Updated: Jun 22, 2020
All right, folks, here's how it is: I wanted to meet Tiernan Cloud. I met his mum. I met his brothers. I met his family. I never met Tiernan. Always wanted to. He had the sound off him of a kind of legend of a person. Smart and cunning, like the way I like them. And I didn't get to talk to him.
For some reason that I wot not but that the stars seem to have set down for my good fortune, I've been allowed to talk with them that knew him well about him, and that's been a strange blessing. Not as good as talking to the man himself, but I did get to build a kind of impression of him from a museum of snapshots.
I like him. Good person.
So here's the journey. It's a bit of a ramble, but that's as it should be, on account of a life's not a small thing.
Here's how it happened.
I spoke with people around him, and heard things that surprised me, which is what I should have heard because people are all messes. Tiernan was an intelligent, well-put-together, calculating mess of a person, but same as the rest of us: He was a glorious mess.
I talked to his teacher Shiva, who also gave him a job. And she said that he was such a hustler. There's the first picture I had of him. Sure, I knew he worked with Kristina, his mum, and I knew that he had a degree in business. Now I knew that those who taught him thought of him as a hustler. Was he always looking for angles? Was he a sweet-talker who gained things by his wit? I don't know for sure. Probably. He hustled, though. He finished his homework and then did work-for-money during class periods, and that caught the attention that made him attractive to them who wanted to build a new school in Madrid. So he helped them. Schools need a kind of loyalty unique to them to get students engaged, and the kind of loyalty they need is usually inherited. If you're inventing an entirely new school ecosystem out of nothing it'd take a weird kind of cunning to force loyalty for it into existence. A weird kind of cunning described Tiernan's mind, though, and he designed a Hogwarts-style system for this new school in Madrid, because he understood how to get under people's skin.
I talked to Pan, who stepped into Tiernan's life early and stayed there in spite of a certain distaste for children on the part of Pan. I didn't hear it specifically, but I imagine Tiernan's something to do with Pan's ability to outgrow the juvenile misunderstanding that motivates the phrase "I don't like kids." Because Tiernan did what any smart kid knows how to do: behave like a human. Tiernan was gatekeeper to the family, even at age 5, and challenged Pan, standing with arms akimbo on the high ground when Pan arrived to beg entry into the family. "You must be Pan," Tiernan demanded. Something to being challenged for entry into the clan, because Pan decided to stick around and rise to the challenge. Yes, he's Pan, and he's willing to stay. You're partly to blame, Tiernan, with your little five-year-old daring Pan to rise to the challenge. Not that it could be any other way. Pan told me that Tiernan had to learn everything for himself, sometimes to his detriment. Like, if there was a big bruiser and he knew he couldn't win the fight, that wouldn't stop Tiernan from getting in that fight--from challenging people bigger than him and then dealing with the consequences. Sometimes the consequences were bruises. Sometimes, well one time, at least, it was better, because the ‘consequence’ was Pan.
I talked to their old family friend Tassia. Tassia knew Tiernan and his brothers from ages past. She knew them before they easily remembered themselves, as her 3 oldest daughters, roughly the same ages as the 3 Cloud boys were “bethrothed” (playfully of course) by playground buddies Tassia and Kristina who held on to a hilarious bloodline fantasy to deepen their already awesome friendship. And to hear her talk about Tiernan, he was such a teddy bear. He was cuddly. He liked everyone and felt unselfconscious to show it. He grew into a man who did not change that about himself but did it with the courage of long years of watching and believing. Tassia's 4th daughter, Carolina, plays her favorite song on Piano because of Tiernan. Twelve-year-old Carolina learned from Tiernan how to play piano last Autumn. And he did it because she's a human being who wanted something nice, just like everyone else. Because you know what's easy? Dismissing children as "children." What's hard is looking them in the eye and acknowledging them and then taking some time to make them feel worthwhile. That takes some energy. Tiernan made the decision to invest that energy for some reason. The weirdo.
Then I talked to Liam. Liam's the older brother. I'm an older brother. I tried very hard not to empathize too deeply with Liam, but at the same time I empathized with him deeply and I tried not to choose which of my brothers I'd imagine sacrificing for the story. (Liam, you can borrow one of mine--I'm not using them.) Liam was damned comforting to talk to, because by the time I got to him I started to suspect that Tiernan would be a boring subject to talk about. Ain't nothing interesting about a guy who does no wrong. Even Jesus threw a temper tantrum. Liam didn't disappoint. I told Liam that so far everyone had told me that his little brother was among the coolest people - Period.
To which Liam replied, "Did they also tell you that he was annoying?"
