A friend in college, his name was Guy. He could lip-sync every song Jerry Garcia ever wrote, knew how to roll a perfectly manicured joint. Guy had long Rasta hair and a two-day-old scruffy beard; he thought pondering the unknowable out loud was sexy to young coeds. I suppose he was right. We were both going to school in up-state New York. He was an enlightened junior; I was a freshman about to be indoctrinated. One day we drove out of town to hike in the Adirondacks. I don’t remember the drive or the hike, only the view when we reached the peak. Above tree-line. Stark granite. A knotty gray sky with indistinct clouds. Miles and miles of mountains and serpentine trails laid out below us. Trees and moss and lush meadows.
We stood on top of a crumbling outcrop, a sharp drop-off two steps away. Guy was studying the grand expanse, looking out over conifer spikes. He was talking about the universe and the space-time continuum and other fuzzy subjects that added to his allure. A red-shouldered hawk was dipping with the air currents. I acted like I was watching the hawk, but really, I was watching Guy, wondering if he was at all interested in a skinny, flat-chested girl. Maybe I liked him. Maybe he was just so cool.
Guy looked upward to the sky, his spine arched, his face soaking in the sun’s warmth. Then he leaned forward. He was surveying the steep drop-off, his head and chest hung out over the edge of the rock face. “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” he said, in a voice rife with enthusiasm, “to swan dive from here. Just fly off into the sky.” He paused in a way that suggested he was absolutely serious, that he was contemplating such a jump right there. Leaving me behind to watch. “That’s how I want to die,” he said, leaning even further toward the trees. A bit of loose granite crumbled under his feet and skipped down the rock face.
All along I’d been standing closer to the edge than comfortable, and his little speech made me take a step back. Fortunately, Guy stepped away from the edge too.
That was decades ago, but the incident continues to haunt me. I have no idea what happened to Guy. If he ever sailed out over the edge of a cliff. Or if he plunged off some other kind of existential abyss. I wonder what he did with his life. Maybe he’ll see this blog and write to tell me about his ex-wife, and his three grown children, and the killing he made in short sales on the back of some poor homeowner under water. Probably he’ll laugh and say, “Really. I said that?
I’ve been thinking about death. Maybe it’s because I recently got married again. After all, love is the best antidote to facing your own mortality. New love is so alluring and painful at the same time. When you’re in love, it’s hard to focus on anything else. The first time I got married, I was too young to understand until death do us part. But now, getting married feels permanent. We’re going to die together. Or more likely, one of us will die first, leaving the other to somehow carry on.
We went to the Grand Canyon on our honeymoon. One morning, contemplating the inexplicable beauty, I peered over the edge and wondered how long it would take before my body slammed into something. The Colorado River. A red limestone hoodoo. An unsuspecting hiker. Probably the flight would only last a few seconds. Surely not long enough to appreciate the sensation. Barely even long enough to realize you’d made an irretrievable mistake.
How long will anything last? Writing, for example. Or this blog. First you lean over. Then you swan dive into the abyss.