Sunday, February 6, 2011

For Someone Who Makes A Joyful Sound

One of my best friends from college is very, very ill. 

I met Leslie on the first day of my freshman year at Bryn Mawr.  She—daughter of a Connecticut minister—sought me out, attracted by my curly hair and the fact that I came from California.  We nurtured our growing friendship with endless and largely inaccurate speculations about boys and sex.  We got drunk for the first time together.  We ordered innumerable cheese steaks from Pizzi’s.  We went to New York and sat in a bar with Paul Simon.  We worked at the dorm switchboard and laughed harder than I have ever laughed since.

We were both English majors and enamored of the idea of becoming writers.   She loved Virginia Woolf and J.D. Salinger.  She also loved James Thurber and Joni Mitchell and Alexander Calder and Woody Allen and Cape Cod and the doughnuts they used to give out in Thomas Great Hall every morning.  Mostly she loved Bob Dylan.  When I told her I didn’t, she threatened, seriously, not to be friends with me anymore, so I backed down and said I didn’t like him as much as Jackson Browne.  We spent many hours listening to our favorite records, trying to convince each other.  In the end, we decided we both loved Bruce Springsteen and called a truce.

She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, although even by then we weren’t as close as we’d been.  Later, she married Mike, her college sweetheart, and had two kids.  They lived outside of Chicago for many years, and then in Milwaukee, where they are both on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin.  Leslie did become a writer of nonfiction and wrote several best-selling books.

We lost contact for a while but re-connected via e-mail and Facebook.  It has been nice to be in touch again, although our friendship is grounded much more in memory than in events of the present day.  Which is fine—sometimes you need friendships like that—but I have always wished that we could rekindle what we had.  Even though I know that sometimes, “what we had” is such a product of time and place that it has to remain in the past, and the best you can do is call it up from time to time and remember it lovingly.

I ought to be able to insert a pertinent quote from Bob Dylan.  But I never really liked him. 

So here’s a little Jackson Browne for Leslie, with love:

“Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
(the world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound”