Enjoy an exclusive guest post from Victor Hawk, author of “The Hot Season,” featured in our upcoming anthology ON TIME.
Walking in the neighborhood today, I passed a small ranch house with a green-needled pine tree standing close over it and a leafless maple tree in the yard nearby. Perhaps, it was the blue sky behind it all, cloudless, mild, still. Or perhaps, it was the low sun’s light. I thought of my best friend’s house in Georgia, many years ago, how on a November day it looked like this: small, kempt, unkempt, green-needled, leafless, cloudless, blue, late light.
He died in 1980 when I was twenty. We were friends since the age of ten, close friends. I needed no other friends, not really. Just the one was sufficient. He had other friends, of course; he was more balanced than me, more stable, predictable. With a smile or a raised eyebrow, he could set me solid again. A car ran into him at a poorly marked intersection in the country on the first day of Spring. Not his fault. Not their fault. Not anyone’s fault.
When he died, I abandoned his family. It was difficult to see them, and it was awkward. He was the reason I had gotten to know them. His sister was my first kiss, a bit of a mistake, but it was okay. His two brothers were a normal part of our days, the one quiet, the one boisterous. His mother was kind and present. His father was kind and distant. Today, death claims the father, dementia one brother, ministry the other brother. The sister delivers mail. The mother is comfortably retired but never quite comfortable.
Shortly before his death, another son was born to the family. He now lives in Nebraska and teaches, as did his mother, as does his sister’s daughter. There are other children of the children, and perhaps children of those children, but I don’t know them.
My friend’s death remains worn into the faces of those I knew. They all made the best sense they could of his passing. As did I. Which is to say I made no sense of it at all. It was one more instance of a deity who is cruel beyond measure. Or of no deity at all, no order and no sense beyond the senses. No divine in my corner. No divine in anyone’s corner.
The low sunlight on the green pine needles brought me to this. How this could be his house, his year, our youth. Forty years later.
I don’t know what to say to his family. I never did. Every time I tried, I failed, in some ridiculous, embarrassing way. He meant so much to me that I never had any words for it. Not in any romantic way. But in the way a band turns to crap when the drummer goes home. There is a rhythm to life, and when he died, he took it with him. And all the years since have been a string of unfinished work, beatless music.
This remained on my mind as I finished the walk at my house. I took off my shoes near the door and prepared myself a plate of spinach, a carrot, and a small bowl of leftover rice and pot roast. I brought my dinner to my small desk and wrote this.
Victor Hawk is a Georgia native but has lived most of his life in Oklahoma. His original career path was in Manufacturing Engineering, with degrees from Davidson College (BS, Physics) and Purdue University (MS, Industrial Engineering). His career pivoted to teaching and writing in 2008 at the University of Central Oklahoma (MA, Creative Writing). He lives in Yukon, Oklahoma, where he continues to write. And to travel! His most recent journey was to Thailand, which included a ten-day instruction in vipassana meditation observing noble silence.
Victor writes, “I am pretty active on the socials, with a YouTube channel, a poetry blog, and a genealogy website, but I keep all those endeavors separate from my writing endeavor. I’m a compartmentalizer.”