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Losing our Petit Prince


Thursday, October 25th, 2018


I found out the news about Nathan yesterday from one of our colleagues-turned-family, Nicole. She messaged all of us in a separate group message that did not include Nathan, and told us to call her. As soon as I saw that he wasn’t included in the message, I knew.


I’ve never lost someone my age whom I’d become this close to. Since the first round of shock and grief overwhelmed me, my brain and my heart have been flooded with every memory that Nathan and I shared together last year. The situation is unfathomable by itself, and even more unfathomable is to realize that he and I were just becoming fast friends only one year ago.


I fell asleep last night reading a copy of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He gave each of us a copy at the end of our time in Colorado as a parting gift. He wrote a note to me inside the front cover which began with “Katiebug,” Nathan's nickname for me which was based off a character in a cartoon that he and Heath enjoyed. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, but as I read the first few pages, I couldn’t help but think that Nathan himself is Le Petit Prince in so many ways. I hope to continue reading the book over the day or so. (Update: Since I began writing this blog this morning, Nicole said she’d read the same few pages, and that the Prince was so like Nathan that she couldn’t believe it).


Most importantly, though, I feel I have to document the dream I just had. I hope you find it as interesting as I did:


My dream about Nathan, just before waking up on 10/25/18:


I was with Scott, Nicole, and Rachel (Nathan’s beautiful fiancée, in my dream and in real life) and we were staying in a house in some sort of downtown area. It was a gray and dreary day and we all were talking, doing random chores and tasks around the house, just existing together, processing this terrible news. Despite our sadness, the atmosphere was relaxed and cozy: It was one of those stretches of time where you’re aware of the information, but it isn’t emotional to you in that moment (AKA denial or disbelief).


I told Rachel and Scott that I wished I could talk to Nathan: as if I felt like he were right here with us still and just that words weren’t possible. Then Scott made some comment which made no sense (because this is a dream), like, “You could always try calling him on the celsius channel of your cell phone.” (Side note: Even in a dream, it’s just like Scott to suddenly suggest the most practical thing ever, even if it makes no sense). I happily replied, “Why not!” and stepped out onto the balcony of the house with my cell phone to give it a try.


I “switched to the celsius channel” of my phone and pressed the call button under Nathan Ward’s contact information. A few rings later, I heard a voice like Nathan’s say, “Hellooo?” with a playful inflection, just as he would. My reaction: I flipped out. “Hello?! HELLO!!!” I yelled. I banged on the sliding glass door of the house where Rachel and Scott were just inside so as to get their attention, pointed to my phone, and yelled “I GOT HIM! I GOT HIM!” Then I turned away to make sure I still had Nathan on the line.


I asked him where he was. He gave a nebulous answer. I asked him what he could see, and what he was doing. He was playing some sort of philosophical video game: Something that literally was too complicated for earthbound humans to understand, but now because he was no longer earthbound, the most perfect philosophical video game of the heavens was all his to enjoy. (Reflecting on this part of the dream makes me really happy).


Once our small-talk about whatever video game this was had ended, I made sure to utilize my time on the phone with him the way I wanted to. I asked him: Why? Why did he have to take his life? Why did he think the world was better without him? His answer was nebulous again: Either that, or the dream is slipping from my memory, as dreams often do. All I remember is that he tried to explain his reasoning for taking his life in a roundabout way using many different metaphors (again, how incredibly unlike Nathan) :-)


I told him I was sad. There was a tangible silence on the line as I held in tears. Nathan waited: Perhaps he maybe expected me to say more than just “I’m sad,” but that’s all that I could manage. Once Nathan spoke, he said “Aww…” with a tone almost as if he were surprised to hear how sad I was to lose him. He began speaking in more metaphors. He compared me to someone named “Mary.” I remember responding, referring to myself in the third person as if I were Mary: “Yes, but Mary loved, and wanted to be loved.”


He went on to describe the things he planned to do in the new world where he was. He was going to grow a garden and volunteer as the assistant coach of a little league baseball team. He spoke as if all the things he ever wanted to do were only now achievable in the world of the afterlife. To this I said, “You know, you could have done all of these things here, too?”


I don’t remember much more of my dream…but I woke up shortly thereafter.


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I woke up to a long list of messages about Nathan from friends and colleagues I’ve shared on the opera stage. The news is getting around quickly, but hasn’t made it to Facebook yet. For that, I am thankful. It will be difficult to relive this reality every time I see a post, which I’m sure will happen eventually. Once it does, I’ll share this blog.


