“It was only one, I recall. It was all so different then.” – Peter Gabriel
Back in the expanse of woods behind our yard, I can hear ten thousand leaves, falling to the forest floor as one. Like pieces falling into place. And yet, not like that, too.
I loved this friend of mine, so many years ago, who I just heard today is suddenly gone. Today, when the time is already screwy, everyone’s extra tired, the weather just an emotive mess, and so, so much else going on. Today, “I grieve… For you.”
We were only together for a couple years, but they were those crucial ones — kids out in the world for the first time, just starting to imagine who they could become as adults. He was at my elbow as I fell in love with my future wife. As I first got good at school. As I toyed, cautiously, with the fleeing possibility that, like him, I could actually try to be one of the creative people, instead of just a bystander. His enthusiasm and tenacity were infectious; he made me see the world more like he did — open and full of possibility. He ran towards new experiences and pain, instead of away, like me. He let me shave his first mohawk. It was an honor; I admired him and loved him like an older brother.
I’ve already told one story about him today, elsewhere, and it feels wrong to just repeat it. So here’s another, a short one, that I think will give an idea of who the person I knew was, well twenty five years ago, now.
I was flying back in to some rural airport in Iowa, back to college after Jan term away. I knew some number of friends would pick me up. (Details were spotty, back before cells, texts, email. None of us had even heard of the Internet yet, and the Web was yet to be invented. We just kind of rolled with the uncertainty, kids.) So I get off the plane in this unfamiliar, frozen place, get my bags, and hear, from what must have been halfway across the concourse, “Super Coop!” A mad bellow; the kind that would instantly bring an armed security crew down on you, if you tried it in an airport today. And then he’s running — like full speed, lunatic weight lifter/cyclist speed, right at me, no pause as he crashes into me, knocks my bags to the floor, and bear hugs me until I’m sure he could snap a few ribs without much effort. “Hey, man! How the fuck are ya’?!” He even had on that goofy, tremendous leather cap I gave him, because it was too small for my big head of hair, and looked ridiculous atop my six-foot-five, but precisely perfect over his bushy red eyebrows and glasses.
In the intervening years — goddamn decades, now — I can’t believe I let him go so easily, and that now I’ll never get the chance to say so. To apologize to him for that, and to try to fix it. What would I not have done, a week ago, if I had somehow known? I would have dropped EVERYTHING. Cancelled the sale; if need be; torched the huge changes at work; if it would’ve helped. Gone camping or shared my brain meds or just stayed up all night talking until it might have made a difference. God damnit.
Can’t fix it now. But I’m overawed at the thought of all the other people I’ve genuinely loved, and been so lucky to know, and yet let slip away, as life carved its own channel into these distant sands. I should, somehow, find the time and make the effort to fix some of those gaps. If we cannot connect now, amidst this unimaginable array of communications technology, then we’re all truly lost. It’s only for lack of desire that we remain siloed away, one from the next. “This flesh and bone, are just the way that we are tied in.”
It’s not my job to be the catcher in the rye, and if it was, I would probably suck at it. But it wouldn’t hurt anything or anyone — not even me — to try a little better.
“Did I dream this belief? Or did I believe this dream?”