Taboo's Junk Trunk: A Storage Dump for Taboo's Random Literary and Cultural Blatherments
Published on January 2, 2006 By TaBoo Tenente In Personal Relationships
In Breckenridge, Colorado, while splashing in a hot tub with new college friends, I raised a spaghetti jar of Miller Genuine Draft and drank to my own health; meanwhile, my girlfriend was dying at a hospital in London. On Friday, April 8, 1994, some drunk smashed into Janna Sugar’s spine with his car (a car painted the dull black of shadows, a two-door, a Mercedes with those long blank license plates, a convertible—all details invented and perfected during the long years since the “accident”). Only thirty-six hours passed before Janna died.

Back on campus, on Monday—after bypassing a message from my roommate, after class, after a nap now colored by the memory of unanswered, ringing telephones—my father called to tell me that Janna was dead. I flew to Madison on Tuesday. I drove to Chicago for the funeral on Wednesday. I rested on Thursday and returned to Colorado on Friday. By the time classes resumed on Monday, I’d thanked and smiled away nearly all of the condolences I’d dreaded from the moment I heard Janna’s father call out his loose-gravel moan—moaning in the way some old men do when they cry—and in that way, he cried and cried while the Rabbi recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the affirmation of Janna’s life.

When you die, there must be a moment—some exact, though intangible fraction of a second—when you’re no longer dying; you’re dead. I imagine Janna wavering at the apex of an archetypal, conical mountain, climbing through a rainbow’s mist to the top, balancing herself there upon the mountain’s perfect tip.

Then she falls.

Then a day goes by, and then a year, and as more time passes, that space between the moment of Janna’s death and the present moment begins to feel so large, so real. But it isn’t real. During my lowest, most empty moments, when there’s no one around, nothing to distract me and all my masks are put away, I try to name how I feel—and I feel nothing. Within all that space that time creates, I feel nothing.

All of the responses you expect to feel when someone dies, none of them exist—not for me. I did not grieve or hate or remember good times. When I stare at her picture, I feel nothing but surprise. When I hold a picture of Janna Sugar close to my eyes—even now, ten years later—I hear this concussion of released sound shushing around the hollows of my head, as if all the noise I’d filtered out of the present moments of my living—locked inside for my own safety—now comes rushing forth from a reservoir of surprise.

There’s one photograph I’ve learned to cherish for the purpose of lying to myself and to other people about how I feel. A friend must have developed the picture himself, this black and white image framed at a slant and occupying only two-thirds of the photo paper. Janna’s face squeezes up close to the lens. I can just see the lower crescents of her eyes, mocha brown, I know, but very black in the photo, now black in my memory as well, and the wide, freckled bulb of her nose. Janna is posing with fish-lips for posterity—not cheesy fish-lips, but candid fish-lips. As if she knew.

I’ve learned to lie in order to express this nothing that I feel. After all these years of feeling nothing, I realize that lying is neither evil nor very hard to do; and if I’m honest about the lying, if I’m aware of the compromise I’m making, then I’m really doing what everyone does, only they don’t admit it—I’m trying to feel something that doesn’t exist.

This is how I lie: I take two very real conditions of living in a post-Janna world, and I explain them when people ask me how I feel.

The first condition involves three identical moments that took place within one year of Janna’s death. I pick up a telephone. I begin to dial her phone number, and then, just as I press the last digit, I realize that she is dead. While dialing her number I do not know she’s dead. She is alive. But when I press the final digit I remember that she’s no longer alive. She is dead.

The second condition involves a dream I’ve had several times, and I still have on occasion. In the dream I’m minding my own business when suddenly I believe I’ve seen Janna Sugar strolling down the street. Although I’m dreaming and I do not know I’m dreaming, I do know that Janna should not be walking around, because she’s dead. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve really seen a flash of her hair or eyes or lips—that she is alive, and without thinking, almost without moving, I chase her down. Without fail, I find Janna Sugar alive, living her life as if what happened had not happened at all.

