Thursday, December 02, 2004

And now he lies
ashes, all ashes, all ashes
And now he lies
ashes, all ashes, away.
Gone into ashes
the passion, his passion;
Gone into ashes
all ashes, away.
Like salt to the ocean;
an ocean of ashes,
blown to the ocean
of ashes away.
Cold were his fingers.
it lingers,
those fingers.
Gone into ashes
those fingers - away.
Lost to us ever
he'll come again never,
gone into ashes,
and ashes away.
The best and the kindest
reminds us of ashes.
He ne'er closed those lashes
now ashes - away.

So, Larry in a bag, in a box, in a room, in a dull, dark, and lonely old world. I held his hand tightly, not unlike a lover might, as if by holding him tightly I could stop his slide downward to that dark room. Like leaving my boy, my child, I kissed his brow and told him we'd meet again. They asked me if there was anything they could do for us and I told them only one thing would work: Bring back my friend.

Thanksgiving for a winter survived long ago would simply not do for a friend removed from this life too soon. No amount of turkey or pie, no amount of gravy and wine could satisfy this hunger in my gut. The last of the best, aged over a lifetime, brought out once or twice a year for hugs and promises and pictures taken in the driveway. Two smiling faces, two cheery hands clasped around two sets of strong shoulders.... two friends parting the way it should be, with promises of next time and jokes and worries over long lines and lost baggage. But not this. Not this terrible slide from "Your friend is a very sick man." to "Larry passed, he didn't make it." No amount of food or sunshine or birdsong can cope with the vast emptiness.

The worse part were the wails. A sister driving to work, foolishly answering a cell phone while on the highway hearing those words that make no sense: "Larry just died this morning."

A friend of decades, soft and beautiful in spite of age and miles, somewhere across a newly emptied landscape, wailing like a hurricane through the wires, like a baby caught in a car door, like a father in a hospital hallway, like a friend caught in disbelief. "Larry died today."

Why was I considered the strong one, the one best able to take the box, the ashes? After all these years of mockery and laughter and shaking heads in disbelief at the things I thought to say.... why now, of all times, was I the one to bear the Crone's gift to the family? Such strength as this I never owned, never wanted, never claimed, never understood. There was no strength in carrying Larry back to his sister and brother and all the rest of them, only a promise made on the bathroom floor while holding furiously those cold fingers, stroking that panicked brow: "I'm here for you, buddy. I won't leave you." So I didn't, until someone else could take the box and carry it away.

I know the taste of ashes, I have tasted them before. I know the feel of ashes, I have felt them before. I know the stabbing pain of sorrow for a friend ripped away by Her bony hand. I have no strength enough to carry this pain somewhere, I am burdened with it until someday it puts me down. Kisses along the way, hugs from children too young to understand that shadow in my eyes.... nothing will do anything to remove that stone from my back. I trudge along carrying a smile and speaking a joke and not waiting to see or hear if any of it made an impact. Because it doesn't matter, you see. It doesn't matter when a friend is taken, that you went on and did some things and said some things. What matters is that on some lonely night, out back where they can't hear me, where they can't see my weakness, my shudders, nor hear my own soft wails, that my friend will not comfort me nor listen to me, nor be able to care enough to be there for me. But still he comes and still the hand upon my shoulder, the quiet eyes that never close again... these can be found out back, in the dark when it's just me and Larry and the taste of ashes.

So, Larry, don't be a stranger. Don't wait til next Thanksgiving to visit me. Without being greedy, or at least without wanting it to be greed, I'd like you to drop by from time to time. You can see the light in the window from where you are, I know. You can bring Teddy and the rest: Granddad Riley, Roderick, Shiela....the whole crowd. Bring 'em all to the fire and we'll talk. Hugs all around, barkeep, keep 'em coming.

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