It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Nadine discovers Gary and, thence, herself. It's not your standard romance (I hate those with an unbridled passion), as it has more to do with idealization than an intimate relationship. Nadine is based on myself, and Gary is modeled after George Harrison (circa 1968, particularly the Mad Day Out photoshoot). It's a very sweet story, but I sincerely hope that readers can discover subversive elements in it.

Submitted: June 08, 2008

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Submitted: June 08, 2008

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In retrospect, I suppose I don't know why I would have expected the mailbox to appear any differently than usual. Rationally I knew that the contents of the mail would not change their receptacle any more than they would change the world around me. Still, it occurred to me as strange, perhaps surreal, that a letter that would arouse in me so many emotions and ancient memories would not physically alter the environment in even the slightest way. Amid the usual bills, catalogs, and junk ads vying for my time and money, a small blue envelope postmarked from Kashmir caught my attention. That's odd, I thought. Who do I know in India? Suddenly, before the question had fully registered in my mind, it all clicked. But was it really true? It must be! It had probably been five years since I last received any word from Gary. My heart began to hammer against the walls of my chest. I had the house to myself this morning, as my husband Enzo was away on a business trip. Relishing the idea of privacy, I practically bounded back inside. This letter was surely too good to simply tear into at the mailbox. This required tea and cookies.

Once inside, I petted Mabel, who was sleeping on the couch. A lazy thump of her tail informed me that she appreciated the gesture. In the kitchen I threw a bag of instant tea into a mug of hot water and clinked a spoon against its sides. Grabbing a bag of Milano cookies, I took a seat at the kitchen table. Everything was just right. I tore into the letter and began reading. Four sentences in, my anticipatory mood was extinguished like a dying flame. I didn't even realize my hands were shaking until hot tea scalded them. I quickly set the mug down and slowly, as if in a dream, made my way to the couch. Mabel perked up in temporary puzzlement, then she slunk back into her canine dream world. Reposing on the sofa, I rested my hand against my forehead and allowed myself to become lost in reveries that had long been buried in the sediments of years.

*

It was the summer of 1967, and I had just turned seventeen. As the miles stretched on and on in a rural wasteland, my sense of dread increased by degrees. The last thing in the world I wanted was to spend four weeks in Nowhere, Colorado with Mother, my brothers, Aunt Jill, and Uncle Carl. Oh, it wouldn't be so bad seeing my aunt and uncle, and I cherished the company of Billy and Jonathan, but for four weeks? It was summer, and what I really wanted was to be left alone, to be free to traipse around outside in the sunny evenings while Mick or Jim or John or Bob serenaded me on my small transistor radio. I wanted to be with my girlfriends, smoking pot in the shed behind Doris' house or going to see the latest Warren Beatty film. I longed to seek refuge during insufferably hot or rainy afternoons at The Raven Bookstore, hunched over an Agatha Christie or a Kurt Vonnegut.

Instead of these delightful and tantalizing alternatives, I was trapped in our 1955 station wagon as it clunked its way across western Kansas. A sea of swaying brown wheat insterspersed with bales of hay or sunflowers surrounded the small two-lane highway on both sides. Occasionally lowing cows, abandoned shacks, or windmills appeared. Every few miles I caught sight of massive white grain elevators that I at first mistook for actual city buildings occupied by people. Nearby usual towered a steel watershed on which was imprinted the name of a town as small as most of its inhabitants' minds.

It went on like this for hours. I think it was somewhere in the miles west of Hays that the billboards began popping up, sparsely at first, and then with more frequency, not unlike the appearances of stars in the night sky. Amid the announcments for various fraudulent roadside attractions and Burma Shave jingles painted across shabby vinyl signs, a particular billboard stood out from the rest. It featured a smiling blond American soldier and a message conveying unequivocal support of U.S. efforts in Vietnam. The sign made my blood boil. Instinctively I tore my eyes from the vision, but not before discerning that the message had been sanctioned by the John Birch Society.

