It has been a very long time, my old friend, and although our lives have changed dramatically since last we hugged and shared one of our many perfect and poignant farewells, you have been on my mind a great deal. I think of your sons and marvel that I have never met them, that they probably don't even know I exist. I think of the Pretty Girl with Pink, Round Cheeks, the Handsome Young Man and the Little Red Car. I think of how shocked our younger selves would be to discover we'd not only lived past thirty but that we were nearing forty.
Lately, as the Russian Olives have come back into bloom I have been thinking of the safe, quiet spot in Idaho we called home for so long, and how it was you who taught me that although it wasn't a place we felt comfortable, or a place that offered us the kind of opportunities we dreamed of pursuing in our lives, it was our home and that it would always be there waiting for us, even if only in memory. And most importantly there was a beauty there that should never be overlooked.
Duncan has been leading me to the Russian Olives this week, somehow knowing how important they are to my spirit. Growing up in Idaho I never noticed them, which seems strange because you can hardly throw a stick there without hitting one. In my memory Johnny Creek, that long and winding road up to your parent's home, was practically infested with them. They always looked rather weedish, like something that springs up along the edges of a dusty Idaho stream. Their pungent aroma was so strong at times it was almost sickening and made me recall childhood fishing trips standing on the shore of a lake or the bank of a river mere feet away from where some bottom-feeding sucker lay rotting in the sunshine, it's rainbow scales faded and gray, it's puckered mouth agape, discarded but refusing to be forgotten.
It wasn't until you joined me in the Midwest where the Russian Olives don't grow, that I learned to love them so voraciously. Their absence was heart-wrenching and pained you greatly. Often we journeyed across the vast, bland plains to our mountainous home and as soon as we entered The West you'd hang your head out the window, or take long walks at rest stops and just breathe, your head tilted back, your face turned into the dying blue of the day, your eyes picking out the first twinkling of faraway stars. "That is the smell of home," you'd tell me in a whisper. "Do you remember? My favorite smell in all the world." So I'd stand with you and just breathe until I felt Pocatello racing through my veins, pumping the blood in my heart, igniting images of those mountains and our valley and all the years we'd spent there.
The summer Aran had his truck and let us take the top off, we spent our nights driving through the mountains and down onto the desert of the reservation and each time you caught a whiff of your tree you seemed to change, become someone far wiser, someone who took nothing for granted and understood the deeper meanings and subtler nuances of all creation. Your unruly mane of chestnut hair lifted up, caught on the wind and whipped across your cheek, sometimes catching on your fire-engine red lips, where you'd pull at it with a perfectly manicured fingernail, tucking it safely behind your ear. You never looked more beautiful than on those nights.
So I smell the Russian Olives each day when I walk Roo, and at night when the air cools I open my windows and they waft through my small apartment––the one I never envisioned for myself––inciting dreams of days I'd give anything to revisit. I think of you and how big the hole in my heart has become with your absence. I think of Ken, now living in Milwaukee, so close to you, and how there's almost nothing I wouldn't do to spend an evening with just the two of you, smoking a cigarette, talking and laughing so hard we'd be hurt the next morning.
I don't know if you'll ever read this, but if you do I hope there's nothing you take for granted, that you have been taking care of my Messy Little Man, that there is still something in you that burns as fiercely as that creature I rode shotgun with across the roads of The West, the one who taught me a love of simple things and a love of home I never understood, the one who introduced me to the wild, weedy trees that pain me with longing and gratitude.
I hope you are still immaculate and untouchable.