Naknek Revisted

Do you remember knocking at my door the day before you left when night was just turning to morning?

My door shook slightly with every tap from your wrinkled fist.  Your voice rasped, abused by years of alcohol, cigarettes, stormy months at sea and sorrow.

“Holly.  Holly.  Holly.”

I pretended not to hear you even though I was sure that you knew I wasn’t sleeping.  I tried everything.  I pulled my blankets and pillow over my head.  I rolled from side to side.  I imagined that you were a hallucination and that I could not hear you.  I pretended it didn’t bother me that there was an old man knocking on my door in that one moment of Alaskan darkness that comes on summer evenings in the far north.

When it became clear that knocking wasn’t going to accomplish anything you turned the knob and pushed inward.  My door was locked, thank goodness, my door was locked.

“Holly.  Holly.  Holly.”

You weren’t going to leave.  I was ignoring you, you had no way into my room, and still you weren’t going to leave.

I pretended you weren’t there for another minute or two, blanket over my head and ears plugged halfheartedly and then I couldn’t take it any longer.  Frustrated, but more sympathetic than I should have been, I went to my door and I opened it.

I blinked in the dim light of the hallway, giving the worst No-really-I-just-woke-up performance I have ever given to date, but you were drunk and the door was finally open, so it didn’t matter that I was acting.  The only important thing was that the darkness from my room was spilling into the light of your hallway and there was a girl there who would listen to you right there, within your reach.

If you had told me any other story it probably wouldn’t have worked, but my dead father shared a disease in common with your dying wife and even though the smell of cigarettes and alcohol and sweat followed you into my room, your sorrow did, too, and sorrow offered me the same oblivion that alcohol offered you.

At a certain point in life all anyone wants anymore is oblivion.

All either of us wanted anymore was oblivion.

You leaned against the wall right inside my door and told me about your wife.  The two of you shared a beautiful, strained love that you valued more than she did.  Her sickness was awful, but it had saved your relationship, because now she needed you to take care of her.  You had felt awful coming up north to work this summer.  In fact, you had almost stayed in your cabin in Washington, but money was tight and in Alaska fish would turn into dollars easily for the next few months.  You had been here for a month and you couldn’t do it anymore.

Rumi walked by and saw an old man and a young woman talking in the dark.  She pursed her lips but didn’t stop to save either of us from the mistake she imagined us making.

I told you a story that was supposed to help.  I was a lonely college student with an ego and I had more experience with death and fear and cancer than most kids my age, so I thought that I knew things.  The story was very metaphorical and poignant and you missed the point.  You heard me preaching death when I was trying to preach hope.

Hope from the hopeless is never hopeful.  That’s something I’ve learned since that night passed.

We walked across the hall into the room near Shane’s and sat down in front of the computer.

Click, click, pick a date.  Click, click, credit card.  Click, click, confirm.  Click, click, print.

And you had it.

Home in your hands, you thanked me and I could see tears underneath the folds of gray skin that blinked over your eyes.

Your pockets were filled with crumpled, creased bills and you wanted me to have them.

I refused twice until the desperation in the way your hands shook and your lips tightened against your teeth was too much for me.  I made $100 for booking you a flight home and listening for an hour.

I went to bed.

Next I knew you were on a plane and I was back to being alone with authority figures who wanted me to make bad decisions, but only if I made them in their company.

You gave me your number, your address, your email, and told me to call, to visit, to stay in contact.

I never did.

I hope you’ve moved past needing oblivion.


Explain Yourself

Honestly, I don’t understand it.  “It” being you and your personality quirk, of course.

I would prefer to have this conversation with you instead of one-sidedly ranting at a blog that I am quite certain you don’t read, but you have a tendency to shut me down and refuse to listen to anything that comes out of your, much less my, mouth.  So the blog gets to hear it instead.

You are a really cool person.  You have a great sense of humor.  You are charismatic and kind and generous and intelligent.  Your interests are unique and you are passionate about them in a fun way and you are, as far as I can tell, a good person.  I  enjoy spending time with you and I know other people do as well.

