In 1983 I moved from Bloomington IN to Louisville KY. My first day in town I met R__. I was walking up Fourth Avenue looking for a pay phone and he was walking down Fourth Avenue hanging and distributing flyers announcing a poetry reading in Central Park the following weekend.
He was wearing the most unusual clothing I’d ever seen anyone wearing in public. My memory has faded but I remember there were lots of colors and patterns, lots of fluid material and a shoulder bag that hung to mid calf. We caught each other’s attention easily on the nearly-vacant street. We spoke briefly and he gave me a flyer.
This first friendship in my new town would prove to last through many adventures, over much time and many miles. We made art together and nurtured each other through our separate artistic pursuits. In bits and pieces, and sometimes in large chunks, we filled each other in on our histories—the parts we’d missed preceding our meeting.
We talked a lot. Philosophy and art and politics and gossip. Religion and anthropology and music and food. Education and parenthood and entertainment and books. We drank together and ate together and smoked pot together.
We never made love. And I never went to his house.
We hung out at my place and in the park and at a unique neighborhood restaurant bar called The Rudyard Kipling. The Rud, as some of us came to call it, was big on live art. There were poetry readings and open mics, dramatic presentations and an eclectic array of musical bands—jazz, world, rock, folk, country, pop, blues. I became one of the regulars as did R___.
The leader of a local world-music band, a small, very popular ensemble called Serpent Wisdom, was a friend of R___’s from high school. R____ respected the man’s art immensely and called him the greatest songwriter in Louisville at that time. He appreciated my songwriting with similar regard. It was a shining, singular moment for him, the night he introduced me to J___--two of his most favorite friends, who happened to be his two favorite songwriters in the world.
It was a shining singular moment for me and J____ as well. Of course we fell in love. Of course we performed music together.
Of course R____ was in love with me. The attraction between us was undeniable from the first moment we met but, for me, there was never a sexual charge. We were strongly telepathic with each other—eventually I only had to think of him or speak his name aloud and he would come to me or call within hours. We spoke in a kind of shorthand—so much was understood without verbalization. I thought of him as the male version of the entity that I represented in female form.
I loved him and cherished him and trusted him as I had no one else, before or since. My relationship with J___ was exciting, fulfilling and frustrating. It rocked and rolled and soared and sank for five and half years. In the end, it was one of several reasons I left the Midwest for California. After a couple of years, R___ followed me.
He stayed at my place in Oakland for a few weeks on arrival. That was a rough patch for our friendship but we survived it. In part due to the geography and layout of the SF Bay Area, we didn’t hang out together as much as we had in Louisville. By the time he arrived, I had a circle of friends and acquaintances; he met some of them but soon began forming his own, distinct social circle.
After a couple of years—and it’s hard to remember exactly how it happened—we began to play sexually with each other. Looking back, it’s easy to see why it didn’t last long, why it couldn’t last long. So much volatile history behind us. R____ had suffered unrequited affection all those volatile years I spent with J_____. And F_____ had entered the scene to become R____’s lover…only to break his heart and mine by getting involved with J____ while still R____’s “girlfriend.”
During a break in my relationship with J____, F____ and I had a brief affair—which also wounded R____. When I left for CA, R___ and F____ got married. They were only barely divorced when R___ moved to CA.
R___ and I joked that nearly everyone in our Circus had slept with everyone else except for him and me so we had to become lovers to complete the permutation sequencing. But it was a sad, bitter joke.
After the sex, we remained friends but just as the relationship had changed after the relocation to CA, after the transition from sexual lovers to post-sex friends the character of the friendship changed again. There was an underlying tension that I could not define precisely.
My matriculation in a Bachelor’s completion program and then two Masters programs triggered a series of intense, difficult conversations between us. He was jealous. He suffered feelings of inferiority and competitiveness.
He was experimenting on an increasingly regular basis with a variety of up-tempo recreational drugs by then. We had a couple of intense, difficult conversations about what appeared to me to be an approaching substance abuse situation.
Just before I left Louisville, we had begun to shape a Vow between us. We were trying to articulate the affection and devotion that we felt for each other, to formalize our tacit promise through acknowledgment and naming. We continued crafting our Vow in CA. By the time the intense, difficult conversations began, the crafting was still in process but we had agreed that we were committed to being honest mirrors to each other and lending loving encouragement to each other in our individual journeys toward personal “actualization.”
In the year before I began my nomadic sojourning, R___ and I had very little contact, very few conversations. I would call him after several weeks without contact for short conversations in which “uh-humph,” “yeah,” “oh,” and “bye” were the sum of his contributions. I was annoyed, angry, frustrated and concerned. He was less and less communicative with me, earning less and less and finally no money, sleeping less and less and becoming more and more antagonistic and disgruntled with people he didn’t know like politicians, and a changing assortment of group entities like “white people” or “men” or “rich people” or “the government.”
By the time I hit the road, he never called me and I rarely called him. He never returned phone calls. There was no more email. I made one more direct appeal during a stopover in SF: I met him on a street corner and we walked and talked and I offered my plea for a revival of inspired engagement between us. His response was noncommittal.
I returned to the road. After a year, I wrote him a goodbye letter from Colorado. And I have never heard from him since. I have heard of him through mutual friends—varying reports as to the measure of his wholeness.
R___ is/was my oldest friend. I felt a warm security when our eyes would meet across a room crowded with people neither of us knew well. Like we were lone flames in a room of shadows.
And there was a liveliness with us, like the whole-body refreshment I feel standing in high wind. We went places together—intellectually especially—that were impossible to even imagine with most other people. We created a space where we could both breathe freely and deeply, inhaling and exhaling. Our friendship enlivened me.
- “trust,” or, more accurately, the process of its development, is instructive. It is an essential study in the evolution of consciousness. A vital exercise.
- “hope” is a tricky thing. Positive regard tips easily and unexpectedly into noble, rationalized denial of reality.
- “love” is the ineffable Answer, the everlasting inspiration and yearning in everything we do. We burn and collapse and reach and dream of Love, for Love, in Love…
- “lessons”…so often, it’s hard to say, for sure, for eternity, what the Lesson is. In anything. I miss R___ less and less. I do not worry about him or feel sad when I think of him. I remember the rich times with him. Here and there I recognize a seed from that time in full fruition in my life today. I bless the time. And us. And, sometimes, him.