I felt that music was the only thing that would calm my jangled nerves. I eyed the car radio with longing, knowing that Mother would have nothing of it. Mother hated rock and roll, claiming that it offended her ears and her sensibilties. I closed my eyes and conjured up some of my favorite songs in my head. It seemed that I could almost hear tracks from The Beatles' Revolver or The Doors' new record. Sitar drones flooded my mind's ear, where Jim Morrison's sinister baritone began crooning darkly, and--

"Nadine! You are to respond when I speak to you."

Mother's stern yap wrenched me from the solace of my auditory fantasy. Clearing my throat, I composed myself and muttered "sorry."

"I asked you whether or not you had given any more thought to applying to Brown. Miriam Rogers' daughter got in, you know."

"Well, um," was all that I could manage. The truth was that I had not given it any thought whatsoever. College seemed as distant a prospect for me as marriage or offspring.

"I expect a definitive answer from you by summer's end. I think you know my wishes, and I really don't want to have them disappointed." I was all too aware of her threatening undercurrent, and her tone was sharp enough to cut glass.

We glided past a poster extolling God's undying love for humanity by warning of an eternity of fiery torture. I couldn't help but smile. Unfortunately, Mother caught my expression, and a heated theological argument inevitably ensued. It was probably only my brother Jonathan's presence in the backseat that prevented our squabble from reaching screaming decibels.

"It's one thing for you to question," Mother was saying, her usually firm grip on the steering wheel transformed into a stranglehold. "But it's simply beyond the bounds of decency for you to mindlessly rebel against that which is so patently obvious. God exists. How else can you explain the existence of flowers, trees, babies, or yourself? God!"

Throughout her missive I had been staring out the window observing sunflowers dancing carelessly in the strong afternoon winds. At this last bit I turned and faced Mother directly; with a lilting voice I inquired, "And which god, Mother, are you referring to?"

She clenched the steering wheel so tightly that I observed her knuckles turn white. "The Christian god, of course," she hissed.

I glanced back at my brother Billy, who offered me a sympathetic smile. Only Jonathan seemed blissfully unaware of the palpable tension coursing through the vehicle as he sat up on his knees and gazed out the window, taking in the sights with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging slightly open. Jonathan was four.

Just before sundown the following evening, we arrived at Uncle Carl's summer home some four hours west of Denver, in the heart of the Rockies. When our station wagon lumbered up the driveway, Aunt Jill came loping out the screen door, her salt-and-pepper hair bound up in curlers, a white-and-red apron tied around her waist, and an enormous grin plastered across her face. Her welcoming expression struck me as almost predatory. I could make out Uncle Carl's lean frame lingering in the doorway, smoking a cigar. At last he tossed the cigar onto the graveled lawn in front of the house and greeted us with outstretched arms. Upon dispensing with the obligatory, contrived greetings, Billy and I eagerly went inside. I had been expecting our lodging to be an antiquated log cabin conjuring up images of Abe Lincoln, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Uncle Carl had secured an air-conditioned condominium.

Despite our exhaustion, we took a train into the nearest town and caught dinner at an outdoor cafe. The mountain air gave the town a vibrancy that excited me, and everywhere I looked young people were out and about, riding fancy bicycles, taking their Dodges or Mustangs out for spins, or catching late-night screenings at the town's movie theater. I was enticed by the fact that, unlike most of the boys I knew back home, many of these young men wore their hair long and sported shiny, colorful clothing.

Billy and I grew weary of the adults' gossip-filled conversation, and we snuck off to our own table while Jonathan remained with Mother. I relished any time I spent alone with Billy. He would be entering high school the next fall as I began my senior year, and I had vowed to myself to look out for him, to protect him from a respectable distance. At our own table, over hot dogs and ice-cream sodas, we amused ourselves with anecdotes regarding the previous school year and checked out the multitude of cute boys milling about.

The next morning, at the condo, I arose to the overpowering aroma of bacon and eggs frying. Yawning, I stumbled into the kitchenette to find everyone already seated at the table.

"Hi, Nadine!" Jonathan grinned, waving a small hand amiably. I winked at him and took an empty chair for myself.

"We were all waiting for you," Mother snapped, blowing into her coffee.

"Sorry." I poured myself a glass of milk and scooped sugar into a bowl of oatmeal.

"We're thinking of going on a bike ride today, Nadine," Aunt Jill said, her voice inflected with a perpetual simper. "Would you like to join us?"

I agreed to this plan, and two hours later I found myself handling a basic ten-speed along a small path leading to a mountain trail. A sense of duty obligated me to keep up with the others until we reached the main trail. Aunt Jill and Uncle Carl were both peddling painfully slowly, and Mother was encumbered with Jonathan, who was seated behind her on a double bicycle. Once we reached the trail, Billy and I took off like wildfire. He was able to keep pace with me for awhile, but I had multiple advantages over him in the long run. I was a very active child and was used to strenuous excercize. My legs were longer and leaner than his, and it wasn't long before I edged past him, eventually leaving him so far behind that he was out of sight.

The footpath meandered through a wooded grove, where the turns were sharp and running streams echoed their never-ending songs. At length the path wound into a small valley. Flowers blanketed the ground along the path, and occasional sunbeams licked my face. A slight turn in the path afforded me a breathtaking glimpse of a mountain vista that inspired in me both wonder and mild trepidation. The path once again wound into a continuation of the same valley. This portion of the path contained considerably more foliage and shrubs than the last. A small bush might have forever shrouded me from his presence had he not spoken up as I glided past.

"Hi, stranger."

I was momentarily so startled that I nearly lost balance. I ground my bike to a halt and turned in the direction of his voice. I still did not see him.

"Over here!" He called out, waving his arm.

The young man was seated on a tree stump next to a brook, eating what appeared to be a sandwich. His eyes never left mine as I hesitantly approached him. He gestured for me to take a seat next to him, and it occurred to me that I had absolutely nothing to fear. There was a gentleness about his demeanor, and his eyes bespoke kindness.

"Want some of my sandwich?" He offered the item to me with a sunny countenance. His expression was enchanting, and I automatically returned the smile. I took his offering and sampled a bite. I had never before tasted anything so strange, and he laughed at my reaction.

"It's Gouda cheese and alfalfa sprouts. I'm a vegetarian."

"Oh," I said, blushing slightly. "I'm sorry, it's really not bad, it's just...I wasn't expecting it, I guess."

"That's alright. Most people don't." A broad smile lit up his face. "Gary Hughes."

"Nadine Anglemann." He offered me his hand, and I shook it. His grip was both tender and reassuringly firm. Then I drank him in as he finished his sandwich in small bites. He was wearing tight blue jeans with multicolored patches sewn in, and a tight teal shirt that emphasized his lean chest muscles. When he smiled, dimples outlined his cheeks. He was beautiful, possessed of a slender, delicate masculinity, more handsome than any movie star or rock musician I had ever seen.

"You from around here?" He asked, licking his fingers as he balled up the cellophane wrap of his sandwich.

"No, I'm from Kansas City. What about you?"

"I was born and raised in Fresno, California, but that's all in the past now. Usually I pretty much live wherever a Greyhound bus or my thumb carries me. Right now I'm here with my folks, though. Dad loves it out here. It's his favorite place in the States."

I was especially intrigued by this last bit of information. "In the States?"

"Yeah, Mum and Dad are Irish. They've lived in the States for thirty-five years, but when Dad dies he wants to be buried at the cemetary in Kilkenny where his folks lay." Gary became quiet and ran his fingers through blades of grass.

Suddenly his tone brightened as he glanced up at me. "What brings you here, Nadine?"

"Family vacation, as well. It wasn't my idea."

"You don't say." He regarded me for a moment, then smiled. "You can't be more than eighteen. Are you in high school?"

"Yes, I'll be a senior this fall. I turned seventeen three weeks ago." Gauging him to be in his early twenties, I asked, "Are you a college student?"