Well, Liam, no. No, they did not. Do go on. I would like to hear about this other angle.
Tiernan was annoying because he could do anything. He picked up academic subjects like a mad genius. He picked up anything physical like some weird superman. He could do anything. And he was tall. As an older brother, I can understand completely when it's annoying that kid brothers just seem good at everything. My kid brothers are. It sometimes feels like the whole point of having several is because mum and dad weren't quite satisfied with Son A (me). They thought they could do better. They thought they could make up for my flaws. So they had Son B, and C, because each time they improved on the last model.
Kid brothers are like that. The little twerps.
Can't get too upset with them, though. They turn out okay eventually. Still, we can have our revenge, as older brothers we can sometimes get revenge. Liam and Dylan colluded to prevent Tiernan from playing guitar and learning to skateboard. At least they'd keep those things for themselves without Tiernan taking them over too.
Liam told me interesting stuff about Tiernan in a general sense. I'd already started to get a picture of Tiernan as a remarkable people-person, but Liam started helping me to understand how that would look. Tiernan made a point of finding something in common with anyone. "His ethnicity would change depending on who he talked to." I thought that was hilarious. It drew such a dramatic picture of someone with a deep interest in finding common grounds with anyone.
I talked to friends. Raf was Tiernan’s first official flatmate in Barcelona. Other friends like Fiona, very possibly Tiernan’s best girl friend (i.e. best friend who happens to be a girl), mentioned that everyone quietly regarded Raf and Tiernan to be soulmates. It is no wonder then, that Raf had chosen to stay in Barcelona for 4 years while he was backpacking the world and merely “passing through” at the time.
Raf told me how much of a social nexus Tiernan was to his social circle. If there was a good time to be had, Tiernan would be there egging it on. He'd encourage whole groups to enjoy themselves, ensuring as much as he could that everyone had a good time. But he wouldn't do it anonymously, like some distant king or general commanding the movements from on high and making himself unapproachable. Tiernan cared to create strong personal links with everyone he befriended. Raf told me about Fun Days they'd have, where Tiernan and Raf would spend time chilling just to enjoy themselves. And Raf told me about big gatherings that Tiernan seemed to spark into existence because he wanted to include everyone.
Raf was good to talk to for fleshing out Tiernan's character, too. Raf told me a story about Tiernan having a slightly drunken escapade. Tiernan wanted to demonstrate a feat of mild acrobatic skill while tipsy. It didn't work out and he fell over to break his tooth. It made him laugh, apparently. And then he did the thing that seems to me like the only reasonable thing to do: he came up with a story about getting into a fight for a lady's honor to explain the broken tooth. Which is a lesson for us all. Always come up with a story about a big bloke who caused your injuries, instead of the drunken antics.
Evandro was a friend of Tiernan's from England, during secondary school. Evandro told me about Tiernan's drive to succeed--a trait that persisted throughout his life. They'd play basketball, Tiernan and Evandro, and they'd push each other to higher achievements. Tiernan might have had a natural knack for athletic pastimes, but he still needed to practice. There's an art to friendly rivalry: it's a balance between encouragement and competition. Tiernan figured out that art. Evandro said that he--Evandro--was only casually interested in basketball. At least at first. But because of encouragement and an ongoing competition with Tiernan they both ended up being recognized for athletic achievement by their school, eventually. Sort of weird how that can work.
It's a rough thing to learn about a life in this way. He's sort of a ghostly side-character in all these stories, even though they're about him, since I never met him. I'm piecing together his character from snapshots and images. Sort of a weird thing.
Kristina agreed to talk to me. I don't know how to empathize with Kristina. I can try. My mum died, and I'm a son, so I can try. She made me laugh and made me sad.
She wants me to remember someone hungry to understand the whole world. In so doing, she made me understand Tiernan a lot better, because she described someone who, at heart, was a complete dork. She told me stories about a kid who got up early the mornings he started at every new school. (I am guilty of the same.) That's an excitement that's got nothing to do with school and everything to do with a world full of strange things. If he only got up early before kindergarten and it never happened again, that would mean the world defeated him and he'd grown cynical. But he would get up far too early the first day of every school--of primary school and secondary school and university. The world is full and ready to be explored. My kind of man.
