Letter From The Desert: Christopher W.

I don’t even remember why I was angry at you.

I mean, I really don’t. I’ve thought about it a lot these last weeks, and I remember my actions as clearly as I would a memory of someone else about whom I had heard third-hand. We were putting together the guest list and everyone I worked with at the Ecology Center was on it, save one person. Becky asked me if I was sure I really wanted to exclude you, and I said something along the lines of “there is no way I want him at my wedding.”

I have no idea what my serious grievance was. If it was anything. I was only 35, a mere child really, and sullen anger overtook me from time to time like a slow rising in a kelp bed, and I would tear my ankles from the submerged holdfasts only reluctantly. It pervaded me, insinuated itself into my waking mind and I would stalk past wondrous and beautiful things consumed over an imagined slight or other. I expect it was something along those lines that drove the wedge into me, likely amplified by our then-current workplace dysfunction, and so I told Becky that I would stand up in front of her family and mine, her friends and my friends and our mutual acquaintances and the people for whom she once babysat and some people we liked from the internet, but that I would not have you there, and she acceded to my demand, with a little reservation.

And then our friendship outlasted the marriage. I still don’t know whether that was ironic or inevitable. Maybe it was both. As divorce swirled through my life you were one of four people I absolutely had to see before I moved to the desert. Three blocks away from the room where I had declaimed to Becky, thirteen years earlier, that I would not abide your presence at my wedding, you drank coffee with me. We smelled the sidewalk breeze off Lake Merritt with snowy egrets gliding along Grand Avenue and we talked about erosion control on urban construction sites and you were also a berm retaining some of the dispersing silt coming off my disintegrating life but I don’t think you knew it. You weren’t sure where you were headed either. Maybe Pasadena. Maybe Portland.

When I fired up the Internet and read that you had died, two years ago now and change, I could not keep from heading out into the desert, my eyes and mind blurred both. Grief and gratitude. I thought of that afternoon when you came to my house in Richmond, and we sat out back next to the giant bunchgrass I had planted and the decorative windmill, and it made melodic metal noises in the breeze as I detailed as thoroughly as I was able the ways in which I felt I had been unfair to you, and unkind. Even then, as we counted down the months waiting for the Y2K disaster to end life as we knew it, I could not quite remember what justification I had felt for being so upset at you.

I was floored by your eagerness to move forward. I resolved thereafter to deserve your friendship.

The week you died we had planned for you to come visit us here in Joshua Tree, to sleep on the couch and hike and drink coffee and win over the dog by increment, and when family issues forced you to postpone I shrugged. We’d make it happen someday. We’d leash the dog and head a mile or two away from everything and you’d talk about your old dog Socrates and we’d both lament Zeke and then we would laugh at Heart flushing a rabbit or doing that thing she does while eating fresh blades of big galleta grass, and then we would talk dreams and plans for a while, and then more coffee, and more walking.

Turns out no.

This weekend we made more progress on the guest list. You would like her, I think, and she you. The skies over Joshua Tree have been cold this week, but the bladderpod bears unlikely bright yellow legume flowers and the air smells like Artemisia. Our friends are offering to make their mark on the proceedings, through music and flowers and other such means of expression. Quail run back and forth across our knot-tying place. I would so have loved to have been able to invite you, at long last, to be there with us.

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