Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Waking Up

I woke up from a long dream this morning about a weekend getaway with an old friend of mine named Erik. Erik and I go as far back as I go. We moved so much when I was a kid that it wasn't until I was a teenager that I felt I could exert enough control over my life to maintain friendships past the next move.

I met Erik the last month that I was in high school in Indiana. We went out with my best friend at the time (and now another one of my oldest friends) and Erik's best friend at the time. Erik and Kurt were in love with my friend Susan. They sang Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" to her and wrote her long, tortured letters, and deep down accepted that she was not going to choose either of them anytime soon, but I think also deep down believed that ultimately she would fall in love with one of them. She didn't. But their crushes, especially Erik's, persisted for a long, long time.

That night we first met there was a moment when he and I were talking in the backseat, while for some reason, Susan and Kurt were outside somewhere. In the lamplight strained by a dirty windshield, and the shadows of the bucket seats in front of us, Erik and I argued about whether or not there was a god, and as he talked, he twisted a wire coat hanger that had been discarded on the floor. At the end of the evening he handed it to me. "Modern art," he said.

His crush on Susan was an often revisited topic in our early letters, which began when I'd moved back to California. I've had other of Susan's suitors begin correspondence with me but there was no mistaking that those were intended specifically to woo her. Erik and I, however -- despite the early topic -- started as and continued to be correspondents writing to each other --- at first out of curiosity, but quickly in recognition of our own connection.

Throughout our junior and senior years of high school we wrote each other long letters at least once a week. We'd fill pages with our "Very Deep" angsty-adolescent thoughts about life and writing, god and love, drugs and music, friends and enemies --- and flirt and rant and prattle. Erik typically wrote his letters to a soundtrack of Lou Reed, Bob Dylan or David Bowie. I wrote mine to Depeche Mode or Howard Jones. (Though, ultimately, his musical taste rubbed off on me, and not vice versa.) On days when my intuition told me a letter would be arriving, I would skip my 5th period class to go home to get the mail. I was always right.

Over the years we each fell in love with the other a few times, usually whenever the other was in love with someone else. We only messed around once (though we'd written and talked about it ad nauseum before then), and once we did it was clear it wouldn't happen again. But what we lacked in physical chemistry, we've always had in emotional and intellectual chemistry. I love him fully and easily and enough that my husband D. is sometimes uneasily aware of Erik as different than any of my other male friends, though he rightly perceives no threat. I don't know how Erik's wife feels about me, but it's clear from the times we've spoken on the phone that she does not consider me her friend. She's always friendly, but the connection is unmistakably Erik's and mine, not one between our families.

Erik's and my friendship filled with long silences during my prior marriage. My ex was too jealous to make room for an Erik in my life. And not only that, I wasn't willing to be as honest as I would have needed to be to maintain my connection with Erik while I was with B. That kind of honesty would have prevented the marriage, and certainly have broken it up earlier. Early on, Erik didn't like B. -- didn't like the sound of him, I should clarify, since Erik never met him. (B. had avoided his one opportunity to meet Erik.) It's obvious, in retrospect, what kind of omen that should have been.

Well into my marriage to B. I remember having seen Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" and sinking into a deep melancholy for days afterwards which I finally recognized was an artifact of missing Erik. I wrote a pitiful letter, worried we'd lost each other. He wrote back with calm reassurances. And even though it was a while yet before we fully reconnected, afterwards I felt his friendship, holding me, again more of the time.

It was towards the end of that marriage that Erik and I really found each other again. I was on the other end of the phone while he -- in Germany, now -- battled depression and alcoholism. He was on the other end of the phone while I grappled with the end of my marriage. I was so grateful to have been back, a larger part of his life again, when he met his wife. I remember the email well, so innocuous, and yet so full of "the signs." It took all I could do not to send back congratulations, to tell him he'd met "the one" (he didn't know it yet).

Erik wrote me a poem for my first wedding about Saturn's moon, Phoebe. I remember when it came in the mail, how I sat on the bed and read it over and over, crying. Again, in retrospect, the loneliness that poem engendered in me as I contemplated marriage should have been a sign. It was beautiful. And it was full of love for me, of knowledge of me --- and I knew my soon to be husband would never have understood or appreciated it. It's just that I thought some choices were just the ones life asked of us. And maybe they are. It's likely I would not have met D. if not for B. and I really wouldn't change my life, or who I am now, to spare any of the pain of the past.

In any case, something about waking up from that dream about Erik this morning made me want to go read the poetry I wrote when B. and I finally separated and were in the process of divorce. I stopped writing while I was married to B. And from the very first morning I was on my own, I started again. It poured out of me --- poetry, journals, letters, fiction -- as though I'd uncorked a bottle. But the poems were the surprise. I thought I'd stopped writing poetry in some kind of final way while I was in college.

The Divorce Poems are evidence to the contrary. I have ten or fifteen poems I really like from that time --- and a few more that I may someday try to get to the point that I like them.

I'm not sure why dreaming of Erik --- of a long weekend of being just with him, talking, reading to each other, walking, holding hands -- something we've never had and most likely never will --- why that would reawaken the poet in me this morning. But I've a feeling it has.