For Marilyn

Written for her 50th birthday – a few years ago.

Laughter, Fine Food, and Death

Quick, write a story for my best friend about our times together. Sure. All I can see is a collage of fun times. There we are laughing hysterically. There we are having a fine meal. All the images run together in the pressure of having to choose just one.

Why are we always laughing? Well, there was your story of fleeing across state lines with …well, that won’t be so funny when your family reads this. And we laughed the hardest when Alex sparked the discussion of ethics in choosing body parts at a funeral. Are all our good times dealing with death? Some of our worst times were. But there was that sunny day in the Cambria cemetery. Wait, wait, there was a time when no corpses were involved. Remember in the ID store when Alex tried out the andirons? It was so funny, but there’s no story to tell.

Okay, try to find the best story in our other treasured moments. Countless meals at Cilantro’s with no mariachis and no cilantro. Meals on the island at Phil’s Fish Market. Oh, but the salmon barbecue on your deck with everyone beats that. Of course, nothing can top the New Year’s Eve feasts of steamed crab, bernaise sauce, spinach salad, fresh bread, and one time, flan. That is life at its best. Yes, we do meals almost as well as we do death. Of course, Judy pretty well tied those two together. Damn.

Hey, we’ve had lots of great times not eating or talking about dead people. I know I can find a story there. One of the best times of my life was the full week we spent at Cayucos last March. The story there was day after day after day talking, laughing, eating (can’t get away from it), writing, watching four or five movies, reading, laughing, watching sunsets and zodiac light, and napping. Just over and over and over. There was the Day of Nine Dogs and the Day of the Otter. You introduced me to “Whose Line is It Anyway?” – always good for a laugh. This isn’t a story with a lot of laughs in the telling, but it was a fine time. It gave me the strength to deal with my father’s decline and death. Oh.

As long as I’ve drifted back to death, I might as well mention Linda. You cared for her for all of us, to your own detriment. But that’s not my story. I wasn’t there. That’s my story: I wasn’t there. But I don’t want to tell that. How about our Christmas preparation gatherings at Linda’s. The marathon cookie baking sessions. The long table in the living room, covered in flour – the table and us. It culminated in the body parts sculpted in cookie dough – some with chocolate sprinkles. These are not the same body parts we discussed in Cayucos. These were not from corpses. But it was hard to tell after they baked. They couldn’t take the heat.
And the annual Christmas party at Linda’s where each of us tried so hard not to arrive before the other and tended to leave as soon as was acceptable. We had already been to the top with the cookie festivities.

And how about the big gathering where we sat in her backyard – you have a photo of us. We discussed why a certain fun person stayed with his unpleasant wife. However, later, he became unpleasant, so maybe it turned out okay. I never did get my copy of that photo.

And could you ever forget our art lessons with Pearl? Either at Linda’s or the one at Elk Horn Slough one wintry day. Hey, maybe we can forget the art, but the gatherings were always good for a laugh.

Or the collage making at my place near the slough where the highlight for me was seeing the magnitude of your revulsion at cutting up a National Geographic magazine. Such reverence.
Of course our friendship is not just about laughs. We’ve had some long, deep discussions over the years. You have shared your feelings during these difficult last few months. I hurt for you and want to help, but all I know how to do is listen. And I bless you for continuing to share this with me. It has meant the world to me and helped me through some tough times. These serious heartfelt talks keep me alive. Your encouragement is essential to me. When I told you about the wheelchair book I would write, you were totally supportive. And you haven’t mentioned once my failure to do it. Of course there are serious subjects that cross the line into comedy. The things we cry about (some men come to mind here) often make us laugh ourselves silly.

So where does that leave us in stories? Some of our best stories are in our dreams and plans. And they are an ongoing story. There’s still the RV trip – I haven’t given up on that. And our beach house. I have a vague picture of what the house would be. And a clear picture of what our private cemetery looks like. Then there’s our big Victorian house so we can all live together. And our cottages and community center on acreage somewhere between Arroyo Grande and the Canadian border. The only thing I’m sure of for my future is that I want you and Alex in it. That’s all I need to be sure of. I have complete faith that the sharing and laughter and love will always be our story.