Perhaps I was merely the victim of an effective marketing campaign or maybe my young tastebuds lacked discrimination, but in the early stages of our alcoholic career, Kevin and I were quite enthusiastic about Miller Genuine Draft. One year, I saved up box tops and sent away for an inflatable floating island with built-in can holders. We would anchor the island in the middle of the Stanislaus River, lash a cooler to the side, and laze away Central Valley Summers in the paltry plastic shade of the attached inflatable palm tree.
When we moved to Portland in 1992, we relocated our portable resort to Sauvie Island on the banks of the Columbia River, where we would ride the ripples of the giant tankers as they steamed out to the Pacific. The captain would blow the horn in passing, and the beach volley ball game would pause and everyone would wave emphatically - this image is far more amusing if I point out that this was a nudie beach.
The nudie beach at Sauvie Island was particularly sociable - far more so than the clothed beach up river where everyone kept to themselves, even as they inspected each other thoroughly, if not surreptitiously although it was clearly not as sociable as the Boys Beach down river, judging by number of used condoms that littered the trails from the parking lot through the woods. At the nudie beach, everyone shared their lunches, looked after each others well adjusted children, and had a good chat. Direct eye contact was far more common than one might expect and only rarely was there physical evidence of corpulent approval.
One sunny morning, slathered in oil, Kevin vigorously brushed sand from the rubbery shores of MGD Island. FLING - SPLOOSH - PLOP and his wedding ring splashed into the cool depths several meters away. Everyone on the beach joined in the search, but to no avail. Sure, it was only a $100 strap of crappy gold from BEST, but I was nonetheless distraught, being only in the second fragile year of matrimonial devotion and assigning a fair weight of significance to the symbolism of the ceremony.
"You can have one of mine. I have 4 of them that I am no longer using...stop by my house on the way home and I'll give you one."
And that is how we met Bob.
Over the next 20 years, we would share so many wonderful adventures with Bob. We would make each other double over with laughter and collapse in sorrow. We would bring each other grief and comfort, pain and pleasure. We spent dozens of Friday nights drinking beer and shooting pool, scheming and commiserating, telling stories, sharing burdens, celebrating milestones, and just passing time, because togetherness makes the simple passing of time significant and meaningful.
Loving Bob was not always easy. He was (ah, the tell-tale switch to past tense will alert the clever reader that this is no mere exercise in reminiscence) so smart, so wise, so insightful, yet so...frustrating. He was generous to a fault, a phrase that gets bandied about carelessly at times, but is an accurate descriptor in this case. He would give anything and everything to the people he loved, and some of them would take it and more, not realizing that this acceptance of generosity came with unspoken conditions of behaviour and loyalty that often lead to deep painful grudges. Bob's devotion was strong, but so was his sense of betrayal. It was very easy to unknowingly cross a line, and each transgression would get filed away and pulled up for review whenever he was feeling fragile. It caused him unspeakable agony, this constant swirling of love and indignation, and it would bubble up at dark moments and leave you defenseless, apologies inadequate, forgiveness elusive.
So it was, a year ago, buckling under the weight of my own emotional burdens, that I struck out against a particularly nasty tirade recounting past trespasses, some of them 20 years old and inconsequential at best. "Sorry" was not bringing solace, restitution was not possible. Cornered by the fierceness of his savage accusations and pained memories of our shared past, I rallied the only defense available under the circumstances - withdrawal.
I had no intention of culling Bob from my heart nor from my life, but I did not have the emotional strength to take on the burden he was handing to me. And so I took a sabbatical from our friendship, having every intention of returning to reassure him of my unconditional love for him, to work through whatever trauma I had allegedly caused him, to embark on new adventures.
But in the mean time, he went and fucking died.
Our last exchanges were both heated and cold, punctuated with exclamation marks and dangling sentences...my final word to him so laden with strangled emotion, that I couldn't even type the 'o'...could only reply with a lower case 'k'.
Now, I am forever burdened with regret. My own memory is generally and fortunately biased against negativity such that I typically only recall the good times and any unpleasantness that may have existed at the time merely provides gauzy filter, softening the highlights but never supplanting them. However, for the moment, every recollection of Bob, every torrent of joy, hilarity, and camaraderie funnels down to the inevitable drip drop drip of lingering anger and sorrow. Unresolved. Unresolvable.
I am sorry. I love you so much. I hope you know it, that you never doubted it.