I was worried that he may die before I returned his phone calls and then I refused to reply when he did. He didn’t die, he called three times instead. I let weeks go by as if I didn’t know. I couldn’t listen to the messages he left me either. I pushed them back like they didn’t matter knowing that if he left this world before I found time that I would never forgive myself.
There are so many things I do not forgive myself for. I push them back as demons of, “How could you.” No question. Only accusation.
Maybe I will go to hell.
I was in hell, until I found myself back to see my old friend with apologies, and the pictures I had promised him. Restored. He had given me a framed collage collection of his grandfather’s likeness in black and white, asking, “Can you make me a 5×7 out of this?”
Of course I could.
I took the frame and left to months that would not allow me to return. I thought of him often, wondering if he would meet the ground before the road we put there as paved promise could help me keep mine, “I will be back my friend. I promise.”
“Take your time,” he had said.
If only I had time to take.
There is a movie that reminds me of our story, a book actually. The story is of a man shot down in times of war by Germans. His plane crashes to the earth below with a woman on board. We don’t know what becomes of her until the book is almost finished. I am thinking of her now in a cave, writing about the cold as she lies in the despair of knowing that death will take her even when he keeps his promise. He promised he would come back for her. He would and it would be too late. Death would claim her first.
I had to shake the thought of it from my head as we sat at dinner. This was not, “The English Patient,” but I was still at war with the novelty of comparison. My own friend is very much alive, and the time I took to return to him had us moving backward and forward at once. “You took your last motorcycle ride!” I was thinking of the gift he had given me when I arrived to pick him up. It was a photograph of his motorcycle with him beside. It was a picture taken on the last day of one life. “Tell me what it felt like.” I encouraged, imagining that it must be profound. “Tell me what it felt like to be taking your last ride…”
“I was glad it didn’t kill me.” He was relieved.
“Were you worried that you might crash?”
He nodded, “I am sure I’ve been coming too close for some time. I am having problems with my balance now.”
I laughed, “I am having problems with my balance now and I am only thirty-eight. How old are you again? I wrote in my blog that you are eighty-two.”
He frowned at me, “I am eighty-six Amber. I worry about that blog of yours. I don’t know if I feel comfortable with you writing about me.”
I understood, as so many are concerned. Words are powerful history. “May I not remember you in my own way?” I asked him.
He was surprised, “Well, yes.” He started to agree.
I leaned closer, “I will honor your life in my telling of it. People assume when they hear that I write that the words will not be flattering because the truth rarely is. The truth we hide rarely is. What if I want to write about this?” I said handing him back the photo of him posing with his bike. “What if I want to write about the day you took your last bike ride?”
“I suppose that would be ok.” He said, opening up and letting go to the history that would become these pages you are reading now, “Do you know I was a police officer, as well as a soldier?”
I was so delighted, tickled to have just another day to have time to know a life worth telling. We took the hours to travel back for at least one last ride. “Tell me how it feels to have come so far through life.”
“I wake up each morning willing the day to be there for me.” His eyes were cloudy and mine were full of tears. I pretended they were allergies later because I didn’t want to hurt him with my hurt. I was already hurting to know the ending of his book is coming. I could see him alone in a cave of cats, feeding squirrels and raccoons.
“The days will be there for you my friend,” I reached out to certainty and grasped the gnarled hand of knowing a half past century. My friend is old enough to have a father born at the turn of the 1800’s.
“One last ride.” I said at last, thinking of his Harley, the one he just sold. He sold his car too because it was out of life.
“One last ride,” he agreed. “The day will be there for me. It needs to be.”