A recent photo reminded me of a long-gone friend. Before the farm, before Portland, before children or marriage I lived in a small city by the water. Finishing the final classes of my degree in the dawn of the 1990’s everything seemed a slog; the long winter, my burnout on the entire educational experience a recent break up, my best friend moving to Seattle all rolled into a long gray pallet of days. Olympia in winter is a slate blanket over the water and mountains. I had set my hat against the rain and marched grimly through that year. Young and stupid I fell for a housemate with a boyfriend; I was at least smart enough to move out.
I started the evening at a party at my old house of my ex-flame; because really I wasn’t all that smart. The party turned ugly as a band of out-of-town punks took over and the usual laid-back Olywa atmosphere turned to metal and blood. Involved in my own head I took off and with a number of the Olympia lost boys we wandered the night covering some 15 miles before dawn. Somewhere during this I learned: the party had descended on my new house and trashed that place too, that my flame’s boyfriend was a pretty decent guy and I was happy for him to have such a great partner, that the rain had stopped and the pre-dawn sky turned purple and gold with promise.
Somehow I ended up back at my old house as the sun rose over a resplendent city. The sky was brilliant and the spring flowers and cherries blossomed in the night; it was almost painfully beautiful. On the doorstep my friend Anne sat with black-percolated coffee and cigarettes. We sat, smoked and talked quietly. She was aware of the predicament of my heart but tread lightly on it. She spoke of her recent divorce and the spring and new life and hope. She was beautiful that morning like an angel set in a Maxfield-Parrish print. That she could be where she was at and be so hopeful for the future gave me hope too.
What a perfect day I remarked
It’s Easter she said smiling with the sun giving her hair the luster of gold and fire.
Many of the details of that time twenty-six or so years ago escape me now, but that look, that moment, the pure sweet joy of so much weight lifting at once is still with me. As I tell my kids my life is no example it is rather a cautionary tale. Do not fall in love with a housemate, perform personal chemical experiments on your head and go to a punk rock house party, or take off on a fifteen mile hike in sneakers without a water bottle. But do allow yourself hope. Forgive your stupidity and let the past be the past. And when you get a message from the above, listen. They are rare and powerful and if you set your sails by them they can carry you a long way. From a basement room in a party house to this place; from a broken home and broken heart to this life. That moment was a trail marker shining in a long dark night to set me right.
Anne has long since passed and it shames me that I could not do for her what she did for me; remind her that life is long and no matter where you are on it that dawn always brings hope. I miss my friend and all she could have become, and believe whatever personal demons took her from here, that angels surely brought her home. If there is a just and loving God there can be no other answer. Some part of her is with me still and it is dear to me; to give someone hope is more than to love them, it is to allow them to love at all.
Wherever my friend has gone it is beyond my knowing, but she left this little part of the world better than she found it. That we may all be so lucky to have that said of us when we are gone.