My father died almost eighteen years ago. Not long after he died, I was finally able to disentangle myself from a long, unhappy friendship with a smart, tormented guy who’d stood in as a sparring partner for my difficult father since we were teenagers. You can get all the details about this interesting, perplexing fellow at Book of Friedman.
When I finally admitted defeat and declared our friendship beyond saving — I’d finally reduced the eternally cavilling MF to petulant silence, in a Florida coffee shop, during a biblical deluge that turned the parking lot into a raging river — I called his mother, to explain. To my surprise, she was not in the least bit surprised.
She immediately relieved me of the burden of explaining, beyond a few basics of the last straw, and thanked me for hanging in there far longer than anyone ever had with her relentless demanding, endlessly negotiating son. She understood and asked only one thing: leave the door open, if he comes to make peace with you. I told her I would. She also asked what I thought she could do for him. My only idea was a serious course of therapy, something I reminded her he was very unlikely ever to do, since he believed no unhappiness in his life had anything to do with his highly idiosyncratic personality or his demands on others.
There were some frustrating email exchanges every couple of years, when he’d reach out a pseudopod in an email. His endless paragraphs filled screen after screen, very similar to the tiny, crabbed hand-written letters I used to get from him, many pages long, inscribed margin to margin, with no breaks in the block of words, endlessly expounding, at tortuous length, amid a million caveats and troubled asides. His brother Neal, I learned after his death, used to delete these emails as soon as he got them. I would answer each one, because I’d promised his mother and because, until very recently, I never liked silence to be my final answer. I always hated the old silent treatment and so almost never did it to anyone else.
One year on my birthday I got an audio CD in the mail. The CD case was decorated with strings, at the end of each string was a tiny card, taped meticulously to the string, a plea for mercy, for common sense, for an open heart. I don’t have the odd package in front of me now to quote them, in fact, I’m a bit tormented not to be able to lay my hand on it at the moment, have been searching the heaps around this dusty apartment I need to clean. It was in the same place since I got it maybe 15 years back, I’d seen it countless times, close to my broken down copy of my most precious book, the Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, Walter Morrison translation (long out of print, its paperback spine long ago disintegrated). Mark loved that book as well and one of his notes was a reference to it. Among its peppy, oddly dangling notes “don’t be a cossack!,” an exhortation to relax my so-called principles.
Everything always had to happen on his terms, one of the most annoying things about him, this insistence that things be done his way, which was often a perverse way. This musical offering struck me as one more outlandish illustration of this intolerable tic. My promise to his mother be damned, I wasn’t going to listen to the musical masterpiece he’d composed to magically solve all the issues in everyone’s life.
I never listened to the CD. At the same time, I didn’t toss it in the trash.
I saw it dozens of times over the years, including in the days after I heard of his death of a broken heart a few years back. I thought briefly about taking the CD out of its case and giving it a spin, but never did. The last time I saw it, I moved it someplace, with the intention of finally listening to it. Now it is nowhere to be seen.
“Good,” says Sekhnet. “Now you have to clean.”
Or, dear Sekhnet, I can sit down and write this instead. Now that it’s written, I’m going to go digging for it again, though I suspect I may have taken it to the farm… yes, that’s most likely where it is.