I told Tony I offered his daughter the last three emails he sent me that I never opened. I know they are buried between pages of spam, tucked somewhere between some meaningful part of my life and some PR assistant’s subtle attempts to bribe me into writing about the last kid doo-doh toy device.
In between the vines and the ivy that grow in our inboxes I would find his last thoughts, last messages before he took his life.
In between the meaningful and meaningless, there would be his last words, his last thoughts, the most meaningful messages to me ever, his last in this world.
Had I only known.
Now that he is gone, I don’t know if I can open them. I feel weak and sick at the thought. He was sometimes harsh. He was like handling glass. His emails sometimes left me splintered for months.
What if the last three emails were the most jagged he’s ever sent me? Could I live with that?
Death comes unannounced. That is mostly a gift. But had I known he was parting, I would have opened the last three e-mails from my my friend, promptly.
That’s the problem with death. Either we have no clue when we wake up that these will be the last moments in the world for us, or we wake up not knowing that a friend, a recluse, will do his last, abrasive move of OUR lives. That he’d opt out, totally and finally, and I’d be here, sitting on a reading chair, a universe away, where he left me, absolutely, completely, alone.
It was his last move to isolation. And yet those who loved him, are left, feeling so deeply alone. Why does HIS last move become our consequence? What the fuck is that about? I feel red coming up to my Irish and I want to scream. And I want to wrap my arms around his daughter.
I will NEVER ever sit in thought with him again. And that makes me want to punch him. All the words we shared, we read, seem meaningless. They're floating away and I question my Divine Purpose. I am a writer who no longer believes in words? My entire existence is now questioned.
I didn’t wake with a headache or a sore body foreshadowing something awful to come. Honestly, because of my disease, I always wake feeling that way anyway. I always wake tattered and weird. There was no way of me knowing, except perhaps reading those emails.
It was poor timing. The wrong year, perhaps. They came through while I was throwing a party for my daughter and my husband was leaving for Seattle and the kids were getting out of school, and my leg was put in a cast, and I was hot and my armpits bruised from the crutches, and the panic was too big being alone and it was time for my next infusion and I was so tired. I was just fucking living and trying not to panic so loudly. So tired.
I never ever meant to hurt him. I wasn't trying to shove him down three flights of stairs with my silence. It was just poor timing. It was that innocent. He was that complicated.
I never knew my words could save him. They were arms thrown around him. I never imagined I was THAT BIG. And this, this is really unfair. OR, it is very poignant. His last move, was my greatest dare.
To know I was his only friend, that words and books and funny thoughts and the macabre connected us; all of that combined was enough for me to be his friend. He loved my writing, and that was our hello.
This youngish (all relative) extroverted girl up North, held this recluses hand down South. We walked together down streets, half-lit lamps in other countries and other centuries in books, together, holding hands and laughing.
What was his last book? Maybe it’s in one of those emails. I almost don’t feel sick at the thought of opening.
We had periods where we’d correspond consistently and then lulls where we’d barely whisper to one another in months. And then, we’d pick up the same books and be like two school-kids walking to school again, kicking up dust and dirt on the way-stirring conversations and imagination.
I can see us playing with sticks, picking at leaves while dreaming with the sky, daring to look the universe in the eye and ask it questions. Our bodies and our thoughts lacing its fringes. Because he was such a recluse, our friendship always had a strange lighting to it. If we walked in a real world, I picture it being in this lighting, but circa 1940s.
I find him when I couldn’t sleep at 3 am, a message to read this book, I’d respond. I’d read. We’d read. We’d connect. We were close like that. But always dimly lit by default because recluses hide. Nothing about us was ever totally open, except my writing that was separate from him. He’d usually stumble upon and read. He was recklessly open with his criticism.
Once he read somewhere (we weren’t Facebook friends anymore because he said he found my posts annoying, something like) on my blog page that I was reading, The Art of Being a Woman. It's a like the Bible for feminism and funny and I hope I didn't muck up the name.
I was upstairs in bed and I got to the part where she claims the right to call her vagina anything she liked. So she called it a cunt. She owned her cunt. She called the shots. Thus, she named it cunt.
Fast forward, some years later, she has a husband and two little girls. Her phone rings and it’s her daughter's pre-school. Her daughter, in class, yelled, “My cunt!! My cunt! I can’t hold it anymore. I have to pee!” Apparently this isn't a norm in pre-schools. From then on, the author (Nora something?) and her husband and their girls chose a different name for their vaginas (others too), admitting defeat to the societal norms of names for genitalia.