And she wants me to remember someone who knew how to accomplish things. She told me a story that demonstrated Tiernan's ability to use time and energy efficiently. She told me about something called Solo Mom Time Project, which operated according to Fight Club Rules--i.e., you do not talk about Solo Mom Time Project. Which is great for a son, because it means you can say anything you need about your brothers without fear of it coming back to haunt you. A somewhat recent episode of Solo Mom Time Project had a three-fold purpose. It was time to catch up with mom. Very good. So she asked him if he was having any trouble with his brothers. He thought about it, and he explained that he and Dylan were in a bit of a tiff because Dylan had bought the weed and Tiernan had smoked most of it. Which was an efficient use of news, you know? Explaining he was having trouble with his brother and explaining he had started smoking in a swoop of a fell nature. Clever.
So, then, Dylan.
Dylan's the other older brother. Dylan's the middle child, and middle children are always a little weird.
I like talking to Dylan. I think I kind of get him, you know? I like to try and think about what he thinks about.
Dylan was especially close to Tiernan, they tell me. Dylan was the enabler. He handed Tiernan his first guitar (then promptly snatched it away again when Tiernan started to look like he was going to be especially good at guitar). Dylan got Tiernan on a skateboard for the first time. Dylan and Tiernan would talk for hours about everything and nothing. Dylan told me that Tiernan was a "brain feeder." If the rest of us muse on food for thought, Tiernan took that a step beyond and consumed food for thought like some kind of detective into the meaning of life.
The meaning of life was an interesting subject to Dylan and Tiernan. Dylan confirmed things that other people had told me about Tiernan. Dylan confirmed Tiernan's drive to excel, like Evandro outlined, and Tiernan's instinct to build community, like Raf talked about. Dylan confirmed what Pan and Liam said about how Tiernan had to learn for himself, and what Liam said about how Tiernan would adapt to people to find things in common with them. Dylan confirmed what Kristina said about Tiernan's voracious appetite to learn, and Dylan confirmed what Tassia said about Tiernan's powers of caring.
Eventually, Dylan and I ended up talking a great deal about honesty. I don't know if you've noticed, but honesty is hard. It's embarrassing to be honest. It takes a strong force of will. It takes a strong faith in your values and a willingness to deal with people disagreeing with you.
It's also among the more important things we can do. Tiernan had a weird ability to be honest. Every now and then you might meet someone who can disagree with you, or who you can disagree with, who somehow makes it possible to come away from a conversation full of disagreement without anyone involved feeling grumpy about it. Tiernan had that superpower. He wanted to meet everyone with the same honesty, to meet them without guile and without ulterior motive, and to meet them where they are without asking them to change and without requiring them to earn his attention. Honesty is strange, it's rare, and it's something Tiernan demanded of himself.
A few themes coursed at the back of it all like a nervous system keeping the story together. He was, at age 19, quick to invest time in a 7-year old daughter of his mom’s best friend of 16 years. He is half-jokingly referred to as “Heredero” by his grandpa (translates to ‘legacy’) and was known to religiously send WhatsApp messages to his family and grandparents across different time zones, despite work and shenanigans with Raf and University friends. He was proud of where he came from, and proud that he'd come from all over the world. He liked to bring it up. He felt an urgency to nurture people, and that manifested both in intimate relationships and in the big movements that sparked the direction his career would take. He placed higher priority on his relationships than on his own needs, but he didn't overlook his needs either. He cared about taking care of himself too. He embraced a challenge for its own glory, and saw the good in always improving himself, and he found no peace in complacency. He hungered to live all the way every day.
The man lived a big, bright life, and he shared as much of himself as he possibly could to no greater purpose than for the sake of sharing. And that's not so bad.
And that's only a few. Every little story that's us is like a shard in a stained-glass-window that, taken all in all, amounts to only a glimpse of a real person and only a little part of story told by the thousand-fold mosaic of glass that we are in the end. There's not space in the world to contain every story about anyone. That's why we tell each other stories. I hope you have more stories about Tiernan for me, because I'd like to know more.
Grief fucking hurts. Like any pain, it’s judged by what comes after it. It NEEDS to be felt, but it has more than one function. One of it’s easily ignored functions is to cauterize a Tiernan-shaped scar into the souls of the people around him. He sparked embers in everyone he touched, and know he’s lit a wildfire in the world around him. If the energy from him is used, and not ignored, that wildfire will burn for a long, long time.
Here's our charge: like kings of old, Tiernan built his own monument as a remembrance to him. Kings of old built theirs from stone and carved their stories into the hard face of it--look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Words carved to be read for a thousand, thousand years. Tiernan didn't build his monument from something quite so forgiving as stone. He had no need for it. He built his monument in you. He carved his story into your mind and your soul. That's a burden to bear, but I think it's a happy one. That's your job now. Be a strong monument.
If you would like to send your thoughts, memories or good wishes to Tiernan's family, who continue to create art and community-- in part as a tribute to Tiernan-- you may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org -