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Tag Archives: friends

found poem: The grotesque


phoneOff to college, living away from home for the first time, I was unformed, my cell walls entirely permeable. I was innocent of the world and ecstatic to be released from the fierce, unsympathetic guardianship of my parents.

It was the six of us — three sets of roommates, the four girls, the two boys — not always together but always pulled back into the chemistry of the six.

Jose was not so much blond as fair — pale skin, pale hair, clean shaven in the places where pale whiskers grew in reluctant dustings on his face. His eyes were luminous blue-gray behind round lenses set in nearly colorless frames. His voice was deep and soft and we would all lean in to hear what he was saying. He serenaded us with his guitar and awakened us to the rhythms of poetry.

We were all friends, all, perhaps, a bit in love with each other, all tentatively learning the Braille of our bodies and hearts. We tried on philosophies like new clothes, experimented with the taste of political rhetoric and shared the agonizing secrets of our childhoods.

Jose and I talked for hours in the empty dining hall, whispered in the library, trekked along the cliffs and followed the meandering line of foam where the waves lapped the sand. Each step, each word, carried us deeper into the landscape of trust. I bemoaned my innocence, he beguiled me with experience — titillating stories of conquest and desire.

We sat in the lifeguard tower and watched the moon set and he took my face between his warm hands and kissed me as tenderly as I have ever been kissed. He said, ‘You’re the person I really wanted to be with tonight,’ and I realized those were the words I had been listening for my entire life.

And yet, we weren’t two. We were six — friends with classes and dates and discoveries apart from one another, our partings as gentle as our connections.

After two years, I left for Berkeley and our friendships continued on paper, Jose’s letters full of poetry, cynicism, humor and hope. We all graduated, and by some numerical misfortune, Jose was drafted, and then, somehow, after an interval of bitterly funny letters, undrafted — something to do with his knees. And then a letter from one of the six: Jose was dead. The words a razor slash that forever sliced my life into Before and After.

Among the remaining five, we knew only this: that Jose had acted with intent. That he was not deterred by the requisite waiting period. That he waited, and he collected the gun he had purchased, and he turned it on himself.

I went back and searched his letters for clues. There were none. No dire warnings or pleadings, no strange new slant to his handwriting, no subtly couched goodbyes.

Jose had shown me that what happened between men and women could be shaped by tenderness and friendship. Now he introduced me to the colorless panorama of grief.

I could not share the pain of this loss with my parents; I had no vocabulary for the death of a friend. It was too acute and intimate for any nostrums of sympathy, so it sat, a sharp stone in my gut, unmentioned.

Two weeks after Jose died, hollowed by loss, I went for a planned visit home. Over dinner one evening, my mother said brightly, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you. Your friend Jose called a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to give him your phone number without asking you. He called back one other time. I think I wrote down his number. Do you want it?’

© j.i. kleinberg

A friend…