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August 14, 2013

The sounds of silence

A little while back, I was telling you about a friend of mine who used to write novels, and I said something about the last time we spoke, and I think I made a reference to his last book, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I replayed the conversation in my head, I started to think that it may have sounded like my friend was dead.

It hadn’t struck me to make it clear until afterward, but that part of the story wasn’t really important at the time, so I’m afraid it might have come across like an obituary, and that wasn’t the case at all. It is kind of ironic that it would come across that way because the episode was initiated by another friend who had died. I’ll try to tell you about her later, but for the story at hand, it was only her passing that was significant. Our little community was devastated, but Waldo (not his real name, nor his pen name) wasn’t really part of our gang, although he knew Debra (not her real name, either). I’m not sure why I thought of him under the circumstances, but I realized I hadn’t heard from him in quite a while.

There was a long period of time when we’d talk daily. He had a totally professional attitude about his writing. He’d get up at 6 every morning and write until 11 or noon. If he got on a jag, he’d keep at it for however long the spirit was with him. Sometimes I’d stop by his place at lunchtime, and he’d be pounding away. I’d pour a shot of bourbon and sip at it until he noticed me.

Once he was done with the day’s work, we’d hang out and talk about nothing important. I’d be getting trashed on his bourbon, and he’d swing his feet around and ask me about my morning. I was a bit of a ne’er-do-well back in those days, so I’d always have a good story or two, and we’d bust a gut over my misadventures. Meanwhile, he’d be working out with free weights and mixing up protein shakes. You’d never have pegged him for a health nut, but that was his shameful secret. He wasn’t even much of a drinker. I think he kept the bar stocked for company.

I always suspected he was using my stories in his books, but I never bothered to read any of them. I’m not much of a reader, you know? It would be like looking at your buddy’s topographical maps because he’s a surveyor or something. I had better things to do than read a bunch of nonsense, and he was always, like, saying it wasn’t important, just something he did for money.

Anyway, I realized I hadn’t heard from him in a while when Debra passed, so I called him and left a message. He showed up at her memorial service, but he didn’t say anything. He got there late.

It was weird. I felt like asking how he was, but his face told me everything I needed to know. There was a strange serenity there, and I felt like if I asked a question, I’d be messing with it, so we stood together quietly, and afterward, he kind of disappeared. I saw him standing with some other people, but I’m sure he wasn’t speaking to them either. I watched him observing the details; his eyes seemed to wander over the fabrics with which our friends had chosen to cover their nakedness, and he took darting glances into the eyes and across the faces of those who stood talking.

Maybe I’m fooling myself to believe it, but I perceived a devastating truth in his facade that day, as we looked into one another’s eyes. It was as if he was telling me, with absolute clarity, that he was done with words; not only would he not speak them or write them, he wouldn’t even hear them anymore. Any effort to communicate a thought or a story, verbally or in writing, was going to reach him like so much idiotic moaning. It was only by way of physical presence that we’d ever again be able to communicate our various truths.

Worse (or more accurately, more troubling, I suppose), I “felt” the experience that had led him to resign his verbal capacity, like a half-remembered nightmare, and I had no doubt he would never speak again.