Saturday, July 2, 2016

Not-So-Absent Friends

You are on your way to a cozy venue where a dear friend, perhaps your dearest friend of all, is giving an informal lecture. Mindful of your own need to appear in your own class for a scheduled lecture and discussion: "The Nature of Satire in the Twentieth Century English Novel."

You'll have to leave your friend's lecture early if you're to be be on time for your class, but you're used to a lifetime of such high-class problems as having a dear friend who gives entertaining lectures, having a classroom venue of your own, and having the ability to effect compromises allowing the best possible outcomes.

When you arrive at your friend's presentation, he has already begun.  When he sees you, he points to an empty seat nearby, one with a RESERVED card on its lap, then, without skipping a beat, resumes his narrative, his audience caught up in the web of reminiscence he weaves with an easy, practiced poise. Once again, you realize ho gifted a storyteller he is.

What good fortune to have him as a friend, a confidante with whom you share secrets and ambitions. Your backgrounds and politics are different, but this has provoked no problems or areas where there can be no discussions.  

What a privilege it was when you became his editor, a relationship that seemed to inspire even more trust.

After a time, while he is still speaking and his audience is following with rapt attention, you become aware of your own obligations and the time it will take you to reach the university and find a place to park.  

You make eye contact with your friend, point to your wristwatch, then hitch your head toward the direction of the university. He nods his understanding as you rise to leave, then mouths the words "Pharmacy. Lunch. Tomorrow."

No counting the times you've lunched at the Pharmacy Cafe in the Upper Village.  But something is wrong. You both seem to recognize the wrongness at the same time. "Wait," he says, aloud, then advances toward you, arms open for an embrace which you rush to meet, a sense of desperation seeming to filter into the surroundings.

While you are embracing in what feels an odd cocktail of joy,abject grief, and regret, you both understand. This had not seemed a dream before; there was too much of the comfortable familiar about it. But of course, this is  July, 2016. He died on February 12, 2013. 

You are each telling the other you miss him while the certainty of the moment being a dream spins you toward waking state and the remaining dregs of joy at the visit and sorrow at the loss. Full awake now, you can hear the wry note of his voice, "What's a cocktail without a dash of Angostura bitters?"

You sit up in bed, sorting out the results of the unanticipated meeting, pondering the triggers that brought it to you with such plausible presence.  After a sip or two from the nearby water bottle, you check the time: five thirty. Already traces of the dawn beginning. You sit in the dark among other absent friends, waiting for the day to begin.

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