I find myself walking in December hills…a dirt road winding between barren trees…light snow falling. Winter is the honest season, distilled down to essential black and white. For me, it’s a dreamscape awash with ghosts and memories. Up ahead, I see a rusted motorcycle, lying on its side beside the road…triggering thoughts of you…my oldest and deepest friend.
We had discovered each other when we were very young. You were wild and troubled, engulfed by something you could never quite articulate. For some reason, I instantly understood. By age 8, we were inseparable – escaping school and family at every chance to explore the rushing rivers of imagination.
Growing up, we developed a devout belief in the unseen. Not the slight-of-hand variety, but the inexplicable magic hidden in the core of things. We were convinced that this was life’s great secret – a secret we could unravel if we joined forces and made it our crusade. At age 14 we took a vow: we would walk this walk – never give up, never settle for less – until we had pierced the veil, entered the core and stood within its music.
Our approaches were very different. Like wind and tree, you tested limits while I explored roots. You would push the edge, I would risk the center. Together, we would remain fearless and true to our mission – no matter what the cost.
A few years later, our brotherhood crashed into the world. On a rainy, Autumn night, you rapped on my window – eyes feverish, your face a thicket of shadows. You were running away…going up to Boston, maybe out west to LA or Vancouver…somewhere, anywhere at arm’s length from the raging storm that was your family. You never asked – but we both understood. I couldn’t go. I had a tolerable mix of stability – a working band, a possible girlfriend, a home scene less toxic than yours. The following day you were gone.
For the next twenty years, I’d get your sporadic postcards…Amsterdam, the Mohave Desert, a small village outside Calcutta. References to Sufi dancers, drunken poets and rattlesnakes. Each note usually ended with some version of “come join me – either now or immediately…whichever comes first.”
Increasingly I worried. Despite the humor, there seemed to be a growing sense of desperation, dark currents that ran between the lines. I wrote back, sending you a song or inspired quote that might be meaningful. But you never mentioned receipt, so I wondered.
Then came the unsubstantiated rumors from somewhere in the Andes Mountains – about you, your tricked-out Harley-Davidson, a winding mountain road…a shattered guardrail. After that, the postcards ceased. Inquiries and investigations all led to dead ends.
The mystery burned, then faded…but continued to simmer in my heart. From time to time, I would catch your image out of the corner of my eyes:
your reflection peering out from dark glass…a face in the crowd…a figure hitchhiking by the side of the road as my car roared by. Your voice in my head was more vivid. Are you risking enough? Staying focused?…In truth, your absence was a constant pressure. One of us had to cross the finish line. Could I really complete this journey without you?
A creaking branch brings me back. Letting go of the memories, I rejoin the road where I’m walking, now coated in snow. But as I untangle myself from the past, I’m not surprised when I feel your presence – invisible yet mistakably you. I’m elated! If just for this moment, our two broken pieces are united. Glancing down…there is another set of footprints beside mine, fainter but definitely there.
A bird screeches, flies overhead. I stop walking…listen. Your presence is fading, now indecipherable from the wind in the trees. Looking down again…your footprints have vanished – leaving only mine. Emotions rush through me and my eyes tear up. All around the world is surging…an enveloping peace…a moment of integration. A sense of closure.
Wiping my eyes, I gaze about, taking one last snapshot. By now the virgin snow is everywhere, glistening and musical. By now, my own footprints have disappeared.