At night’s end



Abelard the Dog and Courtenay Bluebird sharing a pillow on the bed.

When Abelard is drowsy, he will often curl up against my back—or drape his head across my torso—and drop into a wild and natural sleep

Abelard snores: his breathing is wet and sonorous and deep.  This dog shows himself to be a true slumberer, a gourmand of snooze, an enthusiast of rest, a sleeper of great gusto.

In other words, Abelard is the young canine Orson Wells of deep sleep and I love him for it.

But there’s something funny about Abelard and his sleep, and by funny, I mean strange. I’ve discovered that I have to make sure I’ve finished getting ready for bed myself before I settle in with Abelard because his sleep-sounds are a natural soporific.

It’s a shock, I tell you, to wake up and discover that I’ve managed to fall asleep with my clothes and street shoes on. Again. I’m a lifelong, honest-to-goodness, there-are-doctors-involved insomniac—this sort of thing doesn’t happen in my world, ever.

Yet, thanks to Abelard, I sleep. It’s suddenly very simple. I brush my teeth for two minutes; attend to my skin; straighten the covers; listen to Abelard gulp and snore and fuffle, and WHAMMO!—I’m out.

Gee, just thinking about Abelard’s artful torpor makes me want to head off to Snoozeville.  Let’s see if Abelard is ready for bed. Abelard? Bed?

Ah, here he comes.

Hand me that butterfly net, will you?  I want to net me some z’s.

Even the rivers have rivers where he shall go

 

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Some stories are more impossible than others.

  Take the story of my friend Mark.  I’ve been trying to write something about him for nearly three weeks.

Ever since I received the quiet phone call from my friend Phillip regarding Mark’s death, I’ve sat at my desk at varied hours in different arrangements to do just this one thing.  To this end, you would find me here in the morning staring at the French gray walls of my office, and again, in the afternoon, holding my $5 fountain pen over my $2 notebook.  Late at night I remain rooted here— hunched forward, scowling at the screen while a 70 lb. three-legged dog attempts—in a show of loyalty—to co-occupy my office chair as I write.

 

Or not write, as has been the case, about Mark and Mark’s life.  My stalled fingers hover and tremble at the keys not because of the dog in my chair and not because I’m constantly losing my $5 pen in my cluttered office, and not because I don’t know what to say—because goodness knows I have yet to run out of things to say about everything and everyone, even if it takes me all night or a whole year or a flaming hot deadline to figure out what to say and how to say it.

What has halted me again and again are the facts and the figures.  There is so much of Mark to know, and so many shared experiences with Mark to consider, the tenure of our two-year friendship creaks and wobbles under the weight of all the abundance that is Mark himself.

 

If you wanted to find the shape and substance of a man like Mark,  you could measure him by his heavy shelves of wonderful books or the many gorgeous frames of film he shot in his storied travels.  You could, if you liked, measure him in cultivated silences—because he was a man who considered your question with judicious care before offering an answer.

You could easily measure Mark by his stories, which were legion and inclusive, or by the sweet banter he shared with the love of his life, Dawn.

Many of you will study the length and breadth of the man based on the size and shape of his strong friendships, or maybe just one friendship, the one he had with you.  I know I will measure him by the conversations we did not yet have, the notes for which I’d ferreted away for a sunnier day when Mark was feeling well enough to talk, and I will also measure him through the books he introduced to me and I, to him.

 

But this is where I leave off the checks and balances and the counterweights because what has occupied the center of my sadness at the loss of Mark is the Mark-shaped hole in my heart, and that absence cannot be measured or weighed or explained with ease.

A person’s life is not a playbook, you see, or a morality tale or a pithy epigram; a man like Mark is not solely the sum of his stories, his books and his papers, nor is he a proof to be deduced solely by his devotedness to his family, his spouse and his friends.

Mark was Mark, and he is Mark still.  I would give every book in my library to hear the sweet scratchiness of his voice again; to listen to him tease Dawn and Dan and his parents in his funny, gracious way.   But no one’s offering me an exchange rate on my books for the width and breadth of this dear man’s life.

 

Instead, I’m left to my office in a crooked little suburb in a cranky old city, standing upright but leaning against my desk.  I am paying close attention to the rain that burbles against the panes of my dusty aluminum-framed windows, and the darkness outside seems unceasing at this time of night.   Still, the dog with three legs slumbers on the floor, running the length of the room in his dreams.  Still, this house sleeps on and on.

