Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Elusive Keyser Soze

It's been about ten days or so since Michael and I met for dinner. And as expected, it was a heartwarming event.

We met at the ferry at the old World Trade Center site (now called World Financial), and I must say, the sight of him shocked me. The pictures I have of him show a small blonde boy, yet on Aug. 18th, he was anything but. I almost looked right past him, in fact, for now he's a big, burly, tatooed, salt-and-pepper-haired construction guy, a man in every sense of the word, carrying massive responsibilities on big shoulders buttressed by thick skin.

He's in charge of one of those new towers at Ground Zero, leading 800 men and 14 supervisors hundreds of feet skyward in a project with staggering safety issues, pinpoint details and pure unadulterated weight.

But I wasn't thinking of that when I saw him, of course. I only saw my childhood best friend, and in that moment, my heart nearly stopped. For a long time, we just sat on the waterfront and held hands, trying in vain to catch up on over 35 years of separation, but mostly just looking at each other for hints of our childhood faces and souls.

Our faces have changed, of course, but within a relatively short amount of time, I was most definitely in the presence of Michael again, as it didn't take long for him to get me laughing.

Over the course of the evening (lasting nearly seven hours), there were countless moments where I was laughing so hard that my face actually ached, just as it did when I was a kid. All the mischief in Michael the boy was there and more in Mike the man, and like the Grinch who's suddenly so touched by the Whos in Whoville on Christmas morning, I felt my heart grow bigger and bigger inside my chest with each passing hour.

There was constant hugging and kissing and reminiscing and picture-reviewing, and before I knew it, nearly all the restaurant patrons were gone except for us, and it was time to leave.

Since then, I've emailed him a couple of times, suggesting get-togethers, as we had talked about various things to do in the future, but it's been almost a week now since my last email, and I haven't heard back. For some reason, I'm not surprised by this, as I know just how much tragedy and disappoitment Michael has suffered in his life, and that the two places he finds the most comfort are at his job and in the company of his daughter. Something tells me he might not want to venture beyond that, and instead leave our child friendship in the past, as a true and perfect thing, a sacred memory not to be toyed with.

So I'm not sure if we'll ever actually see one another again, but one thing I do know is this:

After such a difficult four years of my own, it's been wonderful to discover that such feelings of joy and love are in me, and that I still have so much love to give. I've learned that I haven't turned to stone after all, and far from being bitter, I've actually been able to transcend difficult days of physical pain, a discovery that somewhat shocks me. Love does indeed heal, and I want more of it in my life.

My own wounds have made me fearful of love, too, but when it comes to Michael, my love borders on something truly unique--even divine--and that has made love feel safe to me in a way it perhaps never has before. So whether or not I see him again isn't important, I suppose, although I hope I do.

I thought about him for a long while today, and couldn't help but think of Kevin Spacey in "The Usual Suspects." Towards the end of the film, his character, Verbal Kint, talks about the elusiveness of Keyser Soze, illustrating it with a puff of air into his fingertips, saying, "And like that (pouf)...he's gone."

Michael swept in like an angel of mercy, distracting me so completely from pain and bouts of withdrawal during some crucial weeks. I thought little of myself or my suffering during that whole time, feeling instead the bittersweet pain of grueling anticipation. I also saw the arc of life, my own life and his, and often found myself weeping, not out of sadness, but because of being moved by life itself, and by the bond we shared as children.

But he seems to have vanished just as swiftly, leaving me to feel like I'd been hit by lightning, or perhaps had a shock treatment, and now I'm not quite sure where I am. Luckily, I took a few quick photos that night, so proof does exist that it really did happen. But like Verbal Kint, I'm blowing a puff of air into my own fingertips, marvelling at his sudden elusiveness.

He's where he belongs, though, up in the clouds on the gazillionth floor. I can see his building clearly from across the river here, and I smile when I look at it. He brought love back into my life, and for this, I will forever be grateful to him. I only want him to be happy and healthy, whether we're in one another's life or not.

All this said, I do know that I will see him again one day, if not in this life, then maybe the next. I know him and he knows me in ways most human beings never get to experience. And the power of this reunion restores my faith in a power much greater than myself.

How could I be anything but grateful?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Small, Still Moments

Michael had to change our dinner until tonight, Monday, so I've had to wait THREE MORE DAYS for this meeting.

He's taken me by surprise in so many ways, not the least of which has been his honesty in his emails. Big shot that I am in my oh-so-brave art, writing and music, when it comes to those small, still moments of the heart, I'm often left speechless, dumbstruck, a deer in halogen headlights frozen stiff, waiting to get whacked by certain disaster.

