conversations whispered as our tragic
story replayed itself in our heads. Sometime in the afternoon,
everyone silently started the breakdown of the camp, a few of us went
to clean up "Bar Car" and our evening meal was prepared. Just before
9PM, we all changed and gathered behind "The Love Sub". On foot, we
followed the "Sub" to the "Man" and waited for the burn to begin. As
expected, we witnessed the impossible to explain burning of the
"Man", an event so large and amazing we've all come to appreciate
it's immense power. But, this time there was an added meaning.
Amidst the largest party in the world, there stood in a group hug,
fifty people weeping for our boundless loss. We closed our evening
at our camp surrounding a small bonfire. A few speeches were spoken,
a song was sung and folks slowly retired to a much-needed slumber.

Sunday, the majority of the camp went home. My cousin and I stayed
behind to watch the "Temple" burn. An experience most of the camp
have yet to encounter. I found it more to my liking, much smaller,
more intimate and most appealing, very quiet. I felt it even more
necessary for my own healing to witness the burn as to honor Cathy's
last wish before leaving us. It was beautiful. I've never seen such
detail and contrast in a fire. It looked like magic as the different
colors flew around forming shapes and spirals found only in such a
unique structure. Compounded with the dramatic display of sorrow
amongst the observers, I encountered another facet of my soul. Cathy
will be missed. Cathy will be remembered.

Adding to my already heavy weekend, I got more bad news. I found out
that my first piano teacher, Joyce Rae, fell very ill to cancer of
the liver. Mom Rae is my surrogate mother. She's known me since my
childhood and taught me from age five to age eighteen. But her
teachings never ended, for her strength and wisdom has been a source
of energy that has continues to grow throughout my adult life. She's
not in the habit of showing people her ailments and believes dearly
that this will pass. Unfortunately, her condition has left her
without an appetite. My heart dropped even further below the ocean
floor as I saw how thin she had become. I spent a couple of hours
with her before driving home to LA. Time will tell how long she'll
be here with us.

I've always been resilient, able to get through difficulties with a
"get down to business" attitude. However, this time around it's
become apparent that my threshold is being challenged. I know I'll
be OK, I'm still breathing, I'm still healthy, I'm still loved and I
still love. Thank you for listening and helping me to process my
adventures. Till next time."


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