Here’s a recording of my dear friend Lookens singing one of his compositions, “I’m looking for a friend today.” And a picture of us improvising some kalimba music in my kitchen a year ago, on February 16, 2022. Today is Valentine’s day, the 14th, and my thoughts can’t help but turn to love, to mon amour, Loulou, one of the greatest friends I was blessed to have, for about 8 years of my life. He died on February 21 last year.
Life can be lonely, right? I mean, even surrounded by other people, we all have those moments of unbearable solitude. Moments when we feel so isolated or disconnected from others. And when the absence of others is a void that’s hard to bear.
I’ve found good, bad and ugly ways to fill this void. One of them has been through art-making. Sometimes the act of creating can take me to the other side. Making something out of nothing, filling that emptiness. Building a form to express a thought, a feeling, an image. Connecting back to the world, beyond me.
I met Lookens in 2013 when I rented an art studio space at 135 Van Horne. A time when I was really trying to pursue art-making seriously, doing an MFA, preparing an exhibit. I’d just moved into the building, he was selling some of his furniture and I bought a table from him. We liked each other right away.
Over time, as I pursued art-making and then the solitude of surprise single motherhood, Lookens became one of my closest friends. His door was always open and I suppose I really needed someone like that. A friend who listened and cared and had a lot of life experience-acquired wisdom to share. Someone called him my “Art Dad”. I think, in some ways, that’s an apt description. To note though, not all of Loulou’s input was wise. He was an eternal child and a clown, and as an often-too-serious person, I needed that guy too. When I was working on art projects, I would stop into his studio for a smoke and a chat. And then, when I got pregnant, broke and had to give up my studio space, I’d swing by Van Horne, stroller in tow, and drop in on Lookens’ studio with my new little baby. And while away part of the day in his company.
We shared so many stories. We laughed and cried together so much about our lives and the choices we’d made. Though he was old enough to be my dad, though we’d lived such very different lives, we also found that we had a lot in common. Particularly when it to matters of the heart and our handling and mishandlings. These years we spent bonding intensely was, I think, a time, I think, when we were both needing healing. We’d both been too much, too soon, too eager, too bold. Or sometimes quite the opposite: not enough, too shy, too scared, too late. Our sensitive hearts were scarred and looking for peace. Time and time again, we compared notes and got wiser from sharing.
And of course, over time, we began singing together. It probably started with our mutual love of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. That’s the song we probably sang the most and the one all the other artists in the building must have heard us croon at least once or twice. But there were so many others. And yeah sure, we developed some musical ambitions. We spoke of writing songs and performing shows. We even attempted to put together a band. We co-wrote a pretty great song about the convergence of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. But … in the end, nothing more happened than the singing for the pleasure of it. The pleasure of harmonizing our voices to sing out the pain and joy of our lives.
We were dreamers together, making plans, imagining projects. Feeding each other’s creative fantasies. We had a constant flow of ideas. Most of these projects didn’t happen. Possibly together or separately, we were blocked. But what fun we had imagining.
Lookens probably knew that he was sick for a long time before the rest of us realized it. One night he collapsed in the building and was taken to the hospital. They found a large number of tumours. He had lung cancer. He stayed at the hospital and gave him radiation therapy. And then he called me and asked if he could come stay at my place, once released. His art studio home was too dirty for someone in his state. Of course, I said. Yes, of course. I’ll get a bed ready for you.
And then my home was filled with his presence, with meds to administer to him, with the relief of having him close by and with the comings and goings of the others caring for him: Lucie, Robert, Janik, Parmida, among others.
And there was the collective cleaning out of his studio space, which was filled, and I mean filled, with all the materials, all the objects, all the memorabilia of his life and art. A process that took weeks and weeks to deal with and that I could barely stand being involved with. But that’s another story for another day. There are many more stories.
And then suddenly he died. Much more quickly than any of us had imagined. One weekend he stayed curled up in a ball of pain and all I had was the Tylenol the doctor had given him. Monday morning we finally called the doctor to ask questions. While the paramedics were there, preparing to take him back to the hospital, he passed. He died on the floor in my living room. It was probably heart failure. It was shocking. Unexpected. I knew I was going to lose him but I’d thought he’d be around for at least a few more months. No. He was gone.
But his face. Once he passed, he had the most peaceful, childlike smile. Lookens was finally at peace.
A death is hardest for those left behind, isn’t it? It broke me for a while. It took me some time to stop feeling the heart wrenching ache of this loss. For about six months I was almost unconsolable.
I’m glad to report that I’m much better now. That I’ve somehow kind of gotten used to the absence of this great friend. And that I’ve made great efforts to fill the void Loulou left in my heart. I’ve filled it with other good people, with good work, and with all the other things we do to generate joy.
But I’m looking for my friend today. Aide-moi, dis-moi où je peux le trouver.