But Michael is open about his fears in meeting me all these years later, fearing that I'll somehow be disappointed, fearing that he'll, too, be dumbstruck. Workaholic that he is, he says he doesn't get out much and that at times, he fears he's a become something of a recluse.

This is amusing, considering his emotional directness and the job he has. In one of his first emails, he told me two very moving things: one, that his 19-year-old son passed away suddenly in 2001; and two, that he's a construction leader at Ground Zero. (I would learn later just how big a job he has.)

The juxtaposition of these two statements made me weep--to think that he had suffered such a loss, yet here he was rebuilding on the grounds of such a staggering tragedy.

In a way, it doesn't surprise me that he says he keeps to himself outside of work. When we were kids, Michael was pure mischief and pure hilarity. I can actually remember being in awe of his sense of humor, wondering how anyone could be that funny.

Yet with the onset of puberty, things began to change. We began to separate, retreating into our respective male and female camps. In eigth grade, my girlfriends were all important to me, and I can remember a day where I walked passed Michael and his friends on my way to somewhere far more important--preening teenager that I was--and I can remember the sad, baffled look in his eye. As girls grow so quickly at that age, we can often look a lot older (and a lot more secure) than we really are, and can become strangers, visually, to those who knew us as children.

I got tall fast, and Michael didn't. And as the girls were so violent in my old neighborhood, it was an imperative for me to get with the right crowd, lest I get physically attacked, which could happen to anyone at any time for no reason at all.

Things began to get dark, and quickly, and not longer after, we both moved. I don't even remember saying goodbye.

Over the years, I would hear about him through the grapevine (our moms kept in sporadic touch)--that he'd gotten married, that he'd had kids, that his dad had died--and I could feel haunted by the thought of him, a feeling that I would just cast aside as there was nothing to be done with it.

But now here he is again. My excitment is so overwhelming that I feel almost numb, strangely enough.

Just three more hours to go...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Fine Game of War

I haven't written much here since my last entry, most likely because I feel like my brain has exploded. While on vacation in mid-July, I received an email, via my web site, from my best friend from childhood, Michael, and I haven't been the same since. We're going to meet for dinner this Friday in what I venture to say will be the most anticipated childhood reunion as any that have ever existed since the beginning of time.

I'm not overstating things when I say that, either. Michael and I (who haven't seen each other in well over 35 years) have been corresponding in email for a couple of weeks now, and he feels the same. The power of this re-established connection has thrown us both for a big, fat loop that neither of us quite understands.

Being the writer I am, I'm constantly a spy in the house of life, looking for clues as to what everything is all about--what things mean, why they happen, who I am, who you are, why we're here, etc. But as I'm at a loss as to what's at the heart of this very old friendship, I'm realizing that perhaps some events in life are simply sudden and magic, just like when they're sudden and tragic. The latter I have an easier time accepting as just a part of life, but the former, while indeed happy, perhaps fills me with an even stranger and deeper dread for reasons that are unclear.

All I know is that this upcoming dinner on Friday will take a certain amount of courage, as I'll be stepping back in time, revisiting the people Michael and I were as innocent children, yet planting something very, very new which doesn't have much precedent in the annals of love stories.

And a love story it is indeed, although of a more curious sort--one that seems beyond romance, venturing into truly unchartered territory. Could it be that Michael and I imprinted on each other as infants and children? Does that explain the power of this reunion? Or did we know each other in some other life, hence this grueling anticipation?

The only thing I now for sure is that Michael and I loved each other as kids, long before we had words to convey such emotions. Michael is five months older than me, and we were introduced in diapers, playing together daily until age 11 or so, shortly after which we both moved out of Newark to different cities. We were fairly inseparable--even our bedroom windows faced each other across the narrow alley that separated our houses--and it was a given that we were always on the same side.

If the game was stickball in the street, we were on the same team; if it was cops and robbers, we were both either the good guys or bad; if it was a fine game of war, we served in the same army unit. As an only child back then, I can see in retrospect how much comfort this gave me--to have this ally who knew me so well, and loved me simply because I was, well, myself. We didn't have to qualify for one another's attention or affection. It was there and it was rock solid, completely independent of achievements or appearances. We knew how to "be" together, and how lovely, how thrilling it would be, to have him back in my life again.

Much has happened to us both in our respective lifetimes. It's hard to know if our life experiences will have no bearing at all on our being together again, or if we've each morphed into people we'll no longer recognize.

One thing is certain: Dinner is on Friday, and it can't come quickly enough.