Despite the pain that we’re all in, and although I’ll never be able to understand this tragedy, I can’t help but remind myself how everything happens for a reason. When I say this, I am referring to how incredibly close my colleagues and I became last year in Colorado. As Nicole described so well when she and Heath and I recently were reunited in Houston: There was one movie night in Denver when we all realized that our humor was the same type of “weird.” From that early point onward, there were no pretenses between us; we weren’t afraid to make weird jokes; we supported each other in blissful and in stressful times; we spoke in silly voices. There was little judgement; there was so much laughter. All this to say: If we hadn’t become our own family last year, this would be all the more difficult. I hate that we have to endure this, but at least we can endure it together.


On this day, we all went to the guys' house during our lunch break. Nathan stayed to practice. When we returned, we each walked in wearing a piece of Nathan's clothing we had stolen, without saying a word to him. He loved it.

For the time being, I’m sure that not just the CO family, but the young artist opera community across the country will have to lean on each other to try and make sense of what’s happened. Upon meeting everyone last year, Nathan and I had more mutual friends than any of my other Opera CO colleagues: Everywhere I went, someone knew Nathan. His intellect, empathy, curiosity, and uniqueness have touched so many. His loss will be felt far and wide. I wish he knew that. Perhaps he does: From our dream conversation on the “celsius” channel.


Thank you, Nathan, for letting us into your heart and your mind this past year. Thank you, for helping me practice our Cinderella twirl over and over when I kept forgetting it; for driving me to the pharmacy and reassuring me I would be all right when I thought I might need to go to the emergency room; for literally holding me up on stage when you could tell I was too tired to even keep my footing; for teaching me more about myself than I ever thought possible, even when that made things difficult between us; for appreciating the goofy language I invented so much that we laughed till we cried; for your openness; for your funny and awkward impressions of each one of us; for racing me on the side of the highway when we both felt we had too much pent up energy during our long road trips; for our long, meaningful talks while walking around Denver or riding in the GMC Denali; for appreciating the natural beauty of Colorado as much as I did; for singing songs with me at the piano and letting me record all of it for fun (recording here); for being patient with me when I didn’t adapt to ideas or situations as quickly as you did; for your long hugs; for inviting us into your world.


I want to end with one of the paragraphs from Le Petit Prince (in English) that I couldn’t help but gawk at, that somehow brings me peace in such a distressing time:


“He couldn’t say another word. All of a sudden he burst out sobbing. Night had fallen. I dropped my tools. What did I care about my hammer, about my bolt, about thirst and death? There was, on one star, on one planet, on mine, the Earth, a little prince to be consoled! I took him in my arms. I rocked him. I told him, “The flower you love is not in danger… I’ll draw you a muzzle for your sheep… I’ll draw you a fence for your flower… I… “ I didn’t know what to say. How clumsy I felt! I didn’t know how to reach him, where to find him…. It’s so mysterious, the land of tears.”


We miss you more than you know.

Rest in peace, Nathan Ward: my friend, my brother, my Prince.


Sending all possible strength and condolences to the Ward family, Dan, Leslie, and Nick; and to my beautiful friend, Rachel Aubuchon.


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Update, October 26th, 2018:


Since writing my original thoughts yesterday morning, I’ve finished reading Le Petit Prince. I’ve been texting Nicole throughout, and she told me Vanessa has finished reading her copy, too.


My heart and my mind have been carried away upon realizing that Nathan really, truly is this character. I finished reading the book this morning holding my pencil, used to underline particularly meaningful quotes and moments, and with almost half of the pages dog-earred at one corner. As Nicole echoed, too: The relevance of this book to the life of our friend Nathan Ward is completely overwhelming.


Why he decided to give us this book a few months ago, I’ll never know, other than he said that Rachel gave him a copy years ago and it’s meant the world to him ever since. But, it’s become one of my prized possessions. Its relevance is unbelievable. I know I’ll never leave it behind, wherever life takes me.


I would encourage anyone who is having trouble processing this tragedy to go out and buy yourself a copy of Le Petit Prince (make sure it’s in English unless you can speak French). If you know Nathan the way so many did, it’ll feel almost too cathartic, but it’ll all make sense. (If you're interested, here's a link).


Just one last quote to share:


"Look at this landscape carefully to be sure of recognizing it, if you should travel to Africa someday, in the desert. And if you happen to pass by here, I beg you not to hurry past. Wait a little, just under the star! Then if a child comes to you, if he laughs, if he has golden hair, if he doesn’t answer your questions, you’ll realize who he is. If this should happen, be kind! Don’t let me go on being so sad: Send word immediately that he’s come back..."


The final page of Le Petit Prince


Here's a collection of my favorite photos of our time with Nathan Ward.


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