Friday, January 22, 2016

The Meaning of Strife

The last thing that I can do for one of my dearest friends is memorialize him at a shindig that he'd be delighted to attend. I am pouring myself into this because when it's over all that's left is missing him. I am making a slideshow with music and pictures of Richard. I comb through a lifetime of his and my own snapshots. An envelope of photos is pulled from a high closet in his cottage. These are from the early 70s, before he'd moved to L.A. I've haven't seen them before. One of our strong bonds is that we've both had excruciating struggles with weight. I know he'd lost a ton but until seeing these pictures, I'd never realized how really fat he'd been. As I cull through my own albums searching for pictures of Richard, I find many fat pictures of myself and reject them. Even if they're great of Richard. I accept that fatness or thinness has no bearing on one's strength of character. I remember that when I was very fat people loved me and I had many wonderful experiences. So, is it hypocritical to jettison these pictures and virtually obliterate a long part of my life?

The thing is, I can't bear to see my fat self, and I presume, Richard, by virtue of having tucked away those photos, felt the same. I haven't actually shredded mine but I think about it. Even my wedding pictures and pictures of me with the kids when they were tiny are hard to look at. As a very fat person, I was well dressed and groomed. I even had dresses custom made from vintage fabric that I collected. I bought department store cosmetics while the thinner me is fine with drugstore. I was accomplished and laid the foundations for lifelong relationships. Maybe the collective consciousness has evolved, but before I lost 150 lbs. it was often unbearable simply to be a fat person out in the world. I felt constant pressure to prove my quality. Even in the briefest or most insubstantial encounter obligated me to assert that I wasn't stupid, or indolent or deeply flawed to be walking around in such a big body. The worst was that my kids were teased because their mom was so fat.

They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Having lived as an extremely fat person has indeed made me more resilient and socially nimble. But I still don't like being reminded what it was like to navigate in a very fat body. Seeing evidence that Richard too survived this, sort of complements his outre sense of humor and self assuredness. Still as mistress of the slideshow, there will be no fat pictures of either of us. Even if, as Richard would say, Krakatoa is erupting in the background.

The pictures I've chosen to include show what I consider the quintessential Richard, buoyant, arms open wide, huge grin and a naughty twinkle in his eye. And this is pretty much how he was. Though few months ago he called me, abnormally down in the dumps. As a single, childless man he felt a rush of aloneness and worried about money and aging and health. I just pointed out that he had more close friends than anyone I know. I assured him that no one would let him fall through the cracks. He thanked me a couple times for the pep talk. I simply told him the truth but remembering that it was comforting to him makes me feel a bit less awful about the times I couldn't get him off the phone soon enough or dissed him for arriving at a dinner party with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.

In the sad period following his death I have at least taken my own advice and have sought comfort, reaching out to stalwart friends. Spuds and I stop in Felton for a night with Chris and Bob. I likely can navigate their kitchen better than they can themselves. The house, encircled by redwoods, is redolent with sage and lavender. I cherish the refuge of this place of ancient trees and friendship. Eventually I suppose I'll even adjust to the “no shoes” policy instituted since the installation of a new floor.

The culmination of a week of old friends and old pictures is an interview for a (substitute) teaching job at an adult skill center. The dingy fustiness of a public school campus evokes another flood of memories. I wait and watch the parade of students registering for classes. Held in classrooms I imagine that do not have chalkboards and erasers and pull down maps. I taught for more than ten years but have been out of the classroom for more than twenty. There is a structured oral interview which serves only to reinforce what a relic I am. Still, I am hoping for a chance. The satisfaction of teaching will be a balm for the empty nest itchiness that still afflicts me.

I cannot imagine anyone, after the sudden death of a peer, not thinking, “Jeeze it could have been me.” So I'll try to find a couple hours of work that matters. Thank you God for the DVR. There will be other memorials to plan and someone's got to plan mine so I should be a better friend to the ones who are left. I'll invite them all to come and watch TV.

No comments: