Erin Hamilton

Erin Hamilton: Dancing as fast as she can – The Advocate, May 14, 2002
She has had a rough ride–her girlfriend’s suicide, her sister’s death, and her own addiction–but Carol Burnett’s dance-diva daughter is clean and back on the circuit
By Steven Housman

Showbiz holds few mysteries for Erin Hamilton. Growing up as the daughter of TV legend Carol Burnett and singer-producer Joe Hamilton, Erin learned from the best. From infancy to age 11 she spent every Friday night sitting in the orchestra pit, watching the taping of her mother’s long-running Carol Burnett Show. “I wanted to be up there on that stage,” Erin recalls—but not as an actor. “I can’t act for shit and never wanted to,” she adds, laughing. “I was much more interested in music.”

A few lifetimes later, she still is. The 31-year-old has been on a dizzying ride: fame, motherhood, a string of dance hits, the love of both men and women. The tabloids have tagged her “Carol Burnett’s Lesbian Daughter.” Hamilton thinks that’s a hoot. She’s more worried, she confides, that by recording songs that have been hits for other artists, she’ll get a reputation as a “cover queen.”

Hamilton has worked hard to forge her own path. In her early 20s, she hit the road on the trail of the Grateful Dead. Back home in Los Angeles, she founded, fronted, and wrote the tunes for her own blues band, As Is, and later fronted the popular L.A. band Komba Kalla.

The bands broke up, but in everyday life, Hamilton had formed a new trio—her then-husband, producer-writer Trae Carlson, and their son, Zachary, now 5. In placid Santa Barbara, Calif., away from the Sunset Strip, Hamilton enjoyed life, taught yoga, and put her family first.

An impromptu recording of Gary Wright’s 1975 rock ballad “Dream Weaver” changed everything. Introduced to the gay dance audience by promoter Jeffrey Sanker (who remains a close friend), Hamilton hit the circuit and turned “Dream Weaver” into the summer anthem of 1999. Two more hits (“Satisfied” and “The Flame,” both included on her 1999 album, One World) gave Hamilton a faithful and supportive fan base.

But partying with the boys meant doing drugs with the boys. And drugs were about to crash in on Erin’s life. In 2001 she found an intense new love—her first committed relationship with a woman. But just months after Tanya Sanchez came into her life, she committed suicide in Hamilton’s Los Angeles house. Hamilton crumbled. She went on a two-week bender that included out-of-control phone calls with the tabloids and ended, fortunately, in rehab. Hamilton’s new sobriety was put to the test in January when her eldest sister, 38-year-old Carrie, who had weathered her own struggles with drugs and the tabloids, died of lung cancer with Erin at her side.

Now, with guts and good humor, Hamilton is starting over. She’s cherishing her son—“He’s totally beautiful!” she gushes. She’s in a new romantic relationship, with a man she describes in words like “adorable” and (understandably a plus) “nondramatic.” She has a fierce new dance single—yes, a cover—of the Kiki Dee classic “I’ve Got the Music in Me.” And she triumphantly replugged into the circuit with a surprise appearance at the kickoff of this year’s White Party. Hamilton has been hounded by the press to tell her story, but she’s always said no—until now.

So how was your sober circuit debut?
You know, in the past I’ve walked off the stage and been like, “Aw, the sound sucked!” or “I couldn’t hear” or “God, I was awful!” And this was the first time that I walked off ecstatic. I was afraid the boys were going to be like, “Oh, her again.” But I only performed the new single, and they were so jazzed. I sang better than I’ve ever sung, and I was just really, really proud and happy with the way things went. And as a different M.O. for me: I did my show, I went back to my hotel, I got some sleep, and I left the next day! [Laughs] Which, normally, I would’ve been there from Thursday to Monday, you know?

