Me, I’ll be honest; I’m entering December in a somber mood. Often I put aside minor tribulations here in this blog, because although it’s reassuring in some ways to know that your favorite artists of any ilk are dealing with the same issues everyone else is… do my readers really want to know about the leak in my roof? No, probably not unless I could craft a clever narrative out of it, and I can’t. It’s just a leak.
But the end of the year is a time of reflection, and I’m thinking that in this digital era, where so many of us have carefully curated online presences, it’s good to be reminded that everyone’s daily reality is a lot messier than it appears. My roof leaks. There’s a patch of mold growing on the ceiling beneath it. And I had an old friend unexpectedly pass away last month.
Hence, my somber mood.
We hadn’t been close for over a decade, though there wasn’t any definitive reason for it, not that I know, anyway. Bill was a sculptor and a professor of art at Hope College; I managed the departmental office during my struggling writer years. In the summer of 1988, Bill hired me because he liked my shoes, a pair of stylin’ black loafers I’d bought in Italy during a post-collegiate year abroad. At 34, he’d just been appointed chair of the department. At 23, I was convinced I’d only be there for a year or two at most, because I’d written a novel. [Spoiler alert: That novel was not Kushiel’s Dart. It did not sell for good reasons, and I stayed in that job for years.]
In many ways, we grew up as we grew into our jobs together. Neither of us knew what the hell we were doing at first; both of us learned on the fly. Outside office hours, I was working to hone my craft and navigate the publishing industry; Bill was trying to establish his own career as a sculptor. And he was good—I truly don’t think he ever got the recognition his work deserved. He was an inspired teacher who taught students to look at the world through different eyes, altering the life trajectory of many. As an administrator, he had a stubborn streak and benefited from my innate diplomatic tendencies when things got fractious, as things always do in academia. Ultimately, we worked well together.
And we were friends.
I feel like I should have more stories, better stories. Mostly I feel as though I just have fragments right now, so many fragments. Welding goggles. The smell of hot metal. Cowboy boots. Deveining shrimp. White trash margaritas. Kitsch. Blues. Vintage bottle openers. Diners. Motorcycles. That time we went to a k.d. lang concert and she sang Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in an impossible soaring voice and we were both in tears because it was just so goddamn perfect and beautiful.
Bill was responsible for my first dog. He loved dogs, and dogs loved him. He knew I was thinking about getting one. One fall day over lunch, he said, “Well, shall we go to the humane society?” Shelters break your heart; I remember afterward, he gave me a card with a picture of a trunkful of puppies, simply inscribed, “Let’s take them ALL! – B.” And I did adopt one we met that day, an abandoned pit bull named Elaine. That’s them on the homepage, Bill and Elaine. She was an awesome dog who became my office mascot, and they maintained a special—and slightly peculiar—bond.
I thought Bill and I did, too; I thought it would survive past my employment, after my first trilogy sold, after I “retired” to become a full-time writer. It didn’t. Maybe without the glue of the workplace—the social bonds, the shared obstacles and triumphs—there just wasn’t enough there to hold a friendship together. Maybe our professional circles just grew too far apart. Maybe Bill struggled a bit with my success, I don’t know. That might be an ungenerous thought, or it might be an honest reflection of human nature. This isn’t meant to be an encomium. It’s just me writing about some complicated feelings on the loss of a friend whom I let slip away.
Right now, all I know is that I’ll never have the chance to have those conversations. And I wish I hadn’t allowed that casual drift from friendship to mostly absent acquaintance to take place without trying harder to prevent it. I thought there would always be more time. There wasn’t.
As I grow older, I find my heart becomes more tender in some ways. It’s easier and more important to tell the people in my life, near or far, that I love them. To let them know that they are wonderful and cherished; and I am grateful, especially in this holiday season, that I do have so many wonderful people I treasure in my life—and that includes my amazing and incredibly supportive readership.
So cherish your loved ones, and be mindful of the fact that if there are relationships that you’ve let drift away, you don’t have all the time in the world to reconnect.
Love to all!