I wrote this after learning that Clay and her daughters were killed on August 30th 2007…those of you who remember Clay, please feel free to post your comments and remembrances here.
Dear Clay ~
Sunday night I had a dream about the old days, so yesterday morning I decided to google our old Alma mater. The second link down was a link to the obituaries of you and your daughters. All of the air was sucked out of the room as I stared in shock at what I saw. I was at my desk at work, and I wanted to get out of there, to run into the woods and sob, but there was no place to go.
I’m sorry for not keeping our friendship alive through the years. The last time I saw you I was in a bad place, and it was awkward. I was so confused and at loose ends. I wish I could have that encounter back again. When we were younger we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but over the last ten years or so, I’ve begun to see things the way you did back then. I saw in your obituary that you had been living in an intentional community called Shannon Farm, and that’s something that interests me very much. If I had been more open minded, more relaxed, and if I had taken your advice, I wouldn’t have let my petty problems and hang-ups get the way of our friendship. A few years ago I tried to find an email address for you on the web but I couldn’t find one, and I gave up. I wish I hadn’t. I wish we could hang out and catch up. We’d have so much to talk about.
You always used to say that you were going to die young, but I told you that you were wrong. That survival trip to Arizona almost got you, but you still took the time to see me before you went to the hospital to get re-hydrated. Even though you are small and thin, you are so determined. How could I have known that you were right? I should have known better. Other than the time you gave yourself alcohol poisoning from drinking too much, I can’t think of a time when you made a mistake. It’s rare for someone to be as intelligent and as wise as you are.
You taught me so much that I’m thankful for. Remember when we used to sit by the fireplace in your parent’s basement and talk until all hours of the night? Or the time that we went to the river with your Mom and Scott and his girlfriend? That was a special night, out alone on the beach by the bonfire with the phosphorescence playing at the shoreline. How is it possible to have that much fun and still get a PG rating? For you, trying to teach me how to be emotionally intimate, it must have been like trying to play tennis with a tree stump. I was so self-involved, so immature. I’ll always be thankful to you for seeing the real me through all of the hogwash I was carrying around in those days.
You were the first person I ever told about seeing the The Void. Thanks for encouraging me to explore and understand my “near life” experiences. I didn’t do it until years later, but I did eventually; and when I did I thought of you. Thanks for challenging me — to read real books, to be myself, to be honest, to express myself. The World needs about a billion more people like you living and working on it, not one less. I’m so sorry that your daughters were taken too. I wish I had gotten to know them. I’m sure they are as fantastic as you are, and that they wood have grown up to be remarkable women.
Early this morning I lit a purple candle for you and your children – purple to symbolize your personal strength and power. I let it burn while I began writing this letter, and as it dimly lit the room I remembered every curve of your face and how your hair, as fine as spider’s web, framed it. I remembered your tiny delicate hands and how you used to chew your thumb when you were nervous, how you stuck out your tongue Charlie-Brown-like when you were concentrating, your pigeon-toed walk, and those extremely expressive looks you used to shoot out at me when you were frustrated, or flirty, or pissed. I can see all ninety pounds of you, wearing a floppy hat, climbing off a ten ton bush-hog all sweaty after a hard day’s work. I’ll never forget these physical things. But what I will now and always really treasure are the things I learned from you and from your example.
The candle kept getting shorter and shorter, until the flame began to sputter and grow smaller. I watched as finally the flame went out and a swirl of smoke went up from the tiny bit of wick that remained. Gone, like your existence in this world, burned up and gone. No matter I haven’t talked to you in twenty years. The pain of your passing is as keen as steel. I miss you very much.