—But you should be dead!
—I’m not.
—But I was there; we buried you, one shovelful at a time!
—That wasn’t me. I was tricking you.
—But why would you trick me?
—Because I didn’t want to see you again.

This is how I feel: I feel the weight of a very real, tangible memory of someone who never existed. My reality demands the construction of a memory, but whoever Janna Sugar really was before she died, I’ll never know. I’ll stare into the face of a photograph; I’ll tell the memory of three accidental phone calls; or I’ll tell about a dream I have of Janna that, after all this time, after everything, will not go away. Everything goes away, everything except nothing, which, in the end, is only the feeling of remembering a shadow of someone who can never come back.

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on Jan 24, 2006
I knew Janna.

I found your blog pretty much by chance. Someone I work with told me that a friend of hers had been killed in an accident this weekend, hit by a car while walking in NYC, and, as always, I thought only of Janna. To this day, almost 12 years later now, it still hits me like it was yesterday. I went to Poland and Israel with Janna in 1992, and if memory serves, I know who you are.

It's hard to believe, this far down the line, that I'm still as dumbstruck by Janna's death as I am. It's consoling, in a way I don't think I could ever have imagined, to read what you wrote. I don't want to go on and on here, because I could and because I don't know how I feel about sharing this with whomever might be reading. But I cannot be silent, either.

I spoke with her last about a week before she left for England, maybe two weeks. I was a Freshman at Vassar, and she was still figuring out where to go to college. We talked, as always, and said goodbye. When my call came, on Sunday April 10 at 9 or so at night, it was like someone had torn me to shreds from the inside out. But I'm not writing to share pain, although I'm happy to do so.

There are things I am compelled to tell you. The first is that I, too, have a picture. Of Janna standing with an Israeli from our trip. She is deep tan and smiling at me, a knowing smile that she always seemed to wear, full of the joy of the moment. I keep it near. The second...I was the one participant in the trip that summer (Shoreshim) from California. I didn't know a soul from among the 100 or so teens on the trip. I got sick in Poland...really sick. It was gross. My fever was so high that I was delirious for most of a day. When I came to, though, covered as I was in vomit and god knows what else, Janna was sitting there, in a chair next to my bed, with a cool, damp washcloth, a bottle of water and a box of saltines. 17-year-olds don't do that for someone they've barely even met. They just don't. But Janna did. I don't know what she might have done in life, what she might have become, but I know that she would have been Great. A great person, scholar, poet, whatever. Finally, April. April. I have, as I like to say, Kaddish issues. I hate the damn thing. And yet, I stand for it whenever I'm in shul, for Janna. So I commemorate her yahrtzeit in my own way. There are songs which remind me of her, so I drive around and listen to them. "Blister in the Sun"..."Classic Girl"...some others.

Anyway, I have more to say and don't know that I can right now. Thank you for your post. That may seem like a strange response, but thank you.

If you'd like, email me at
on Jan 27, 2006

the shock of hearing from someone who knew janna after all these years was more intense than writing about janna--something i had not done in any honest way. this isn't the place for me to explain how much hearing from you means to me, but i will send you an email.

thank you.

on Jun 19, 2006

It's Sari Bloom (now Shuman) from OSRUI. I, like Ben--who I remember from Shorashim, found your blog a while ago and have neglected to respond until now.

I think of Janna often and sometimes "Google" her name just to see who received the most recent Janna Sugar Memorial Scholarship at Glenbrook North High School, or if others have remembered her in ways which I was unaware, like in a Memory bench at our Junior high.

I read your blog and cried. You remember Janna in a way that is so different from Scholarships and Memory benches. Your words struck me with such a bolt that I cannot describe. Maybe it's because I knew you when yours and Janna's relationship was growing at OSRUI or maybe because I just miss Janna sometimes. For whatever reason, it meant a lot to me to read your entry.

Josh, after all these years to be reconnected with you via the internet with Janna as our link is telling. She made such an impact on so many lives and memories of times spent with her are still so poiginant to me. Yet, there is no way that her essence can be captured by my words. It helps to know that others are still in touch with how they felt about Janna.

You can find me again at if you want to touch base. If not, that's fine too.

All my best,