I hope you don't mind if I venture off the usual topic for something personal, something that I want to share with others. Perhaps, in some ways, it defines me and what I write.
For Max. . . .
A friend of mine passed away. Actually, she was much more than a friend she was someone I cared about in ways that don’t make sense--at least to some people. Her name was Maxine and I called her “Max,” which is what she preferred. I learned about her death last weekend and it has had me in a slump that has been hard to shake. Just when I thought I was coming out of it some little memory would be triggered and my mind would insist: “it just isn’t so.”I met Max 39 years ago last September. I was a Marine Sergeant and she was an Air Force Sergeant. True, I was married at the time, but I was no longer happy in the marriage and I already knew that at some near point in time it would end. It did. A few years later I was alone. Opposites, I had learned, may attract but that doesn’t build a life.
Max and I met at the military’s journalism school, Defense Information School or DINFOS. It is the same school that Hunter Thompson, the Gonzo Journalist, attended. A lot of other famous people received their introduction to journalism at DINFOS, and after graduation we were all “DINFOS trained killers.”Once Max and I got past the awkwardness of the problems facing us we were together as much as possible, and it was never enough. There are a lot of stories I could tell, because the time we had we filled with whatever adventure we could find around Indianapolis, Indiana. Finally, however, graduation came and we were forced to go separate ways, but we made promises to each other. One of the promises was to try and make my marriage work. Ultimately, it failed. It was more my fault than my then wife’s. When it failed I tried to find Max but didn’t because her father, who had become estranged from the entire family, spitefully lied to me about Max. He told me she was dead. Twenty years later, by accident, I ran across her mother and she told me Maxine was alive and where to find her. But by this time all the chances for Max and me to finally be together had become dust in the fields. We could only be friends who had a past. That past, those days we were together, were dreams for us then, and still are. We held hands and walked in misty rains, we sat in corners of coffee houses and whispered to each other, we went to parks and built campfires and sitting together we shared our warmth and the fire’s heat. When I had my third operation on my hand, she typed my assignments so I wasn’t dropped from the school.
Maxine and I were in love. But for simple reasons we never took our love to that intimate level where you can never have another first. That’s probably why, when I think of Max, I remember walks in the rain and sitting by the river with a bottle of Sangria, and putting sticks in the fire while we leaned against each other. One night, in the shadow of a covered bridge, she said, “You talk to the trees. I think that’s a good thing for you.”Yesterday, after mourning her for several days, I had begun to think that I should drop this blog, stop publishing The Pines Review and concentrate my efforts on something else. Maybe I should give more time to my book about Afghanistan in 1980. Then, with shaking hands I began to read her letters and her email letters that she’d written me after I found her again. “You always had the passion,” she said. “I remember you talking to the trees and the birds; you said their answers will always be in the voice of the wind.”
I don’t know about you, the readers of this blog, and the ones you love or have loved, but when I close my eyes I can still feel her hand in mine and our hands wet with autumn’s misty rain. When I am sitting in the grass of a tree row while hunting, or just walking, I can feel her hair brushing me. And, now, when I write, or sketch, I remember her, leaning over my shoulder to watch me write or draw, and her hair tickling my neck and face. “It’s what you are,” she wrote. “It’s what you were meant to do--to write.” I now know I can’t stop writing this blog, The Pines Review, or any of my other work.In her last email letter to me she said, “I hope you are still talking to the trees.”
I am, Max, I am.Rest in peace, my love.