Waiting on an old friend.
April 6, 2014 § 9 Comments
He always liked that song.
We knew his death was coming, and before we packed our equipment at the Mickee Faust Club that evening, Craig played the phone message from Larry’s partner Bob. “Larry left at nine.”
Before friends and family gathered to spread his ashes and remember him, there were a few earthly things to take care of, like the little matter of his chock-a-block house.
As Larry would have said with a wave of one hand, “Oh, Lord!”
So, for the last few weeks whenever Craig and I made music in the Reeder garage, Craig has been to my left, and Larry to my right, resting quiet in a cardboard box in the company of his five favorite dogs in a box of their own.
Larry was always a part of our music. Almost any gig Hot Tamale played, sometime during the night we’d look out at the room and Larry would be there. He never stayed long—we can’t say for sure that he liked our music, but he liked us. And we liked him.
Larry was a gentle gay man who, on his last day of work for the state, showed up in his mother’s hat and a dress to match.
He enjoyed being outrageous, but his outrageousness was always affable, not confrontational.
Larry was as local and as rooted as a live oak and he had a green thumb that went all the way up his elbow. Plants climbed his porch railings just to get closer to him.
When he talked, the man rambled—oh how he could ramble. Even he sometimes lost his train of thought in midsentence. Well, no matter.
My husband, Ray, would often stop by his home in Frenchtown to fix something or just talk, and Larry never sent him home empty handed. Larry was an endless source of brownie mixes, spices and the occasional odd lamp.
When I was young the idea that a friend’s ashes in a cardboard box were what I was bumping into when I took a step backwards would have spooked me.
Death, the first time I heard about it, was the boogie man, but at a certain age it became more ordinary and less scary. That happened in earnest when I began to lose the generation above mine. With each departure I practiced saying goodbye.
Both of my parents died slowly enough that, step by step, I walked them to the door of death, I watched the parting of the mortal body and the force that had animated it.
With Larry, first in the hospital and then in Hospice, I watched it again.
At every stage in life we imagine the next. We practice for it. “Dressing up” and walking around in a parent’s shoes is a way of trying on adulthood. We try on death by sitting at its bedside. Sadly, we see the leaving, but not the arriving.
I don’t know why we don’t know what comes next.
The cynical (they would probably prefer realistic) would say that nothing comes next.
The religious would say that Larry has walked into the kingdom of heaven—they have it in writing—although many of those religious folk would exclude a man who would show up at that door in his mother’s hat and a becoming dress.
All I can say to them is, Larry was perhaps the kindest person I know–and he looked damned good in a dress.
My inner conviction is that Larry, and my parents, and the old guy with the hunting dog in a pen at the back of my yard when I was a kid, and the co-worker at FSU found dead in his apartment of a heart attack–and everyone who has ever lived is riding the same river, going somewhere.
While Larry lay in Hospice we were all waiting for his death. Death had become a necessity and a friend.
In that period between life and death I wrote a song for Larry called “Waiting on an Old Friend.” (Click on the title to hear the song). Craig and I performed it yesterday at Bob’s house for a gathering of Larry’s family and friends.
On our answering machine are a couple of messages from Larry that end with his usual, “Give me a call when you get a chance.”
We will. As soon as we get a chance.