“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
~ Beryl Markham
This is for you, Waylon.
And so I sit here, my last night before the last day and it is quiet and Daughter is playing and my glass is full and my heart is tired. I have so many things I’d like to say you to before I go that I’m not quite sure where to start.
And so I’ll start in the middle, or at the beginning or at the end but I will start somewhere by saying this: Thank you.
I would like for you to close your eyes and place both feet on the ground and channel my voice in the saying, because if you did, you would know that this Thank you comes from a place deep in my heart—the part that is smouldering right now and sad and free and all of the things and none of them, too.
The timing is odd, because this time last year, I dug my roots deep into the earth and I took each elephant as my sister and brother and lover and friend; I put myself all in and one day, you arrived on a plane and you said just before that, I’ll be the tall man in the red plaid jacket and I thought—I’m sure I’ll recognize you as butterflies fluttered in my belly.
One of the things I would like to say to you before I go is this: you are a force of nature. Your eyes sparkle like the stars in the night sky, and you are as tall as a Redwood and I have seen you and heard you through the words that bleed through your fingers and the words that fall from your lips and I know that you value loyalty and truth and coffee and Redford and your mama and your bike above all else.
I would like to say that I know you more than I think you do or I do—and less of course, for you are an enigma, too. As your eyes shine brightly, even when they are tired eyes, in person you are different than you are everywhere else. You are gentle and direct and you listen and we spent several days rushing from here to there and you were graceful and sweet and I will always remember the first night you arrived.
It was a long trip for you and I picked you up from the airport in a shared car and you remarked on what a good driver I was and then we were in my home and I gave you a tour and we gave Lindsey a tour, even though she was far away. We sat on the couch and did work things and all my animals wanted to do was sit on you and so you let them.
We talked work talk and it was surreal to see you speak and to hear you, too—and I wasn’t reading words typed on a computer screen but there you were in front of me, breathing in the same air I was breathing in and my coffee table (that was really an old trunk) was covered in New Yorkers and old printed elephant magazines that you had brought and our warm tea and my hands were full of elephant stickers and still I could not believe that you took a leap of faith and came all the way here from there.
I had a tough time finding my words because I felt shy and awkward and because in that moment, life felt weird and I felt weird; I think that you are used to this because I did not feel ashamed of my shyness and so I let it be, and so did you.
After some debate, our work done for the day, we decided the cold was too cold and even though we had borrowed a tall bike for you from a tall friend of mine, we settled into the kitchen and into conversation and it was like we’d known each other for lifetimes and my shyness melted away, mostly. You wanted to help and took care of something (I don’t remember what we ate—what I remember is sitting, Win with his head on your lap and by candlelight we talked and talked and we started to peel back the layers, moving closer to the bone).
The memory of that night, and the days and evenings that followed, are a whirl in my mind; I watched you like a hawk, just as I always do, but this time I was able to absorb every gesture and every expression that would move its way across your face.
And that is my memory of the first and last time we met, two beating hearts sharing space and air and movement and life.
“And the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.”
~ Sylvia Plath
But there are more things I would like to say to you before I go and the next one is this: I’m sorry.
I do not say this lightly and this too comes from a place deep in this beating thing in my chest because I know how much you invest of everything you have into your work which is your life and they are both the same thing and they are different things, too.
I know from warriors weathering many storms together (and with each other) what this one will mean; this isn’t my ego speaking, but it is the truth and you know it, and I know it, too. It will be hard and the nights will be long and you will have to work harder and later and longer and so the love you crave and the dream of all seven (or is it eight?) red-headed children will move farther away and you will have moments when you want to lie down and let it all fall apart, but you won’t.
You won’t because you are strong and fierce and there is a passion that you live and breathe that is unparalleled and impossible to live up to. I tried, for some time, over and over again, I tried. I worked later and longer and harder and I missed the sunshine and I missed the parties and I missed the holidays and I missed my love and still I kept working.
Please know this: I chose to work the way I did—you set the bar high and I am fierce and brave, too and so I thought that it was that bar I had to reach. (What I didn’t know is that I am responsible for setting my own bar and although mine is set high, it can never reach the height of yours for you will always be taller.)
I would like you to know that I am in awe of your intelligence and your depth and I wonder sometimes at the many lives you’ve lived before this one and in this one. You are old-fashioned and modern and you are the king of hipsters but mostly you are a tender-hearted feminist with a fire dragon that lives within and so perhaps, if we are being all of who we are, I must mention him too.
While I reached as high as I could, before my fingers could graze the bar your fire dragon would breathe and down I would fall and it would take me days to find the strength to stand up again. You know this, and I know this, too. And so you inspire and you believe and you are learning to leash your dragon so that he doesn’t singe the hearts that fill the space that have only one mission and that is to be of benefit and to love like the ocean.
You, man of virtue, taught me many things and I will spend a lifetime unpacking each gem—the ones I fought for, the ones you handed over and the ones we unearthed, together. For you are a great teacher, too.
There are still many things I would like to say to you before I go, and maybe one day, I will.
Maybe one day, I will be in your hometown, in homelephant and we will drink whiskey by the light of the fire and New Yorkers will grace your coffee table (or the floor, because maybe we would be sitting cross-legged on the ground) and we will have spent the day outside breathing it all in and loving it all out and our lives will surround us.
Red’s head will be in my lap and we will laugh about the time your dragon and my unicorn came out to play and we will feel every inch of our oldness and we will be grateful for the chance to breathe into the same space, if even for a time.
“We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked up at each other for the last time.”
~ Jack Kerouac
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Photo: Portrait of a Heart by Christian Schloe