What I don’t understand is that despite everything that you have going for you, you are an adult child.  You are edging ever closer to the big three-oh, but you may as well be three.  Not in all ways, of course.  You are in what looks like a serious long-term relationship.  You are getting a college degree.  You are involved in your community in a productive way.  I am not calling you a bum.  Your life is fully functional.

What I’m trying to say is that on the outside you seem like an adult, which makes the child I accidentally discovered in you all the more jarring.

Let’s talk about how this started.

We were hanging out and you told me that you were about to make one of the biggest mistakes of your life by asking your girlfriend to marry you.  Those are your words, not mine, and you prefaced that statement with a comment about how the two of you are going through a rough patch right now.

I want to qualify, again, as I have repeatedly tried to do in our actual conversations, that I recognize that you and I don’t know each other really well.  We’ve hung out several times and had fun, meaningless conversations tinged with depth and that is it.  I recognize that.  I also, however, have never seen friendships as stagnant entities, so I naturally figured that we were testing the waters of a new kind of friendship (ie we talk about the serious parts of our lives amidst our goofiness) when you brought up your impending marriage proposal.

I’ve had friendships that have developed that far or further after a day of good conversation, so the fact that we had gotten there after hanging out five or six times was not surprising or strange to me in any way.

But it was to you.  I asked what made you want to propose when your relationship was not going well, if maybe you ought to figure out what the problem was and then propose when things were solid again so no important issues accidentally got glossed over in the excitement of engagement.

You told me I didn’t know you.

I agreed.

I maintained that the question was a valid one, though, especially since I was asking questions, not making judgments.  You painted pictures with words, all of them comedic, witty, so colorful that they barely made sense and extravagantly laced with ad hominem.  My personal favorite was the one wherein you told me that I was like an amateur animal enthusiast who walks into a zoo and tries to tell the lion how to be a lion.

But there was no laughter in anything you said.  You told me I was a shitty person who had no business taking interest in your business, but you refused to say so straightforwardly.  You refused to listen to anything that I had to say in response and blazed boldly forth on the trail of verbal abuse.

After what was probably a half hour of this verbal abuse I asked you if you realized you were being a douchebag.  (I could have chosen my words better, and I apologize for not doing that.)

You said yes.  You smiled.

I left.

I saw you again today after a little over a week.  We had talked on the phone and we had no issues.  It was an energetic conversation and I planned to meet you near your home so I could return something that you had lent me.  I biked over.  I returned your possession.  We chatted for a little bit and you made a crack that was more of a barb about how I had called you a douchebag the last time we had hung out.  Before I could apologize you plowed on through to your next sentence, saying that you’d called yourself a douchebag, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal anyways.

But you looked hurt, even as you continued to fill the air with haphazard sentences that made it impossible for me to say anything.  I managed to ask if we needed to talk about the conversation you had alluded to.  You told me you were doing everything in your conversational power to avoid it, which was odd because it was the only thing you were talking about.

You told me that it wasn’t about me.  You told me that I shouldn’t give unsolicited advice.  You told me that I don’t understand the world.  Again, you told me that I was a shitty person who had no business taking interest in your business.

I want to make amends.  I want to fix whatever is broken, because I really cannot figure out how such a tiny snippet of conversation could possibly be grounds for a shattered friendship.  It won’t happen, though.  I am more than willing to not offer advice or ask questions about your personal life now that I know you don’t like that, water under the bridge.

But you can’t drop it.

This is what I do not understand:  I do not understand why you bring up topics in conversation and then refuse to talk about them.  I do not understand how you can be so childish when you are as mature as you are in other parts of your life.  I do not understand why you lash out so viciously.  I do not understand why you can’t take a couple seconds to listen to someone how is trying to have a conversation with you.  I do not understand why you insist on stepping on broken pieces until they are dust instead of trying to put something that isn’t entirely broken back together while there is still a chance.

Explain yourself.