I decided to wear his smartwool socks today.
He left them here years ago. He stopped by my apartment, back in town for a holiday maybe. We ended up in bed together, as we sometimes did when we were both unattached. He was tall and lanky, too skinny really. I was just so happy to be with someone who knew me so well. Who’d known me so long. Who I knew loved me. That familiar touch, crooked smile.
It was the same crooked smile he had back in high school when he used to attempt to caress my upper thigh under my plaid wool uniform skirt under the shiny black cafeteria table. The smile that said that he knew exactly what kind of trouble he was. That was back when I used to babysit him when he thought it was a good idea to take ecstacy during astronomy class. Back when we would sneak kisses by his white Jeep after cross country practice.
But that was kids stuff. We grow up, get busy, and lose touch. Except he and I never lost touch, even if it was only once or twice a year. He visited me at college. He let me and my friends crash at his place in Colorado on a cross country road trip. He’d stop by during family visits back East. I flew out to Utah for a canoe trip.
That canoe trip.
He would lead young, troubled boys on wilderness adventures. That was his job. My job was interning in a newsroom, working on a college campus, delivering pizzas, and taking care of family. I was burnt. I told him to plan a wilderness trip for me. I wanted to be off the grid. So I flew to Utah, and soon we were on a canoe, in the middle of Labyrinth Canyon, just him and me. As we paddled along 45 miles of the winding Green River, he instructed me on the history of invasive plants, and we read aloud from diaries of the explorers who had been there before us. We drank river beers and stripped naked in a mossy canyon alcove. We named birds and spotted imaginary figures in the rock formations, and we tried to remember the constellations.
But I digress. Mostly we’d catch up sitting in a bar over beers, or on my porch over whiskey. He was a constant through so many moves, relationship and family struggles. And through it all he somehow found the perfect career (I wasn’t sure he would), and I somehow found some stability (I wasn’t sure I would).
Because we saw each other so infrequently, those face to face moments were infused. We were able to escape for a brief time to a certain innocence of our past, despite the heaviness of the present. He was an old friend, a grounding, a reset, intimacy, complete inspiration. There was always the sense that we were both looking out onto the same exciting world, and he made me want to live a little bit harder. I had to keep up with the desert rat, mountain man, shredder of the slopes.
I almost texted him the week before he died. It sounds trite, I know. It sounds like what you say when someone dies suddenly, tragically. But it’s true. I almost texted him reminding him that he’s a dirty hipster. But I got distracted and never did. Those things are funny, in hindsight. Life is funny, and strange, and sometimes so magical and then again so completely devastating.
This morning it was cold, so I put on these smartwool socks.