The email came a few days ago: he was in a nursing home and not expected to live much longer. That tall skinny kid with the close-cropped curly brown hair who never could be still? Whose arms and legs were miles long and as restless as his mind? Whose motormouth was legend? Whose presence was felt even in absence? — witness “Excelsior” and “FL” scrawled on blackboards as he lurched through our world. Whose protest song, “…back to back, belly to belly, well, I don’t give a damn…,” wafted over our heads? HE is in a nursing home?
And thus does memory distort and taunt. That verbal Riverdance, without a static cell in his body, left his imprint over fifty years ago. That kid is not in the nursing home. The man cancer made of him is in the nursing home.
I took out a notecard with a picture of a Tiffany window: “Summer” — deep magentas and purples as vital and exuberant as that summertime of life when we were barely adults and had only the looking forward. I wrote a few words to him, but there were really no words, only pen marks. I should have sent him an envelope of silence; it would have had more meaning.
Sputnik christened our freshman year. We were wrested out of the 50s and into the 60s by forces barely imaginable. That bright, intense kid seems the emblem of that life’s summertime, turned so quickly arid by war.
One day in that pre-war summertime, he told me I had great legs, which he likened to an inner latch in a coffin. Today, as I admire their varicose palette, not unlike those Tiffany colors, I hear his wisecrack and I remember the summer. Thanks, David.