We Know the Sweet but for the Bitter

In the last 2 days two of my friends have welcomed life. One has left it. Two had babies and are now lost in newness and happy visions of journeys unknown. There is love and laughter. One had the loneliness of a hospital bed, the coldness of knowing, and the warm hand of his mother.

It is circular. I know that. Life and death. There is something oddly comforting about tasting the ying and the yang in one bite. It justifies nothing. It is and was and will be. It is life. It is death.

I am happy for my friends. Extremely. Yet for a moment I want to be sad. They will win in the end. I will be in their corner with their joy, but tonight there are shadows to stand in and sips of bourbon needed to burn the memories left between the sweetness of its taste and the sourness of my stomach.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen him much over the years. He was a friend from high school. He had been a senior when I was a freshman. Our paths first crossed on stage, but as anyone that has known theater will tell you, the good drama was saved for the wings and the run that followed.

I haven’t seen him much, but when I did I would hug him and be glad to call him friend. He had demons and tumors and he fought them beneath a surface of gentle smiles. He loved life and it broke his heart. Shakespeare couldn’t have penned it better.

I remember twenty years ago sitting in a dark theater watching rehearsal. It could have been any day, any play, but unlike scenes ignored for whispers and stories of things now forgotten, I was watching with anticipation. It was a scene that I would go out of my way to watch every day. The theater would be quiet. Seats would be filled in random and scattered pattern with cast and crew. Everyone would stop and watch. Everyone would listen.

My friend, our friend, played a jester in that musical. The role was silly and slapstick and all things jester-like, but for one scene. It was a song and dance, a soft-shoe in spotlight, one man, a boy really, in a funny hat and a melody of melancholy. I watched it every day. We all did.

When I close my eyes that is what waits for me. His feet kicking out with bells on his toes, his elbows swaying back and forth like a boat rocking on a sea of song. I see the funny hat and darkness grown darker by neglect of spotlight, and I see his face. There is a song that I can’t quite hear, but I know it is there. I can feel myself in that old theater. It is quiet and it is dark. There is a stage and the slow grace of a boy dancing in soft light; he smiles when he sings, and I can’t help but think that his show is for me.

Goodbye, Steve.

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