Sure. So was it a little scary? Was that the first time you sang for a big crowd sober?
No. I did New Year’s Eve at the El Rey and at the Palace [both in Los Angeles], but they weren’t my regular crowd. I wanted [the White Party event] to be a big show for the boys. I’m always nervous, and I used to think, A shot of vodka here might do the trick. I was still nervous, but as soon as I get on that stage and I see the friendly faces and I open my mouth, I’m fine. And I put on a much better show.

I just feel really good when somebody is able to go back and really love doing what they do. I’m scared to jump back into this full-fledged schedule that I was doing. But because of [that show] and the other few shows that I’ve done sober, I feel really confident about that aspect of my life and staying sober. You know, I struggle with other aspects, really.

Like what?
Well, I have slipped a few times. But they’ve also been tremendous lessons. You know, just personally, it’s like, wow, you fall into old patterns. I’m so happy in my life right now that I don’t want to screw it up, you know? And sometimes when you’re so happy, you screw it up because you’re in that old self-destructive mode because you’re like, Oh, things are too good—let me fuck it up!

Usually when you hear about drug troubles on the circuit, it’s guys.
[Laughs] Right. Well, that’s the funniest thing. My Web site is going to be up and running pretty soon, but the one that I had prior, they could E-mail me, and I answered all my fan mail. And so many of them would write and say, “Oh, you’re our favorite diva because nobody comes out after their show and dances on the dance floor with us until 6 in the morning!” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, you know, you guys are my boys, and I want to be personable.” The more I started thinking about it, I was like, OK, that’s tragic. I mean, yeah, I’m personable, and they appreciate that, but at the same time, I’m out there fucked up, dancing with these people, and then sometimes going home with, like, strangers to their apartments so they could be like, “Oh, we brought Erin Hamilton home!” My new thing is, like, after the show, if people want to come backstage and say hi and take pictures, I’ll stay for an extra hour back there. And then be professional and go home.

There you go. Because we’d like you to be around for a few years.
[Laughs] I would too, and I think my son would agree.

I’m sure your son would agree. Is it different with him now? It must be.
It is. I’m much more present and much more patient. I think he and I are really enjoying each other a lot more.

Growing up in a show business family, did you find performing a natural profession to pursue?
Yes. I didn’t think there was anything different or special about it. That was what I knew. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older, I realized the legacy and the joy and the pure entertainment value my family brought to the world. I admire my mother tremendously. She’s a hard worker who’s incredibly talented, and I had quite an opportunity to see all that every Friday at The Carol Burnett Show.

Who were your musical influences as you were growing up?
I’m the youngest of 11 kids. My father was married before and had eight children, so my mother had three girls with my father. I was brought up listening to ’60s and ’70s music. My first concert was Led Zeppelin when I was 5. My first albums were, like, Ted Nugent or Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. As far as vocalists, I was into Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell and of course Aretha Franklin. My dad was a jazz musician, so I was also listening to Ella Fitzgerald and all those kind of records. Those vocalists were really important to me.

How did your first hit, “Dream Weaver,” come about?
“Dream Weaver” was a complete accident. We were living in Santa Barbara. We had a full recording studio and Trae was producing. I was really into listening to Courtney Love’s band, Hole, into that vibe. One day I was in my car and “Dream Weaver” came on the radio. I decided it would be great to rock this song with that alternative vibe.

Your husband didn’t want to produce the song and recommended his friend Scott Anderson—who’s been your producer ever since.
Scott said, “I’ll put something together.” I had no idea he was primarily a dance producer. Eventually he played me this track, and I said, “What the hell is this?” [Laughing] It was all synthesizers and programmed drums, and I said, “This is so like disco!” We recorded it in my basement, really as a joke. I was laughing the whole time. Scott took it to dance night at House of Blues. Brett Henrichsen from Trax Recording was in the audience. The next thing I know, I get a call and they want to release it as a single.

Shortly after that, I’m hearing, “Your song is at the top of the charts!” I said, “What charts?” [Laughing] I had no idea. Jeffrey [Sanker] asked me to come sing at something called the Tea Dance, part of this event in Palm Springs [Calif.] called the White Party. So I packed up and took my kid and headed to Palm Springs.

