Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Friends

Fishing in the Keep of Silence
by Linda Gregg

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the herons
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim in standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself. There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

When I first graduated from college, I moved to Denver, Colorado for a year and lived in an apartment by myself.  I often met my good friend who had her own place a short distance away, and we drank coffee, took walks, and watched movies together.  That year was a little piece of heaven, although I was confused as hell.  In the middle of all our coffee dates, grocery shopping, hikes in mountain lion country, my friend and I helped each other through the absolute cluster-fudge that is one's first year after school, and together we survived. 

Maybe that first year isn't so hard for everyone.  Maybe some people know exactly what they want.  Maybe they line up real jobs and have real relationships.  Maybe they move to sensible, medium-sized cities where they know someone with genuine laundry skills, someone who makes a decent pie crust. 

That would have been a good way to go, but I took a different route.  Many different routes, in fact.  My twenties were full of newness: new apartments, new relationships, new cities, new jobs.  On some level, I was probably searching for a home.  My parents had recently moved away from the town where I had grown up, and I no longer knew who my community was, much less where they were.  On another level, I was simply uninterested in anything I was supposed to be doing.  It wasn't that I was stubborn - though I was.  And it wasn't that I was driven - because I certainly wasn't.  I guess I was just hungry for a place that felt right, hungry for a piece of my own self which, because I couldn't always see where others ended and I started, I kept unwittingly slipping out of.  I wandered many streets, exploring, hunting, sniffing.  I wasn't sure what I was looking for and sometimes when I found it - in sun-drenched writing hours, in kind, smart friends - I did not always recognize that I had.

Living in Denver, my friend and I came up with a saying: It could be worse, we could be in Cheyenne.  For some reason, Cheyenne, Wyoming, a short drive north, represented to us the most desperate place in the world.  However we came up with it, our saying stuck.  We wrote it in letters we mailed to each other over the years, occasionally across the same town.  We said it on the phone, drinking coffee in our kitchens states apart.  Occasionally we got to say it in person, tipsy on our bar stools in New York, or driving mountain roads in North Carolina.

Many years after that first one in Denver, I moved back to Colorado, this time with Tim, to whom I was engaged.  We lived that first year in poverty, self-appointed but grueling nonetheless, for as Jeanette Walls writes in her astounding memoir The Glass Castle:  "Too much hard luck can create a permanent meanness of spirit in any creature."

Tim and I were lucky.  Our dip into poverty was short-lived, and not character-forming.  But it was a glimpse into a meanness I had not ever imagined.  Resentment formed a crust over many areas of my life.  It took months, even years, to thaw them. 

I don't regret it.  In fact, in many ways, the bleakness I felt was a doorway to strength. At the bottom of my sadness, I found something that couldn't be taken away from me, and that was creativity.  Making things.  Stories, blog posts, stationary for friends.  A life with Tim.  A home together.  Creating things built me.  I got to know myself, piece by piece, one humble revolution at a time. 

That first year, Tim and I drove to Cheyenne, tongues permanently in-cheek, and celebrated Valentine's Day at a restaurant chain.  I wrote my old friend from Denver and confirmed it: I had hit rock bottom.  I was celebrating a romantic milestone in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Worse yet, I liked it. 

The restaurant was a sea of cowboy hats.  We waited a long time for a table but didn't care.  We watched people: the sprayed hair, the tasseled boots, the belt buckles.  Cheyenne's slogan is Live the Legend, something that cannot be said without a humongous HA! afterwards.  But part of that slogan is also true. 

Wyoming, like all things I love, is a little rough around the edges.  Okay, a lot rough.  It has dirt in its teeth.  It has time to kill. The land itself reminds me of what the American frontier might have looked like at one time.  But the towns have bookstores and craft breweries and generally are not as scary as they might at first appear.
This past weekend, I was in Cheyenne again, this time to see Alan Jackson perform.  Tim sat next to me on the grandstand overlooking a rodeo pit.  An elderly woman in front of us wore ear muffs. In July.  She was there to see Alan: I didn't judge.  Besides, it was chilly.  Tim lent me his hoodie and we huddled under a near-full moon. 

In short: it was heaven.  Big, redneck, irony-rich heaven.

And now, for the hard part. Last Friday, we put down our beloved dog, Bear.  We estimate that he was 13, a noble (and notable?) old dignitary.  He probably had cancer, but honestly, who the heck doesn't these days?  He was tired and had gotten finicky about eating.  He had lost mobility in his back legs, a surprise to us all, especially regal, independent Bear himself.  He made the best of it, succumbing finally to our help with the stairs, but, well, it was just time

It absolutely broke my heart.  That dog was one of the finest friends I've ever had.  I don't know why, but I was surprised, too, by the tenderness that rushed within me after he was gone.  I felt myself totally raw and open.  It reminded me of the oft-quoted, golden Leonard Cohen lyric:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there’s a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in”

I never would have guessed that such a devastating event could hold so many kernels of sweetness inside it.  I felt myself grateful, so grateful, to have loved so completely, to have opened myself in spite of loss and all its risks.

May we all love so bravely, without remorse.



  1. T. and I argued all the way through Wyoming on our drive to visit you. It was unbearably hot. I was surprised by the number of snow fences.

    Yes, animals. They break our hearts, and we never stop missing them.

    Thinking of you,

  2. This is such a sweet and touching tribute to the one and only Bear.

  3. This is beautiful and brought me to tears.


  4. XO to all my friends. Your words and emails have meant more than I can say.


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