"Me? Nah, I didn't even finish high school. I don't really know what I'm doing with myself. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. Life is really short, you know."

Just then we were alerted to a whirring noise, and Billy blurred past us on his bike. We remained unobserved thanks to the fortunately situated shrub, but even so I decided to move along for fear that the adults would soon catch up.

"Hey, we'll meet again, won't we luv?" Gary implored of me earnestly, and I found myself in the thrall of his deep eyes, brown with just the slightestr hint of green around the pupils. It seemed at that moment that seeing him again was something that I required more than oxygen. He tore off a small bit of his paper lunch bag, scrawled the phone number of his parents' lodge, and handed it to me. As I rode away on my bike, I clutched his number between my hand and the handlebar as if the note were a magical talisman.

We met again the next afternoon at a park in town. I had left Uncle Carl's condo under the pretense that I desired a solitary hike, and then I snuck onto the train and was whisked into town. I found Gary sitting on the edge of a fountain, examining a daisy. He smiled shyly as I approached, and offered me the flower. "I thought you might like it," he explained. "It's all I got at the moment."

"It's beautiful," I said, admiring the daisy. This marked the first time in my life that anyone had offered me flowers. I was deeply touched, and had to blink sharply in order to subdue the looming threat of tears. The shrill cries of children playing reverberated all around us. A man on the other side of the fountain was strumming a guitar and singing an off-key rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

"Let's go somewhere quieter, luv," Gary suggested, so we meandered through the park and found shelter at the base of a giant elm. Gary spread himself out on the ground and rested his head against the trunk of the tree. He interlaced his hands across his stomach and closed his eyes, his long, dark lashes fanning out from his eyelids. He looked so peaceful as his chest rose and fell gently, and I started a bit when he spoke.

"Why don't you want to be here with your family, Nadine?"

I was a bit taken back by his inquiry. "Well," I began, "it's just not really my thing, family vacations, I mean. Besides...my mother's a bitch. She's hell-bent on breathing down my neck and controlling every aspect of my life. I'm supposed to go to Brown next year. Well, guess what, Gary? I don't fucking want to go to Brown!" My heart raced, and I wasn't aware that I was shouting until Gary laid a hand on my shoulder and raised an index finger to his lips.

"Have you ever told your mother how you feel?"

"Oh, yeah," I scoffed. "That would go over well. No, Gary, in our household Mother knows everything and is always right."

He was silent for what might have been an eternity. "Can I ask where your father is in all this??" He prodded hesitantly, gently.

"Dad's in Chicago. He and Mother split up three years ago. Sometimes I'd really like to just pack up and leave and show up at his doorstep."

"Well," Gary began, the corners of his mouth lifting slightly, "why don't you?"

"Oh, Gary, I could never do that. I couldn't leave all my friends behind, and I couldn't leave my brothers alone with Mother. Especially not Billy. He needs me."

"You're going to have to leave home eventually, you know," Gary intoned. Instead of replying I stared in the direction of the park, where carefree children whirled around on the merry-go-round and were pushed on swings by laughing their laughing parents.

"I left home when I was sixteen," Gary began. "I decided to quit school after I realized what the whole thing was really all about. Kids are manufactured through school like factory goods and delivered to society all indoctrinated and brainwashed. You're just viewed as Silly Putty by the Establishment, as moldable and pliable. Well, I wasn't going to have anything to do with that. When your mind isn't free, Nadine, nothing else about you is. So I quit. When my father found out, he went ballistic. We got into a huge argument, he'd been drinking, and then--" He eased the collar of his shirt down, and I was presented with a clean, perfectly round scar just below his collarbone. "Yeah, planted his cigarette right in my flesh. I left that night. My brother had a place in town, and I stayed with him and his girlfriend and their kid for awhile. That was alright. Sometimes I stayed with friends. A good buddy of mine is in a band and I work for them sometimes, handling their equipment or doing management work or what-not. But most of the time I'm on the move, just searching for home, wherever home may be."