And you had no idea what to expect?
No idea. I get there to the Wyndham Hotel, and there’s 5,000 boys with their shirts off knowing my song, and I remember thinking to myself, I could get used to this! [Laughing] I loved it, it was great, and I was sold.

After that came “Satisfied” and then “The Flame.”
We put out “Satisfied,” and then Ralphi Rosario and DJ Abel Aguilera from Miami approached me about doing “The Flame.” I was like, “Look, I’m a writer, and I really want to do my own stuff.” I said, “Please, please, I know that old Cheap Trick song,” and I said, “It’s not that I don’t enjoy their music, but another cover?” They said, “Look, we’ll do it for free, and if you don’t like it, don’t do it.” I liked it, we did it, and there you go.

So how did you get to “I’ve Got the Music in Me”—another cover?
A friend suggested it to Scott. The song is on Jungle Red, which is a fairly new label, and my good friend Kevin Scott Hees and Rafael M run it. Scott called and said, “I want you to do this cover,” and I didn’t even call him back because I was pissed. I was thinking, This is gonna be bullshit. People are gonna say she’s a cover queen. [But] the lyrics were exactly what I wanted to say after not putting out a record in two years. The verse of the song starts, “Ain’t got no trouble in my life.” I do have trouble in my life, but I don’t let it keep me stuck in a place where I don’t want to be.

Did having Carol Burnett as a mom and Joe Hamilton as a dad get your foot in the door?
Absolutely not. It actually harmed me more than it helped me. When I was performing with bands I was pretty big on the club circuit in L.A., but once they found out who my mother was, it was like, “We don’t want her; what is she gonna do, make us laugh oz sing Broadway?” They didn’t even want to give me a chance. If my mother was Patti LaBelle, she could’ve helped me out.

In the gay community I think my mother is pretty embraced and for good reason, and it’s great. Maybe it’s been helpful, but I don’t think it’s gotten me to where I am. I had to prove myself first.

Speaking of your mother, how does she feel about your talent?
It’s changed over the years, but she’s always been incredibly supportive. It’s a little scary for her now because she knows what road I went down with it. She doesn’t like that I have to travel and perform at 2 and 3 in the morning, but she gets it. She knew I was born to sing, and she wants me to fulfill my dreams.

I remember my mom used to hide a tape recorder under my bed and I would sing myself to sleep every single night at the top of my lungs. So she has these tapes of me singing the blues and really fun stuff about my first boyfriend in kindergarten.

She came to the [2000] Democratic convention event I did at the House of Blues [in West Hollywood, Calif.] when I sang “The Flame,” and she came to [the gay party] Splash at the Bel Air mansion for the debut of “Satisfied.” She watched that show from the balcony with my son.

That was the first time you landed in the tabloids, correct?
Yes. It was a picture of my mom, and the headline read “Carol Burnett’s Lesbian Daughter.”

I don’t guess that made you want to come out and tell your story.
Actually, I thought it was pretty wonderful. I thought, Wow, free press—this is great. Then of course I was expecting all these hot women to come up to me and ask me out on dates, and it never happened! I really thought it was fun. I’m sure my mom didn’t think it was fun.

Probably not.
Anyway, she thought the performance [at Splash] was great because she saw everyone around me at the pool the whole day and saw thousands of [gay] boys go to the stage, and you know you can’t get those boys out of the pool for anything! She said that she was “really glad that I had that kind of love.”

Do you recall the first gay person you met?
I just remember always knowing a lot of gay people from my mother’s show. I remember watching drag queens performing as my mother [laughing]. I never had any prejudices; it was the way it was.

