He spoke often of doing it. Not in any cryptic way, but in an almost matter-of-fact tone. Like it was the natural progression for him. Hell, for anyone.
That’s when I should have believed him.
It wasn’t till he actually did it that I allowed it to sink in. The gravity of his actions. The resolve and commitment he brought to his secession into his personal Transcendentalist Walden Pond, where there were, to put it simply, fewer ripples once the pebble was dropped.
“If Shannon dies before I do, I quite likely will retreat from just about everyone, and maybe everything.”
Brooke said that in the same way I might order a pastrami sandwich at the deli.
We were ensconced, as usual, on my sofa, where he bedded down twice a week to avoid a late night commute home to Shannon. It saved her the worry of him making that trip at the midnight hour, and afforded us a tether to keep our friendship burgeoning.
We’d intellectualize about anything that struck our fancy, including sports. Yes, we could intellectualize sports; take it to a level that few could. “True” intellectuals may scoff. Let ‘em. Brooke and I proved, at least to each other, that sports conversation could be, rather easily, elevated above troglodyte status.
But once the game, or the tape I might pop into the VCR, an old favorite game of ours, Celtics – Lakers in the 1980s, was over, we would smoothly, oiled by gin and beer respectively, segue to more emotional topics.
Shannon was a heavy smoker. Had been for all of her adult life. I never quite understood how someone as perceptive, intelligent and just plain wise would smoke, knowing full well it was tantamount to unconscious suicide.
But she did. And like her husband and I, she liked her drink as well. Wine was her choice.
It started with breast cancer, which she conquered, with an almost heroic attitude and approach. It was admirable to watch.
Then a move from the gorgeous wine country of Sonoma to northwest Arkansas proved to be her final geographic journey.
Lung cancer. Inoperable. Basically a death sentence. It is a horrible way in which to watch someone die. Where each breath looks laborious enough to be their last. My mom died of emphysema. Had the iron lung, the inner tubing that kept her alive, and the defeated look. And she had The Look of total acquiescence to fate one must get when tied to a wheel chair and an artificial air supply. It is a visual representation of all stages of death.
Shannon went this route as well. Twenty seven years apart, these two women died, yet when I visited my friend a month before his wife died in 2010, she was in an eerily similar setup as my mom was in 1983.
Has there been no progress for giving a person man made air in 27 years?
Brooke was in the midst of his own heroism. Caring for Shannon, which was no small feat; maintaining his position at the local junior college as a U.S. history teacher, and this I can only speculate upon now, possibly fingering his own inner fear of what he’d painted as inevitable: his reclusive escape from it all, upon her passing.
I had to return to my own unraveling life in California, unsure as to what sort of wreckage was going to appear in my rearview mirror.
My own right-in-front-of-me wreckage usurped my friend, and I went tumbling into a well that I have, thankfully, come out of with renewed confidence, belief in my talent, and an actual desire to live. Giving a fuck, for one of the few times I can recall as an adult.
But this is about Brooke.
He has indeed retreated.
Regressed? Renewed his lifelong vows of misanthropy? Repealed his prior commitment to teaching, to humanity, to joy? Repaired his pain from the loss of his lifelong partner in crime with the only salve and bandage he has known, distance? Renewed his basic instinct to not trust his fellow man?
Reneged on his friendship with me.
No question mark on that one. That’s a statement. A fact.
And yet, myself poised at yet another crossroads in my life, all four corner signal lights blinking red, I am going to him.
Ah, the return of the question mark.
Brooke and I used to love questions. We felt answers were for rubes. Only the introspective minds sought the questions, conundrums, and life’s dichotomies. We knew the very root of most intellectual thought involved contradictions, acknowledging them, if not embracing them.
The average mind explodes at the thought of that last paragraph.
Brooke and I had our explosions, but they were of intellectual discovery.
Ambiguity. A sturdy plank, and a big one, in the foundation of our friendship. When he taught me about it, it proved to be a four rung leap on the ladder in my mind.
I am going to show at his door, in a matter of days. From California to Arkansas, much the same sojourn he made with Shannon.
Now it is just us.
Or is it?
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.
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