Monday, July 5, 2010

Not Dying


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.

17 comments:

Woman in a Window said...

with an open heart~

xo
erin

William Michaelian said...

Yes....

Crissant said...

An impressive and touching story.
The real love between friends never end.

Hugs, dear William.

Janice said...

William this painting was what drew me to your book, "The Painting of You". I have always loved it. I was always drawn to his hand and his eye with the tear. I even wrote about this painting in my journal. After reading your beautiful story I would like to share it here with you and thru you with Glen Ragsdale the artist...

"Whose Hands Are These"

Whose hands are these all gnarled and lined~
Whose hands are these with spots of brown that ache when the weather is going to change~
Whose hands are these that shake so bad that I can't write, or hold a book steady enough to read~
I see them thru faded, watery, eyes~
Eyes that have grown tired and old and sad~
Old? I guess these hands must belong to me...

rahina q.h. said...

a fleeting moment shared with in the right place with the right person can fill a life time. they are rare and far between but worth hanging around for.

Caio Fernandes said...

very true....wonderful.

glnroz said...

I sit on the porch thinking...

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

I must-want to read this one with lot of calm it says to much to me, the small that I hav e already read is so deep and friendly and human

ps: I always liked the titel page of "The painting of you" is a so expressive paint

William Michaelian said...

And good wishes to you, Crissant. Thank you.

Janice, I can’t thank you enough for this moving passage from your journal. The painting is a daily reminder of our friendship, and the subject is very much a part of our family. I will treasure these lines.

You’re right, Rahina. They’re magic. Pure magic.

Thanks, Caio....

Glenn, it’s funny you’d say that, because the wind chime by our door is gently active just now.

Laura, I remember watching the artist work when he was dying in bed and creating things like this. He would smile as if it were the easiest thing in the world. And so I hope a little of that smile survives in this piece. Thank you.

Anthony Duce said...

I guess I'm late today, so many nice things were said. But I wanted to say too how much I appreciate you sharing what happened above. Thank you

William Michaelian said...

If anyone’s late, Anthony, it’s me, because this piece was written more than thirty years after Glen’s death. But I’m glad I did, and I’m pleased that it means something to you. Thanks.

-K- said...

Stunningly vivid story.

Alberto Oliver said...

With these lines dear William, you prove that time is just a convention, that we humans use to give a name to that process of crawling from craddle to tomb. As that instant you described with your friend was so, i don´t know, i almost felt i was witnessing it, i almost felt that the moment could repeat and exist, over and over again, until the eternity, the dream of an absolut, never ending present, a never ending instant.

Alberto Oliver said...

The present, son of the past and the future, that is born and just breath once, for later to die at once. Only the echo of a fugitive cry remains. .

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

This post is really moving...

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

it is so deep and full of the sense of life...
when we are speaking about death, the live is life at all,
that is somethings special

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Kevin. Deeply appreciated.

Alberto, that’s it, isn’t it — there is but one moment, and as conscious beings we slip into it when we’re born, and slip out again when we die. As you say, it is always the present.

Laura, thank you for taking your time with this. Life wouldn’t be life without death, just as we are moved by beauty because we know, whether consciously or deep in our bones, that we won’t always be here to witness it.