How would you define your sexuality?
It’s interesting, I’ve always had boyfriends. I enjoy being with women, but it has got to be the right person. It’s like, OK [laughs], I’m a people person, and I don’t care if you are male or female—if I find a soul that I connect with, then I’m going to do that and I’m going to be there. I’ve always had, like, those kinds of thoughts, you know. And I never experimented in college, so I had to try it sometime, you know?

So for you, what’s the difference between being with a woman and being with a man physically?
Sexually or emotionally? ’Cause as far as I’m concerned, emotion and sex are connected. Obviously, women know women. They know their bodies. It’s very gentle—unless [grins] you want to make it different, you know. I enjoy it tremendously. But I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it as much if I didn’t have that emotional, spiritual connection. A man is the same way. With some men that I thought I cared for, the sex was terrible. But recently—and luckily, I’ve had these experiences before—if I connect with this man on a deeper level, then sex is sex, and it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful and it’s spiritual.

Tanya Sanchez—was she your first relationship with a woman?
No. I had sexual feelings for women, but I didn’t go there in college. It was more of a curiosity thing. I met a wonderful girl in Miami, and that was the first “experience” that I had, but it got too intense. You may or may not know the old joke: “What’s a second date for lesbians? Calling U-Haul!” You know? And I wasn’t ready for that. And it was also my first experience with a woman, and I wanted to take it really slow. I didn’t know if I wanted a relationship relationship or if I just wanted to have sex. Angie’s a beautiful, wonderful person, and we’re still friends to this day.

That’s really interesting…
Yeah, I mean, if they want to categorize me as that, that’s fine. I don’t think I’m a lesbian—I believe myself to be attracted to individuals, and if that happens to be a man or a woman, then that’s great. [Laughs] Although I was thinking, Oh, God, my old boyfriends are gonna read this and go, “Thank God it wasn’t me! She’s been a lesbian all along!”

Very reassuring!
There have only been three women in my life. When I met Tanya, it seemed like we’d known each other forever. It was a beautiful connection that I thought would be a wonderful experience, and it was. She was an amazing, beautiful, funny-as-all-hell, smart, wonderful woman.

When did you and Tanya meet?
Around Thanksgiving 2000. I went to meet friends at the Abbey [a West Hollywood bar and eatery] for drinks one night, and Tanya and [her girlfriend] Linda were sitting in a cabana. They were the most gorgeous couple I’d ever seen. All of us started hanging out, partying, and before too long I realized, This girl is really neat, but she’s in a serious relationship, and I’m not gonna even go there. My husband left me for another woman, so there was a lot of baggage I didn’t want to bring into her life. I told her, “We’re not gonna make any serious decisions until you talk with your girlfriend, because I’m not gonna be that person.”

Tell me how you got together. That must have been an intense moment.
It was one of the most romantic things that’s ever happened to me. I was performing on a gay cruise and was gone for a while. And she called me on that frickin’ boat, like, every day. We had never even kissed, you know? When I came home, she had a limousine waiting for me at the airport. The driver said, “Erin Hamilton? I am to take you to Ms. Tanya Sanchez,” and I was like, Wow, this is cool. So the driver takes me to—I won’t mention it, but he takes me to a very, very beautiful, expensive hotel in L.A. where a key was waiting for me. And I went up to the room, and she had rose petals everywhere, candles, a bath, champagne…and that was our first date.

Oh, my God.
It was so beautiful and intense and awesome. And then I found out she still hadn’t told Linda! She finally did, and then she moved out and moved in with me. I thought that that was too soon. I wanted her to stay with me for a couple of weeks and I’d help her find a place. We did try and do that, but it was such a short time between that and her death that—

How long was it?
She was probably staying with me, like, maybe a couple of months.

Really? I guess I thought you two were together for, like, a year.
No. It was short, intense, and we felt like we’d known each other forever. And our living situation turned out to be so good that I wasn’t actually in a rush. She was amazing—she was amazing with my child, a fantastic cook. She appreciated the fact that I had a family, meaning Zachary. My son was so in love with her, she was so in love with him; they were amazing together. She would let me know every single day what a great gift it was that she was able to be part of that family. She’d get up at 6 in the morning with me, make his lunch, take him to school, you know?