As I listened, a wave of pity washed over me. I ached for Gary and his inability to find acceptance, stability. As bad as I often believed I had it, I at least had an actual home and people that I could return to day after day, night after night.

"But why are you with your parents now, then?" I asked, puzzled.

"About a month ago I was staying with my brother, and Mum called on the phone. She was crying. They'd just found out that Dad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He's dying, Nadine. The doctors say he's got a few months, tops. We've made peace, I suppose, and now I'm here to support him and Mum." His gaze shifted upwards.

The only thing I could think to do was offer my sincere condolences. I ventured imagining what it must be like to know that I would soon never see my father again, ever. It proved too difficult of a bridge of thought to cross. I inwardly berated myself when I found that the notion of Mother's death was not one that filled me with paralyzing grief.

Gary continued to stare up into the sky. "You know, the Buddhists don't believe that anyone ever really dies. Life is all one big circle, never beginning, never ending. I've thought about becoming a Buddhist. It must be nice to always be so serene."

"I don't believe in God," I blurted out. Gary's spell broke, and he eyed me with surprise. "Yeah, it's true. About three years ago I came to the conclusion that it was all bullshit. Comforting bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless. Mother's not any too pleased."

Gary was silent for awhile, and then he smiled, dimples adorning the sides of his mouth. "I am not sure whether or not I believe, actually. I was brought up Catholic, but I started having serious doubts when I was about twelve. Of course, I couldn't tell Mum and Dad, especially not at a time like this." He picked up clumps of dirt and watched them sift through his fingers. I had no desire to interrupt his train of thought, but I casually scooted closer to him and tenderly ran a hand through his wavy, shoulder-length brown hair.

Torrential rains and unseasonably cold weather separated me from Gary for a full week. I didn't dare call him just to chat, as I rarely had any privacy to myself in Uncle Carl's condominium. A sense of desolation and crushing boredom nearly smothered me during out time apart. The weather forced me to occupy my time with games of extremely low-stakes poker with Billy, Go Fish with Jonathan, shouting matches with Mother, and horribly awkward conversations with Aunt Jill.

When the fates conspired to allow me to see Gary again, it was at his parents' place. They were fortunately out at the time. Gary showed me his room. A record player was planted on the small dresser, and a rather shabby and crookedly placed poster of Bob Dylan hung on the wall facin the open window. Paisley curtains fluttered in the cool evening breeze. Various articles of clothing and socks were strewn across the floor haphazardly. Gary was wearing snug corduroy trousers and a matching green shirt with the words "It's all over now, baby blue" adorning it in bold red. The message appeared to have been painted by hand. He flipped off the light switch, and the weak late afternoon sunbeams offered scanty illumination.

I didn't know what to expect next, but I felt oddly at ease. No matter what might have had up his sleeve, I knew I had nothing to fear from Gary. I was somewhat surprised, though, when he took a seat on the floor next to the window and encouraged me to do the same.

"There's nothing quite like a Rocky Mountain sunset, luv," he said softly, sensuously, as I hunched down next to him. "Let's enjoy it together." We silently observed the yellows fade to pinks, which in turn gradually transformed into oranges, and then blood reds. At length my gaze shifted to Gary. I watched as he rapturously took in the simple wonders of nature. His focus bespoke an innocent, child-like amazement that I most frequently saw on the face of my brother Jonathan. I could feel my chest swelling with what I knew was the purest, sweetest love I had ever experienced in my brief life.

I clasped my hand in his and whispered in his ear, "I love you, Gary." Instead of responding, his eyes shifted to the floor. As his silence stretched, my puzzlement graduated to wounded humiliation. Any injury that I felt, however, completely dissolved when he finally returned his gaze to me, and I could make out in the dying sunrays his eyes swimming in tears. "I'm sorry, luv," he choked as a single tear slid down his smooth cheek. "I-I don't want you to get too close to me. I can't let you get caught up in me, luv. I'm...I'm on the run from the law."