I put the book down laughing and someone called me into the kitchen. My phone buzzed. It was Richard asking me if I got to the “cunt part”.
Me: “Richard, are you READING, The Art of Being a Woman?”
Richard: “Hell yeah, this is some funny shit. Did you get to the cunt part?”
Me: “OMG, how did you know I was reading it? And yes! I literally JUST read it!”
These were the times we had an unspoken connection. I have never even seen his face. I have no idea what Richard looked like in the end or the beginning. No middle. No nothing. Just what I have drawn him to be in my mind.
Older. Rugged. Handsome. Tan. Clint Eastwood. Kind of.
He lived a thousand miles away in Florida. He lived with his best friend, his dog Max.
When I would send him a book, I’d always look for a treat for Max to send in the package. Everyday, Max got the mail. I knew all about the lovely mail carrier who brought Max a treat, same time, each day (almost). She’d proudly prance out, getting the treat AND the mail, bringing it back and dropping the stack at Richard’s feet.
He marveled in Max’s talent and love. He was not big at bragging. He knew his faults. He carried them quietly, like a cross, but very alone. He wasn’t a martyr and was not to be worshiped. But when the appropriate time would surface, he'd call himself out on all the wrongs he'd done to his children and the women he loved. He was not a martyr and never claimed. He was a fuck up. BUT, he was trying to get his sugar levels just right and was eating healthy.
But if he ever did brag, hints of it-it was Max(ie), getting the mail. He did speak of his daughters, proudly, but it always trailed off in shame. He felt ashamed.
It’s funny (not ha ha funny, Herpes funny) the thoughts you think, stream of consciousness, free falling when you learn someone you love (or took for granted) is gone, eternally. I just kept falling with questions and partly-finished thoughts and words and books.So many words. I'm still falling.
Where’s Max? Can I take Max? Can I love Max so if whatever is in those unopened emails, especially if they are goodbyes, will be absolved by my loving what he loved on this earth? Would that be enough?
“He shot Max first.” she said.
The image of violence and love shoved me back onto my chair. My arms went back, feeling, making sure I'd caught by something cushioned. Falling further.
I waited. I got my partial questions together, collected my heart, and all the pieces left of this now over friendship, he, it, we…are no more…and I went outside and prayed.
I remember when I told him I was going to Haiti to help an orphanage. His was response was, “I will pray that your children forgive you when you are dead.” My prayer stopped at the recall.
“Fuck you Richard, how is that fair!? That’s not fucking fair!! FUCK YOU!! FUCK YOU.”
I was crying and yelling at the sky until there was nothing left. I felt done. I stood under the sky. Today it was a tear-duct and weeping on me. I was drenched and walked back inside.
I realized there was a message in that awful response. Pray that his children forgive him. He would pray for mine, now I must pray for his. I thought he was just being a jerk, but maybe that message was meant to be, to guide me in the now.
I walked into the house, and stopped crying for a while. I read her message.
And now its hours later and I’m wiping yesterday’s eyeliner out of my eyes so I can understand my husband. I need to see his expression.
His “why the fuck would she want to read those e-mails, why did you offer that?”. Ouch. I refocused and wiped some eyeliner on polar bear PJ’s.
I needed to see his expression. To understand. I didn’t think it was morbid. I thought I was lending her a gift. I thought I was giving her privy into the private friendship we had. She ONLY knew her father as a recluse. She had no social memories of him. Maybe I could show her a different layer?
Made no sense to my husband.
Perhaps sharing them would be the only gift I could give. I knew the once very handsome recluse who once belonged to her, was also the EVERYTHING to her that just left. He abandoned her and left and locked the door. He never really left ME until now. I feel closer to her. Maybe that is why she is handling it so well.
I can’t shake the image of him leaving her on the dance floor at her wedding. The DJ just announced, “And now the father of the bride will have one last dance with his daughter…” or whatever they say and she just stood there on some parquet-like wooden floor, laid out for this day- alone, embarrassed. He was frozen to a chair and couldn’t move. My heart always breaks for both of them when I re-imagine the time.
And now I know why she is so strong. She has an affection, a sentimental place, for my writings which are hyper-emotional, any writing like that. Her writings in simple messages are heart-felt, they sing, like art.
Much like her father (he loved my blog, that is how we met, except when he didn't), but she’s leather and tough with the looks smooth like silk. And she’s petite like silk. Silk, but muscled and she doesn’t offer smiles for free, you must earn them, but they are there. But she is love and free at the same time. She’s part him. She’s what he would be if he had faced his fears.