Did she have career goals?
Tanya had so many things that she wanted to do and so many things that she could do. She’s not the kind of girl that could sit behind a desk; she wanted to be a stunt-car driver, she wanted to be a gourmet chef, which she totally could have been. She was modeling, she was acting…and she did all of it so well. She was going to go to culinary school; we got her into that.

How old was she?
She had just turned 30.

How accepting were your friends and family of Tanya?
All my friends loved her. My ex-husband, Trae, thought she was great. I told my two sisters [Carrie and Jody] about her, and we were just getting ready to introduce her to my mom. My mom and I were going through some weird stuff at that time, and Tanya was really careful not to make the relationship worse, so we kept putting it off and putting it off. Tanya was very protective of me. She wanted it to be the right time, and it never was. They never met. My mom never even knew about her, and unfortunately, she found out the hard way and was not very accepting at the time.

Did your mom freak?
Well, she freaked out because of the circumstances. And not knowing Tanya didn’t help, so her assumptions went awry as to what kind of a person she was, and it was unfair. So she’s still struggling with that. I’m not going to talk to her about it unless she really wants to. I know what our relationship meant to me, and that’s what’s important. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t get the opportunity to meet an incredible person.

You know what, though: When it comes down to it, my mom and I will always be there for each other, and it’s just a matter of the timing working out, and when she’s ready for us, we’ll be there. We love her tremendously, and [Zach and I] want to be a part of her and her husband’s life, and I think they want us there too. The timing has just been really weird. My divorce was hard for her, and on top of that, being with another woman. It would be hard for any mother to understand. We’re on such a different level, but we respect each other and we know we can talk to each other.

Would you say that substance abuse contributed to Tanya’s death?
I’d have to say it contributed, but it wasn’t the cause. She wasn’t messed up when she died; she had two beers in her system. We partied, but we were not as crazy as people made it out to seem. We were like the weekend partyers; we might have done a hit of E on a given Saturday. We weren’t these cocaine freaks who partied all the time; that wasn’t what our relationship was all about. We enjoyed our family life; we were home with my kid. We had a normal life. There were some chemicals used.

Go on.
Basically, what happened… The weekend before, we had taken some ecstasy. I don’t know if you’ve taken it, but you get deadly depression, like, two days later. So she started taking some Klonopin [a prescription sedative]—not a lot, [but it’s] a very difficult drug to get off of, even if you’re only on it for a few days. It’s highly addictive. So she wanted to get off of it, and I helped her get off of it. One of the side effects is that you sleep quite a bit. I was with her the whole time, and we’d just lie in bed and I would make her food and this and that.

So she was getting better.
And then she did want to get out of the house with me, and I had to go to the bank and run a couple errands. So we drove around together. And she got very irrational, which is a side effect of withdrawal. She yelled at me—something so stupid, like, “Where you goin’?” I said, “I’m going to the bank.” She’s like, “Well, you missed the turn.” I said, “I know that, and I’m going around the block.” She got very upset, and it was just insane. I had to pick up my son later from a play date, and the fighting just was too intense.

Not good.
This was Mother’s Day weekend—I was supposed to perform at the Morning Party [in Laguna Beach, Calif.], and she was going to come with me. So I said to her, “Listen, I love you dearly—we are really fighting to the point where it’s not comfortable, and I don’t want to bring Zachary home to this.” My ex-husband was out of town, and I called him to see if I could stay there for the night just to let her cool down.

How did she react?
I said, “Listen, I will call you every second—I just want you to take a hot bath, go to bed, whatever.” She heard something completely different because of where her head was, and she was hysterical—hysterical. And this is where my guilt comes in, because I had to take care of myself and my son, but I’ve also never seen such desperation. [Pauses] She jumped on my windshield to try and stop me from going away—that picture will never leave my head—and I drove away.

