Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”

Here in the fermata. Sitting on the couch and watching television. Here in the fermata of our last days, eating microwaved mac and cheese and homemade spinach and strawberry salad, like the two halves of our life for the past five years.

The days ran on like measures, down and up the scales of depression and peacefulness, anxieties and success. We’ve cycled through three houses, twice as many jobs, twice as many girlfriends. Always returning. I don’t know what home means without you.

You told me once about another friend, another friend who left for a wife and a new home, who told his spouse mid-argument when words kept failing and failing without understanding or being understood: “I wish Will were here, I just wish Will were here.” She called you, and you explained her husband to her, and I know you will do the same for me.

I’ve used you as a mirror for five years to show me who I am. Who I want to be. “We’re two people,” I often say, after the night in the mountains when we wandered through the darkness to rig the bear bag and another hiker asked our silhouettes, “Are you one person?”

“No, we’re two people.”

He must have been high, too.

We shared a refrain for five years, and now the song will go on and I don’t know the melody. I know this last note, this long fermata we’ve been holding all summer. The last house, last backpacking trip, last concert. The last time smoking on the patio where we always talked about love and money and fear and hope.

“I think my greatest ability is helping people find more meaning in their lives,” you said in the mountains the day I got engaged. I wanted to stay there, with you and Joanna and Paula, with our box of wine and the Thai curry we cooked over my two tiny campstoves. I want everything at once, seven lives’ worth of timpani and fortissimo—mad to love, mad to feel, mad to create, desirous of marriage and friendship and family at the same time.

We never published our books this side of the fermata. Yours stayed locked in the first chapter, tumbled over and over like rocks in a polisher. Mine came out premature, or like bread with bad yeast. Maybe distance will help. With no more coffee mornings in the kitchen to complain about our slobby housemates, or evening trudges upstairs to lament about purpose and settle into a horror movie, or grocery store drives to marvel at the sunset or how trees talk together or Marilynne Robinson, always Marilynne Robinson—maybe in their absence, our writing will carry a harmony. It’s something to hope for. You might say ruminating on that glimmer is a way to avoid facing my emotions, which it is, of course.

I confessed once, several years ago, that I often heard three voices in my head. The self I want to be, who encourages and scolds and makes spreadsheets; the self who binges and lazes and finds contentment in a sunlit novel; and the voice of Will Montei, who urges feeling and sincerity, at least as you speak in my subconscious. You confessed the same: Will ideal, Will real, and Josh. I wondered at that, for a time, and then settled into the company of having you so close to me.

When you leave, will the voice in my head and the voice who lives in Wisconsin diverge? I don’t want a third-rate imitation who doesn’t surprise, while the real song plays elsewhere and grows. After the music changes, how will we find each other?

After my first fermata, that long summer note between high school and college, I thought about tumbling out of my third-floor dorm room. For a few weeks I couldn’t taste food. It surprised me, back then, to discover that life went on. I returned to an earlier refrain for Thanksgiving break and realized I missed my college friends, who until then I had considered only acquaintances. I know my song will continue, and this time, I’ll have her to accompany me. She won’t play your part, but hers.

“We’re two people,” I often say when someone mistakes us for brothers, or for a couple. Male friendships don’t love tenderly, or don’t love un-erotically, and it’s why I rarely hug you. I don’t have a model for this. We startle people; many hope, for various reasons, to uncover something more, something extraneous.

The song will go on, and maybe our refrain will return in some form. A few years in a shared city, or another week as chaperones on a pilgrimage. You’ll stand in my wedding, at least, where I’ll need you, and where Joanna will need you for me. We’ll hold this fermata a few days more, and then I’ll fly to Jacksonville and you’ll drive to Wisconsin, and this low, long note outside of time will reverberate into memory, into ourselves.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Oh you guys. Thank you _both_ for your writing and the ways you have influenced each other. Best wishes…we miss you at Calvin.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thanks, Karen. Oh, I miss being at Calvin—most of all being in the English Department.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    This breaks my heart and heals it at once.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Josh- truly beautiful writing. It moved me to remember my best friend of more than 18 years who was so different from me, but knew me better than I sometimes knew myself — and always loved me.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you, Ellen. I’m glad it helped you feel some of that friend’s love again.

      Reply

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