This piece, also part of Songs and Letters, was written August 3, 2005. The friend referred to is Glen Ragsdale, the artist who did the painting that appears on my book, The Painting of You. You can read more about the work here.
[click to enlarge]
After my friend told me he was diagnosed with cancer and had been given a year and a half to live, we laughed at the idea — death seemed that distant, that unreal, that impossible. We were seventeen. I said I would be one of his pallbearers. He readily agreed.
It was dark and the stars were out. We were walking on the dusty service avenue in the middle of our farm, away from the house, through the quiet, with vines and trees all around.
Some days or weeks later, we went for a drive in his 1962 Ford Fairlane. For awhile we rode through town, up and down Main Street, past the drab prison also referred to as the high school, and back along L Street. Eventually, we ended up in the country, on the little piece of Avenue 412 that runs west from Alta Avenue, past Road 74, to Road 70.
No one else was on the road. We were talking about car engines when he suddenly became curious about his and pushed his gas pedal to the floor. When he finally let up, the speedometer read ninety-two miles per hour and we were rapidly approaching the stop sign at Road 70. He was completely calm. If there had been no stop sign, and if Avenue 412 had continued beyond that intersection, I’m sure he would have kept his foot down until the car reached its highest possible speed.
And yet I, too, was calm. In truth, for an eternal moment — a strangely blissful moment in which we were the only two people on the planet — I wondered if he was going to stop at all, and if we were going to die in a vineyard in a fiery crash.
In a way that’s hard to explain, the fact that we didn’t die was both a great relief and a great disappointment. But the feeling of disappointment immediately fell away, perhaps being tied to a sudden rush of chemicals in the brain and others charging through the body, bathing the cells, as it were, in the light of new understanding.
That trip together was symbolic of our friendship. In living or in dying, each knew the other would be there.
Time passed, and the universe continued to unfold.
One day, word came: My friend had finally decided to keep his foot down.
He sped away, alone.