Last night I went
out for drinks with an old sort-of friend Terri, who was a
year ahead of me in the art program at Oberlin. I always thought
she was the coolest artista there. To my eyes, she had this
ability to casually throw together some paint and an intaglio
print and magically have it become amazing. Of course, I had
something of a crush on her, as I seem to do with everyone
I get to know, although at that time I hadn't quite realized
that I fall in love with everyone for a short while as I become
friends with them, so it still seemed vaguely dizzying and
out-of-control when I talked with her. I really didn't know
her that well. It's possible that I think we were better friends
than we really were because I was crushed and paying particular
attention to her paintings for signs that maybe things would
work out between us. I was really pretty pathetic, but I like
myself when I think about what I was like then. I fell in
love a lot. What it may have lacked in dignity it more than
made up in fun.
I lived in town
during the summer because I was working full-time on the local
ambulance. Terri had already graduated, but she lived nearby,
so we ran into each other sometimes. One time we went out
together and ended up going to play putt-putt. I love putt-putt;
in high school my girlfriend and I played putt-putt instead
of going to the prom. It's so forgiving, you know? It doesn't
demand to be taken seriously -- in fact, you can't really
get too wound up in it the way you can with just about everything
else in life. You just pull out a putter of an approximately
correct length and select your favorite color ball and go.
At night the lights are always this sodium-bright daylight
that makes everything else around you fade into darkness,
like you're playing putt-putt on a little island in an inky
Anyway, we played
putt-putt, and it was okay fun but somehow not what I'd expected.
At the end I just thought "well, there it is." It's
always a little sad when I realize I'm over a crush.
I called Terri
up -- maybe I'm on some sort of mission to reconcile all these
old relationships, because it kind of bothered me that Sam
Walker died before I could ever tell him that I still remembered
what he said about learning to draw
-- and we chatted for a while. She's working on her Ph.D..
Like, I believe, everyone I know. All I have is my college
degree and I can't even imagine going back to school ever
again. It makes me feel like I've missed some essential instruction
that all my peers received. Was it when I was living in West
Africa that they got these visits from career counselors telling
them to go get all these advanced degrees?
I had decided I
would tell Terri what a great artist I always thought she
was, because she should know. In the spirit of those things
you don't want to regret not saying when you die. I also decided
not to to bother telling her about the crush. I mean, there's
a long list of people I'd have to contact about my onetime
crushes if I was really being fair about it. Besides, it just
makes things weird. I was not actually interested in sounding
out the possibilities of having an affair. Confessions of
onetime crushes are, in this flawed world, declarations of
love or war. That all pretty much came to a close in the white-lit
island of the putt-putt place.
So I made my abridged
confession: I admired your art, it was so great. Are you still
doing it? Um, no, not really. She gave it a good try but ultimately
felt the most successful artists are those who go into it
independently wealthy. I felt a little sad about that. I thought
maybe I'd touched a nerve, but she seemed pretty well-adjusted
to the changes that had gone down over the last decade. I'd
wanted to see what she was working on -- some new painting.
Last June I went to see my old Peace Corps friend Doug play
a concert in Maine. He'd been planning it for a year and it
was amazing. People don't blowout impress me all that
often, but he stood up alone on stage with a few instruments
and sent me to dreamland. Sometimes in the works of others
you see the incredible possibilities available to you. Three
months later I had the first draft (sloppily born but alive)
of my first book, and he'll always get a measure of credit.
It's hard to find people you can admire.
Terri and I met
for drinks in a basement spot on U Street. She looked nice.
She still seemed like someone who told the truth a little
more than most people. I think she was so perplexed by the
idea that I'm a firefighter that she asked few questions about
it. That's unusual; most people are very curious, which I
appreciate. It's easy for me to talk about and I'm not embarrased
about the fact that I love it. When I told her I was also
now a Lieutenant, she just covered her eyes and shook her
head. But I didn't mind. I realized that it's easier for me
to talk about life and death and fear and suffering than about
the more mundane stuff of chitchat. I miss talking to people
about things that matter. I'm tired of yacking to keep up
appearances. So I just talked that way you can when you haven't
seen someone for a long time and may not see them again soon.
I think she did too. It was nice.
I like my friends,
but it's been a while since I really fell in love with any
of them. I'm not sure what to do. I'm long overdue and afraid
I'll be overwhelmed when the ridiculous crush someday comes.