We know that after she went home she took her own life. [She was found hanging in Hamilton’s shower.] But you have doubts that it was deliberate?
If it wasn’t that day, that week, that month, that year, [death] was gonna happen for her. Because it wasn’t the first time she’d tried this.

Did you know that then?
No, I only found out later. She would do things for dramatic effect. She never felt that she could give enough love or receive enough love, and this started at a very early age for her. And so she would pull stunts, knowing very well that she wasn’t going to die, to grab the love and the attention that she so deserved and so needed but she never felt.

But I honestly do believe that she didn’t think she was gonna die that day. For one, if you looked in my shower, it’s almost impossible, how she got away with it. She was tall, and my shower is not that big. And two, she had called her best friend after I left to come up there. But it took him awhile—he’s from Malibu, he had to get a cab. So, yeah, I do think it was an accident. Unfortunately, she was very thin, and I think that she probably just broke her neck right away and didn’t have that chance.

So how did you find out, then?
It was awful. I had just picked up Zach; we were on my way to my ex-husband’s to go settle in. And I had organized a sitter so that I could go do my show and we could have our nice Mother’s Day weekend. So Carla, the sitter, she calls me in hysterics on my cell phone and she’s like, “Erin, Erin, I just called your house to confirm for the weekend, and the fire department answered. There’s been a fatality at the house.” And I didn’t believe it! I was like, Wait a minute, did she burn the house down? I didn’t know what was going on; I was thinking that maybe one of my dogs died. I couldn’t go up there with Zach, so I called my house I don’t know how many thousands of times. I called a friend to go up to the house. They wouldn’t let him in, but there were, evidently, hundreds of cop cars. They didn’t remove her until about 1 in the morning.

How do you go about making peace with a trauma like that?
I miss her terribly, and we’re coming up almost on the one-year anniversary. So I’m just holding her in great light, in great spirit. And, you know, I feel terrible, terrible for Linda and her loss, and the rest of her family as well.

Was her death a catalyst for you to find your own sobriety?
Absolutely. Even though I liked to party, I never partied in my house—maybe once in a while. I’m very protective of my kid. I’d mostly do it at circuit parties, or I’d be out of the state. It was definitely more recreational.

So what changed?
When Tanya died, I lost my mind completely and left and hid in a hotel for a couple of weeks and did as many pills and drinks and drugs as I could possibly do—not even realizing I was creating my own suicide.

It was more like, I’m pissed, I’m sad, and that was the only way I knew how to deal with it. Thank God it was only for a couple of weeks, and my family came and got me. I was so ready to go—when they showed up, I said, “Thank God, what a relief!” I didn’t start dealing with the guilt and responsibility [over Tanya’s death] until I was sober. I’m still dealing with a little bit of guilt. If she was so happy and in love, why? She was home alone that day, and I keep thinking, What if I didn’t drive away?

How long have you been sober?
It began May 28, when I entered rehab in Taos, N.M. I had a drink on the Fourth of July and a couple of slips since. Then I said, “What the fuck was that? I’m not gonna ruin my sobriety over a frickin’ drink.” I’ve felt incredibly strong after that. I have an incredible sponsor in Taos and an incredible sponsor here in L.A. My sponsor may disagree, but I don’t look at this as a lifelong thing. I can’t do things like that. I don’t say anything is forever these days, but I do believe in myself now more than I ever have. I made a commitment to myself to where I never want to get to that spot in my life again. So if I want to have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, I’m going to; if I want to party here and there, I’m going to. But if I notice it’s freaking me out, I’m outta there! I’m a very different person now. I respect the [12-step recovery] program highly and I’m very grateful to it.

Have you been in any relationships since Tanya’s death?
I wasn’t ready for a long time. I completely isolated [myself]. I’ve lost a lot of friends through my sobriety. I never went out. I haven’t gone out myself since June. So how was I to have a date? Nor did I want one. I still don’t know if I’m ready, but I met a wonderful man and I enjoy his company. We’re just taking it very easy and it’s progressing beautifully and honestly and I’m very happy.