Leaving her danceless sounds like the meanest thing in the world to do to your offspring. But it wasn’t his fault per se. He was frozen to that chair. He just couldn’t. Fear was paralyzing. He was paralyzed. He didn’t want to be mean or cold. Like his extremely harsh response to Haiti. I was upset and it took me weeks to say something that added up to a, “fuck you Richard”.
His response was the sweetest and bravest moment between us, a door of sorts, that he’s ever led me into. He led me to the door and I opened the message and there I read, “Jamie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be harsh. I thought I was being a good friend. I just don’t know how to.”
I just don’t know how.Over and over again it plays like the vinyl record player skipping in my safe place.
He was so close, and so far away, but I knew after that day that whatever he did or said didn’t matter, something in him went wrong and he would never know exactly HOW TO. But with me, for some reason, he was trying. He was trying with me and I felt blessed. I am blessed.
He asked for a postcard from France. We both had a thing for France in the 20’s. I flew there for my children’s book and it was my job to get my reclusive friend in Florida a postcard. That simple. BUT, I didn’t know HOW to navigate the postal system when I was there. I didn’t speak a lick of French.
“SPANISH” they said. “Always take Spanish. It is what you will need to know the most. America’s Latino population is growing madly.” Twenty years later I land in FRANCE? That’s the universe and its humor.
So I bought him one and flew it home. It’s a weird size, so I never sent it. I put it on my wall in my office instead. I can see it now from the corner of my eye. I think I did send him something though.
Tony was right. Why would she want to read the three e-mails? Would I ever be able to read them?
If Richard was saying goodbye it would be akin to his last attempt, his last REACH from his abyss to a human, with a heart, in this world. And I missed it. It’s like the Titanic when she’s floating on a piece of wood and she lets him slip away into ocean. This cold, abyss and I’m bawling up my fists yelling at a TV.
Only it’s not as romantic, and it isn’t beautiful in anyway, and I’m pissed at my reality-for letting go of his hand.
I didn’t mean to let go. Pages of spam grew over the three unopened emails like vines and poison ivy and I just forgot. While I was simply surviving, the best I could, he was drowning. I could of let the dishes go. Or not wasted time in some other area, and held his hand, opened the emails. Would it have made a difference? I am so small.
It is my fault. I will not open the e-mails. I’m afraid. And T is right, why would she want them?
But then I came homehours later and she wrote me back. She wants the emails. This means I must find them and I must read them. I must face my part in his ending. I have a part in the closing chapter of his book? Fuck it hurts.
I never imagined I was that important to him. I never realized I really was the only one that wasn't blood-tied.
And I realize now he wasn’t being critical of me and my writing as much as he was calling it to a higher standard. He was daring me to go to France in the 20’s; to write beside Hemingway and Fitzgerald (s), arguably Zelda too, hence the (s). I believe I sent Zelda, the book to him.
He wasn’t being a jerk, he was daring me to live the life I was too scared to live a few years ago. The life he never could, never would. He wasn’t belittling me, he was BELIEVING in me.
“Go Jamie, go! Except maybe not to Haiti because you are my only friend and who would I talk to about these books?” is essentially what he meant, what he wanted to say but he “didn’t know how to”.
My God Richard, I am so sorry. And thank you. I will go and write today in front of others and I will share. You were daring me to GO because you believed in me.
All the “fuck yous” are pointless now, I will thank you every day and I will pray for your children like you would for mine.
It’s weird. I have to open the last three emails, possibly of his life and I can’t respond because he’s no longer on the other end. He did get the last word.He liked the last word.
People always die to have the last word. And yet, where did it get him? I realize now the point of words. I asked the question in early morning and after the writer’s group, a woman sat next to me in a coffee shop. I’d never been to it in my life (her name was Senga, Agnes backwards) and she asked the same question.
I told her I’d just asked the same question earlier this morning. And she said, “Well then our energy was supposed to collide today. I guess that is why I am here” in a Scottish accent.
We answered it together. The point of words is to express as much love as we can before we go because we both believe that is all we take with us.
I will not waste my words today. I don’t want the last say. I want to be the last loving word.
I didn’t get to leave him with any loving words as he parted. But I pray all the blogs he read and treasured, the classics shared between us in dimly lit mornings, our walks to school with sticks and dust kicking up at our heels, dreaming with the sky, added up to love. I pray they were enough.