A sensation not unlike a swinging fist making contact with my chest hit me. What was he talking about? "What do you mean, Gary? Tell me."

He squeezed my hand gently as he once again turned his gaze out the window. The sun had disappeared from the horizon, and stars were beginning to dot the night sky. "About five months ago, I got word that a good buddy of mine, Hal Rafferty, was killed over in Vietnam. I don't know how or why, all I heard was that he was dead. And you know what? Instead of grief, Nadine, I got mad. Really, really mad. My best friend was dead, and for what? What are we over there dying for? What are we over there killing women, children, babies for? But anyway, the grief eventually came, and it hit me hard. I didn't leave my room for days. I've never cried so much in my life, and I probably smoked enough to kill five grown men. Well anyway, about a month ago, I was staying with Mum and Dad, and what should I find in the mail but my own draft card. 'Gary Henry Hughes,' it read, in bold black letters. What was I supposed to do? I knew about Dad's cancer by then, and I couldn't go out and get myself killed. I couldn't do that for myself or for Mum and Dad. So I burned the draft card. And now I'm here."

I stared at him in disbelief. Several times I attempted speech, but my mouth felt as though it were stuffed with cotton balls. Finally I managed to speak, albeit in fragments. "Gary...you...are you serious?" My emotions were seesawing between admiration and dismay, and I reluctantly released my hand from his. He sighed as buried his head in his hands.

Conflicting emotions reigned over me. I wholeheartedly shared his disapproval of the colossal injustice of the Vietnam War and I admired his defiance of it, but I also considered the scores of young men like him who were out on the battlefields and in the jungles, forfeiting their lives. "Gary...I know this war is wrong and everything, but other guys are going out there knowing that they might not come back alive. How...what makes you any different from them?"

"I don't know, Nadine. But I do know that I can't die with the knowledge that I've harmed innocent people. I just won't do it. But this is also about my mum. I can't risk my life when my father is dying. If Mum knew that I'd been drafted, she might have a heart attack, and if anything happened to me out there, I really think it would kill her. I couldn't do that to her at a time like this. More than anything else in the world, I couldn't break my mum's heart. She means too much to me."

I was surprised to find myself smiling. "You really love your mother, don't you?"

In the looming darkness I could tell that he was smiling, as his dimples were clearly imprinted on his cheeks. "She's an amazing woman. She taught me everything I know. I was so sorry to have to leave her when I ran away from home, but I just couldn't stay with Dad, and I think she understood."

I reconnected my hand with his. "Well, Gary, I definitely understand and respect your decision. And don't worry, I won't tell anyone. You can trust me." A thought manifested itself in my mind that was so horrifying and yet so absurd that I burst out laughing. "I guess that makes me a criminal, too!"

I couldn't make out Gary's facial expression in the darkness, but after a few moments he joined me in strained laughter. He got up momentarily to put on the brand new Beatles' record, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I had heard so much about and had been dying to hear. We listened to the entire album that night, hand in hand, and I experienced the closest thing to absolute ecstasy that I have ever experienced before or since, to this very day.

I never saw Gary again after that night. We agreed that, in order to protect him, I should stay away just in case Mother or, god forbid, Aunt Jill should happen to catch us together. There was no way that I could let someone as special as him slide through my hands forever, though, so I gave him my home address and made him vow to write me periodically. He had taken a Polaroid of us together, which he let me keep. As soon as I returned to Uncle Carl's house, I carefully placed the photograph between the pages of my journal. I was determined that, long after I left this world, this memento from the best summer of my life would remain.