You mentioned the tabloids. The way they’ve exploited your family, how do you deal with that?
My mom was the first celebrity to ever sue a tabloid and win, and she feels very strongly about these “magazines.” Unfortunately, when the death of my girlfriend occurred, the tabloids caught me at a time when I was loaded. I don’t know how they got my cell phone number. They called me about 8 in the morning, and I just talked to them for hours like an idiot. I was hysterically crying, and I had no clue to what I was doing. Then my mother calls me and says, “How could you take money from them?” and I was like, “I didn’t take money from them,” and then I thought, I should’ve taken money from them!

It reminds you that being famous can really suck sometimes.
It was such a mistake, because now in the past two months [since Carrie died] they’ve been hounding me, because they think, they got me once, they can do it again. Every fucking day for like three weeks they kept calling, but I never called them back. They were coming to my house leaving me flowers. It started at a certain amount of money and it kept going up, and then giving me print approval, and even to the point where they said I could write the article. Here they are offering me all this money, and I had 80 cents in my pocket today to get gas to come to see you! [Laughs] It was blood money, and it was disgusting.

Then they showed up at my boyfriend’s house a couple of days ago when he got home from work. I don’t know how they knew where he lived. Have they been following me? I mean, it’s really uncool, and I just want them to [picks up the tape recorder and yells into it] leave me alone!

Your sister Carrie was also a very talented performer. I saw her in the Boston production of Rent a few years ago. What was your relationship with her?
She was very, very talented. My relationship with her was awesome. She wasn’t really in my life during my teenage years because she was away doing her own thing, but we always had respect and deep love for each other. We even wrote together musically. She was a huge inspiration. In the past year especially, she was tremendously supportive of me.

Did you look up to her as a performer?
Yes. She’s the first person I saw sit down at the piano and write something that was so amazing that it made me want to do it.

You shared a special moment with Carrie toward the end.
I had a really hard time visiting her in the hospital. She was the brightest and most outgoing person—to the very last day—but she obviously had a very different physical appearance, and I found myself being careful almost to the point where I didn’t want to touch her because I thought she was gonna break.

The last day I went to the hospital in the afternoon. I lost it. I had to leave. [That night] I couldn’t sleep, so I went back to the hospital about 4 a.m. My wonderful sister Jody was there [with other friends and family members].

Almost everyone was asleep. Jody was sitting with Carrie. She said, “OK, you’re here, I’m gonna go lie down.” So I crawled in the bed with Carrie and I felt really calm. I told her stories about Zach, told her our family would be all right. The sun began to come up and I started singing this Lucinda Williams song: [singing] “You sure changed the name of this town,” and that was totally Carrie. She changed the name of this fucking town, and she changed my life. And I swear to God, at that time there were all these amazing colors in the sky. It was beautiful. It felt to me as if all these people were welcoming her.

And here I’m sober as hell and I’m like, Whoa, and I’m telling her about it and saying, “I know you can see this and they’re waiting for you,” and as soon as I finished the song she took her last breath. I saw this beautiful gold-and-purple sky outside, and I felt her body go and I knew. I removed her oxygen mask and just held her and watched her float around the room and go out to these people. It was like this huge party! It was awesome, it was so comforting. I waited like 15 minutes to wake everybody else up. It was my moment, a gift she gave me that was very important for me to have.

What are you doing to cope with your sister’s memory?
She visits me in my dreams almost every night; I really feel like she’s guiding me as well. A small part of me feels like she gave me those last moments because I wasn’t there for Tanya’s last moments. She knew how hard that was for me, and it meant something for me to be there. And also to let me know, “Hey, I’m gonna be watching you, so you better keep your shit straight!”

Hausman is a contributing writer for Billboard magazine.

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