Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My Best Friends' Weddings

My father calls us cradlemates. Our mothers were friends as we grew, first inside and then out. His mother felt ill watching Reagan's inauguration, but it turned out to be him, about to be born. David. Beloved. I myself emerged the day before Reagan was shot; in the days before everyday luxuries were common in hospital rooms, my mother had to special-order a television on which to watch the drama unfold while holding me on my first day of life. Evelyn. Hazelnut.

And now he's married, wed one meltingly hot day in June, next to a stream on his aunt's farm, to his Anne, surrounded by his sister and brother and cousins and friends and family, by a freshly and suspiciously ordained youth who barely looked old enough to drive a car, let alone preside over a wedding. But he did, and it was legal, and binding, and beastly hot, so we hurried back up the hill to the tent, where the food was lovely, of course, and the wine was flowing, and we even danced a little dripping sweat all the way.

David is the closest thing to family I had in Baltimore after my grandparents died. He and I spent holidays and weekends together, play-fighting, play-flirting, reading comic books and watching movies, sneaking treats off the tables and annoying our fathers playing poker. Later we would sprawl around the living room, he strumming on the guitar that seemed to be an extension of his hands, me playing with his sister's hair or scratching the ear of whatever dog had thumped down next to me. We built our wit, riffing off of each other's jokes, trading good-natured jabs or teasing the other kids around. Even later we played off of each other in public, for real, on stage in school plays. I was usually the straight man: Juliet's Nurse to his Mercutio; the Prince of Aragon; a dour stagehand (for real and for show); while he got the leads, the goofball parts, the ones that required lots of lines and lots of energy and lots of hard dramatic work.

And we danced. He was my first real partner (cootie-infested elementary-school boys in my early early ballroom classes notwithstanding), and together we learned the silky footwork of East Coast Swing: the steps, the twirls, the subtle hand cues and leads. We went to clubs and dances in the Scottish Rite Temple and Tall Cedars Hall. He was fluid on the floor, as if he had bones of silicone as supple as the flesh around them. I was more energetic, always hoping for another spin, another tricky step, another lift. I still do.

Then we went to college, and that was sort of it, except at holidays. But it wasn't the same. We were so wrapped up in our lives there--as we should have been, of course--and suddenly our stories about this guy and that time we were all locked out and what that crackpot prof said and so on didn't work. We had all this history, but for once I felt like it didn't matter.
But I think I equalized a little, after the total-immersion first semester, when everything was new, and once I settled in it was easier to come home and be home. David came home and stayed there, pushing through a thicket of depression. I can have no conception of what that was like, and not for the first time, I felt like I stood on the outside of his life.

One of our friends committed suicide. I don't have the e-mail that Dave wrote me after the funeral that I didn't attend, but I still have one he wrote a few years later, when I was in Japan. It's wise and warm and shot through with not only his stiletto wit and cleverness, but, I fancy, a tacit understanding of all we were together. I always thought he was much cooler and more advanced than I was, and that could make me feel like a clumsy, silly child, but to read his chatty, intimate, utterly comfortable prose cut through all that, and I knew that we would continue to drift away from each other, but keep a line, however, thin, between us. We can't cut it.

We're not that close anymore. I don't even have his e-mail address. I saw him briefly at the annual New Year's party, but he and Anne split early. And of course, he had other things on his mind at the wedding. But no matter what, he knew me when I was missing teeth and got scared by loud movies, and it's important to have someone like that in your life. No matter where you are with them, you're home. You've got a link to your own past that's outside your own head. I hope he thinks of me in the same way. My cradlemate. Beloved.

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