Thursday, October 02, 2008

My Back Pages

The picture?

Probably 1984. I'm not certain. It was taken one rainy Memorial Day weekend at Arthur & Barry's old farm house in Atwood, New York. Nolan, my schnauzer, still had her puppy coat. I'd just crawled out of bed to walk the dog. She never did like getting her paws wet.

I might be 29 years old here, perhaps 30. I can't remember my exact age, but I can remember how the cold wet grass felt on my bare feet and I can clearly conjure up the smell of wet puppy. I also recall how Robert and I hurried back upstairs to our tiny guest bedroom, skinning off our damp clothes and jumping back into the ancient iron bed and each other's arms as the puppy whimpered a bit and then settled into a sleepy heap on the floor.

That morning, 24 years ago, crept in my thoughts during my shower today. I generally wake up in a fog, groggy and sensitive with sleep. I need a bit of quiet and solitude before I can face the world. By the time I'm in the shower, I'm planning the day and ready to strategize my upcoming battles. Today, as I gazed out my bathroom window through the morning's hazy Autumn air and worked my Brazilian Rosewood soap into a lather I remembered today's date.

I nodded and took a deep breath.

A few Octobers ago, I wrote a small piece here entitled My Best Friend. As is my wont to do, the title comes from an ancient Jefferson Airplane song. It briefly detailed the years that Barry and I spent together before he died at the age of twenty eight, some twenty one years ago, last night. My great friend and blog mentor, Joe, graciously linked the post in his blog and I was visited by several hundred people in short order. Forty or so of them were thoughtful enough to express condolences and outrage. One reader even admired the tie Barry wore in the faded Polaroid I included.

Shortly after the piece was posted, I received an e-mail from Arthur. We had not been in touch in several years. A friend of his had followed Joe's link and forwarded the post to Arthur, now relocated to Fort Lauderdale. He was deeply touched and told me to watch the mails.

Some weeks later a large brown envelope arrived from Florida, containing a short note, a color copy of Barry's 1979 New Hampshire driver's license, and neatly folded within, the narrow Thai silk tie that Barry is wearing in the photograph. Arthur had a notion that I might want to drape it over the picture of Barry that graces the top of my piano. Instead I put it away, to rest along side a cache of old photos, notes and letters, ephemera that Barry and I exchanged. It held way too much power for me to view everyday.

It's unfathomable to think that we've not laid eyes on each other in all this time. Twenty one years later, I wonder what we'd have been like today. Back then, I would sit with him, laughing in the face of oncoming tragedy, then go home and cry until I could no longer. I wonder what two such young men might have grown to be, if both their lives hadn't been so cruelly waylaid, one way or another.

Even as i was blogging it, I knew I was not happy with the tone of the original piece. In fact I said:

"it doesn't convey our life, the humor, laughter, the sadness and pain of that time. I'm just not able to capture the very essence of Barry, in the much same way I can't remember the sound of his voice, no matter how hard I try".

Tonight, alone, I sit here and try to comprehend the dark and complex emotions I've been steeping in all day. Once again, I'm not happy with what I've written, if perhaps for different reasons.

An hour or so ago, I retrieved the tie and knotted it around my neck.

A deeply foolish and sentimental gesture, I know.

It's hard for me to look back at those days and I mostly avoid doing so. Most of the stories I could tell of that era don't include anything that even resembles a happy ending. I have great difficulty relaying the horror of those days to the bright eyed and eagerly curious young men I meet today.

Someone should, though, even if it's just a sentimental old fool like me.