You used to call me on your way home from work. Five o’clock in Missouri, three o’clock in California. If I didn’t answer, you would leave this message. “Hey friend!” you’d say and you’d say it like you just spotted me after a thousand years away and wanted to make sure I saw you, “I’m inching along in traffic at the Diversion Channel. Again! Call me! I miss you! When are you coming home to drink a beer with me!”
I miss the way you left messages with exclamation points.
By the time I heard you’d left us it was tomorrow already and Laura had left me too many messages with no information. “Hi Teri, it’s Laura, call me.” As if I didn’t know who Laura was. Then “Teri, it’s Laura, call me back as soon as you get this,” then “Teri, you really need to call me.” By the second message I knew. We didn’t talk like this, you and me, Laura and me, using our names like that, with pretend-calm, like actors on stage in a play.
I think of you when I hear the songs from West Side Story. When we were 17 you played Bernardo and you trusted marginal me with my zero play/musical experience to do your makeup. I can still feel the triangle sponge in my hand as I leaned in, our faces, our laughs, inches close. “Thanks for making me look so good,” you wrote in my yearbook. You drew your heart. You signed it ‘Nardo. Forever-friends don’t need real names.
How can you be gone 2 whole years already.
I woke the other night thinking about you on I-55, heading south. Heading home. You with your, “I’m stuck here at the Diversion Channel!” Your great big mighty love as wide and as powerful as the Mississippi River. Your exclamation points.
When I was little I thought the Diversion Channel was a TV station, a special place to turn to other than the basic 3 channels we got. I figured there must be something better there, something original. I never knew until I grew up and left home how important the Diversion Channel was, how that one waterway served as the path for the fringe creeks and the marginal rivers to—no matter their difficult and ornery ways, their waywardness, their lesser selves—find their way home.
Hey friend. (Exclamation Point) It’s me. It’s five o’clock in Missouri, and I’m still here.