The rest of that vacation was now a blur in my mind, a hazy, spinning image of hikes, outdoor games with my brothers, arguments with Mother, and another long drive home. I did not end up going to Brown the next year, much to Mother's heartbreak. Instead, I went to the University of Chicago and met my future husband on a study abroad trip in Florence. I'd like to think that my relationship with Mother improved somewhat after the fateful summer of 1967. We were two individuals with fundamentally incompatible personalities, products of two very distinct generations, and we were both too stubborn for too many years to see the merits that we as people (and as products of our respective generations) each had to offer. Mother died of acute cardiac arrest in 1975. My brother Jonathan was only twelve at the time, so I officially took him under my wing until he went off to Columbia University in 1981. While my relationship with Mother remained tense up to the very day she died, I liked to think that it was partly Gary's affection for his own mother that inspired me to at least regard Mother less with disgust than with sympathy. It was not until I met Gary that I finally realized that Mother was hurting inside far more than I ever had.

I never told anyone about Gary. It was true that, for awhile, this was mostly out of the need to protect him from the forces of the law. But there was another factor as well, possibly one that was more important, and one for which I was especially unwilling to tell my husband or my daughter later. It was not for fear of making them jealous or uncomfortable, because the truth was that I never slept with Gary. The most we ever shared between us was a kiss, and a fairly innocent one at that. No, what I experienced with Gary was far stronger, and much more special, than anything sex could provide. For the first time in my life upon encountering Gary, I was allowed to pure happiness and freedom. I felt that, on some level, Gary was simply mine, and I didn't desire to share him for all the world.

True to his word, Gary kept up a correspondence with me over the years, sending letters to my various addresses and always calling me "luv." For the first few years after our acquaintance, the letters were numerous, sometimes arriving biweekly. As the years progressed, the letters became fewer and fewer, until finally whole years would elapse before I received word of his existence. The one consistent factor in all his accounts was his being constantly on the move. Over the years I would receive letters penned by him from San Francisco, New York, London, Rome, Prague, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, Malta, and other varied locales. While I envied his globetrotting lifestyle, I couldn't help but suffer a bittersweet sensibility on his behalf. After all these years, Gary had still not found a place to call home.

The latest letter that I received, from India, was authored not by Gary but by someone calling himself Stan Lindley. Lindley wrote that he was a friend of Gary's who had gotten word of our written correspondence, and he was so very sorry to inform me that Gary had been killed in a freak motorcycle accident on a rain-slick road in northern India. Gary Henry Hughes was sixty-one years old.

When I read of Gary's death I was besieged by so many different emotions that sorting them out seemed to be an insurmountable task. I felt sorrow and sickness over the death of a friend, resentment that a random act of fate had robbed me of someone dear, and pity for a world that now lacked someone so unique. I ached for Gary's loss, but I also experienced an unexpected, perhaps selfish, grief all of my own. The knowledge that sweet, imperfect Gary was out there in the world, however far away, had always been a source of comfort and felicity for me, something that gave me a reason to smile when nothing else did. With Gary's death, my childhood had officially come to an end. I comforted myself with the possibility that, perhaps in India, Gary had finally found his elusive home. Then it occurred to me that the Garys of this world never really find a place they can call home. They simply drift through lives that end much too soon.

In the midst of my ruminations, I remembered the photo that I had of Gary and me, tucked away in an old diary that currently sat in the back of my bedroom closet. I ran back to retrieve it, cradling it as carefully as if I were holding a newborn baby. The image had faded considerably over the years, but anyone with decent vision could make out two smiling young people holding hands and, for at least one night, oblivious to the exploding world around them.

I was struck by an idea that I ordinarily would shake off as the beginnings of dementia, but at this particular moment seemed like the most appropriate thing in the world for me to do. Retrieving the iPod that my daughter Shanka had given me as a gift last Christmas, I went outside into the hazy, overcast early afternoon and lay down on the grass. I placed the photograph on my chest and switched on my music. Anyone who chanced to see me would observe a fifty-seven-year-old woman splayed out on her front lawn. They might snicker at the crazy lady, call the police for someone apparently suffering a medical emergency, or go about their own business as if nothing at all was out of the ordinary. I didn't care a whit for what anyone thought. I stared up rapturously into the gray sky, searching for clouds tinged with gold. Thank you, Gary, I thought as my iPod played Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."


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