Not so long ago I thought survival was about not getting caught out in the cold, where hypothermia lurked behind every freezing gust of wind, or rising early enough to hike out of a deep canyon before temperatures soared into the triple digits and the water ran out. It was about staying awake during all-night drives across the Rez, the great hot desert between Moab and Flagstaff, to get to my job. It was about knowing when to leave when people were getting crazy and dangerous. Or not running out of gas after midnight north of Wells, Nevada.
It meant not getting caught under a raft on the Picket Fence in Blossom Bar or flipping in Crystal. It meant tying the boats securely enough that you wouldn’t end up floating free above the wall at Granite Falls, still in your sleeping bag, without a life jacket.
Now I know that survival is about maintaining hope. It’s about not giving in to the urge to leave the planet too soon. Not giving up. I’m not saying we all can do it. I just think that’s what it’s about.
Sleepless, I open my computer at 3 a.m. to read an e-book. I find not the digital pages full of the transporting essays I’ve been immersed in for a week but instead bring up the website and photograph of his face, my just-gone friend, the one whose talk I didn’t attend in my first angry days back in the country, the one to whom I stopped reaching out due to my own unmet expectations of friendship. He’d sent me off on my trip with a fist-bump and a promise to keep a candle in the window. We never spoke again.
Something was always hiding in that face, something I looked for, sent him emails in hopes of understanding, made phone calls to him to fathom. Then, not finding it, I went silent.
It’s my silence now that’s haunting. My own wounds became more real to me than whatever his were. He’s not the first to leave in such an abrupt manner. He’s not the first I’ve pulled away from, not understanding, in the days before he made the unexpected departure. Nor is he, I feel certain with a stunning dread, the last I will misread and be misread by in turn.
In my own despair, I know beyond knowing that the gaping hole he leaves in his parting is one that we who love him will always remember. For me it drills more holes in the sieve my heart becomes with time, the mesh-screen fabric punched through with losses. Only memories, some we wish we could change, remain instead.