I do not remember what I said to my mother over the phone, or what Ms. Reed said when I came back to class. What I remember is staring at my desk, the florescent light blurring into a seamless expanse over me, a pencil shaking in my hand. What I remember is the way my mother walked into the office, wordless, a pink sweatshirt bunched between her hands. My mother’s lips were bare and pale, and the sweatshirt hung past my knees.
In so many ways, my ideal home is like the earth itself. Perhaps that is the real reason I eschew plastic and acrylic. Perhaps that is why I love wood and wool. Why I like to see our rooms change with the seasons. I want to remember that I am made from the stuff of earth. I never want to forget that the earth is my God-made home. The sky a tent overhead.
I sit for a moment in the reality of my own fortune, my own comfort, my own deep-seated needs and self centered nature. I remember the ashes, the feel of them on my forehead, gritty under Father Boyle’s thumb as he pressed them into the sign of the cross and I breathe then, one deep breath, one heavy sigh that releases shame of that milk carton moment, that column of ash moment, that slow march toward Good Friday. Carus, we are Easter people.
In my writing about my friend, I embellished certain details. I filled in the holes. And as a result, if I’m honest, I’m not sure which parts of the story are true, as in truly happened, and which parts I’ve added, piece by piece, over the years. Was it my need to remember that built this parallel between his eyes and the radio? Did we really smoke pot on a park bench, en plein air, as I’ve so often recalled, or was it cigarettes? Did he hold my hand during the movie we watched together, or did I dream that, too?
When I sat down last Friday night, I expected to hear an essay — fresh, different, perhaps unpublished — on one of his go-to topics, whether the environment, social justice concerns, or some other aspect of intentional living. Since the day I’d booked him, I’d been waiting for the moment when he’d take the stage and begin reading — his deeply rooted ethos already apparent, piercing — and then I would steal glances around the room to see the shock of recognition on the faces of my students, see the visible signs of narrative transport taking them to a new place with a master at the helm.
But something else happened. Not something bad, not less than . . . just different.