Tonight I sat in the booth at Minsky’s Pizza. It was a favorite hangout for my friend Paul and me, especially on a Saturday night. We would slide into the booth and then talk about nothing in particular–which didn’t leave much out.
November 2 will be the two-year anniversary of his death. I’m still not ready for him to go. I liked being the person he saw when he looked at me, and I can’t see that person without him.
Tonight I’m under the weather. A cold has robbed me of most of my voice, so the only talking that doesn’t hurt is a whisper. There wasn’t much to say as I sat in the booth, watching the ebb and flow of people. Eventually the staff switched the televisions from football to the World Series. Life goes on. New things are exciting. Tectonic plates plow down into magma and reformat their experience into molten unconsciousness, ready to be printed with new birth under the sky. Light dutifully reports the past position of stars in the sky, with no sneak previews of when they may have winked out.
When this cold hit me yesterday, I felt like the hand of cards I was holding tumbled down out of numb fingers. My plans disintegrated. Too little sleep and a sick family were enough, eventually, to bring down my own system. These last couple days I let everything drift, I cancelled everything I had planned. It got quiet enough inside me to hear the tuneless whistle of ongoing life through the hole my friend Paul left in the wake of his passing.
I planned and carried out Paul’s memorial service less than a week after he died. I held it together for that, I dug into his past and packaged a version of it to try and help everyone who came from different walks of life leave having both recognized what they knew of Paul and learned something new. I’m still proud of how that went.
I was the last one to see him alive, I was the one to find him the next day, and our rambling conversations had not left anything important unsaid. I don’t feel he had any reason to stick around, and I hope he’ was able to leave everything behind when he went. I don’t sorrow for him. He was open to new experiences, unburdened by an excess of sentimentality, and an adaptable thinker.
So I sat in that booth and thought about Paul. About his crazy character with the war donkey and the hand-held cannon. I thought about how when I was riddled with shame for losing a prestigious job and shifting to another one, he had zero judgment and total support for me. I thought about how he loved my kids unreservedly, and how he considered it an honor to be part of my family. I thought of the confidences he shared with me, and those I shared with him, because we found each other to be trustworthy and insightful. I think about his incredible gift for finding room inside himself to be friends with people from any social circle. (Yeah, it took them a long time to get me my pizza. Busy night.)
Tonight reminded me that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Old hurts that are years past are still very present for most people, I think. And if you’ve got a good friend, a real friend, make sure you’ve left nothing important unsaid.
You never know when the light in the sky will wink out, finally letting you know that star is forever beyond your reach.