All the while, one part of my mind continues to cross and re-cross a single moment in another November, when I walked into a local diner ten minutes late to meet Dawn and Mark and Dan and Mr. and Mrs. A— for the first time.

 

Here.  Look.The noonday sun holds up the sky.  I open the chrome and glass doors of the diner and clatter inside, searching for faces I’ve only seen in pictures.

The cashier, seeing my confusion, steps from behind the counter to lead me around a wall of sturdy glass blocks.  The first person I see is a bespectacled and smiling man rising from his seat to greet me, followed in no short measure by his brother and his father, while his spouse and his mother look up and offer me two equally lovely grins.

 

Oh, Mark, I am so very nearly embarrassed to tell you how much I’d be willing to give up just to have this one moment, with you, again.  But no alchemy of mere words will bring you back from the places you had yet to go.  And there is no way to measure and shape the entirety of you into a single, small story.  Trust me, Mark,  I’ve tried.  You know that I’ve tried.

 

If a man’s life is a river, your life is—and was—a place where even the rivers have rivers of their own.

I believe your rivers have reached their headwaters now.  Godspeed, Mark.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: We were always like that


This is a self-portrait of us taken by The H. when we were first dating. At the time, he worked as a furniture maker. The H. specialized in mid-century bent-wood designs, but he could make anything.* In this photo, we’re standing in his workshop. The Husband had no idea that he’d set his little point and shoot camera to panoramic. That’s why the top of his head got cut out of the frame.

But, wait! It gets better.



The Husband and Bluebird posting for a picture early in their relationship.

So, right after his camera took that first picture, The Husband (who was only The Boyfriend then) tried to pick me up, but he didn’t have a solid grip. The camera captured him trying not to drop me on my head. We are laughing hysterically, of course.



The Husband and Bluebird posting for a picture early in their relationship.

I’ve got to be honest, y’all. Every time I look at these pictures, I just laugh and laugh. There are actually four of them. There’s another with my head chopped off at the top because of the panorama setting, and one other of The H. standing by his circular saw, half in darkness. It was very cold in his shop. The building in which his workshop was housed used to be a grocery warehouse at the beginning of the 20th century.


Back to us—The Husband and I had a charmed courtship. We were friends for nearly a year before we decided to start dating, and we weren’t any hurry to get anywhere. I never had more fun in my entire life up to that point than when I met him. Even now, the most fun I ever have is with The Husband—even though he makes me half-crazy almost all of the time.

But, that’s life, right? That’s what marriage can do to a body—especially if you’re in a marriage of equals. And we laugh a lot—because that’s marriage too. Above all, we talk about every idea that can be built with common words. I look at these photos and I can see how we built the kindling for a lifetime of conversations, stick by stick and story by story.


*And by anything, I mean anything. He made Japanesque Art Nouveau-style carved cabinets and Moroccan tiled octagonal tables offound wood and all sorts of cabinets with crazy tricky parquetry.

Super-Secret Saturday Night 5-Minute Dance Party | Extra-Massif Soundcloud Edition Vol. 1






The Evening News




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Of our three dogs, Abelard requests the most constant companionship.


While Ilsa will wander off to mull a chewy over under her favorite wing chair and Monkey might curl into a drowsy ball in a corner of the couch, Abelard will almost always insist on draping himself across your person in an artful shape wherever you may sit, however you may stand.

But Abelard’s favorite thing* to do—his utter and absolute favorite—is to climb up in The Husband’s lap and tuck his head into a corner of The H.’s shoulder and drowse like a babe in arms.



*Abelard’s second favorite thing is to throw his one front paw across my shoulder as he and I swim towards sleep.

(Super-Secret!) Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party | Her Majesty’s Socialist Request







Bluebird: (Shouting over “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request.) HEEEEEEY! HOWHAVEYOUBEEN? OHMYMERG, IT’SBEENSOLONGSINCEWE’VETALKED!

(Bluebird is still dancing, but starting to get out of breath a little bit.)

Bluebird: SO, GUESSWHATTODAYIS? YES,YOUGUESSEDIT! IT’SBLUEBIRDBLVD.’S THIRDANNIVERSARY! (Shouting to The Husband in the through the adjoining wall of their offices.) ISTHATRIGHT? THETHIRD?

The Husband: (Stern, muffled by wall.) I’m not speaking to you until you “come down” from your caffeine high.

Bluebird: THAT’SRIGHT! IHADFIVE,NOSEVEN, NO TENCOFFEES—

The Husband: (To you.) —that’s “Bluebird speak” for double-espressos.

Bluebird: BUT IT’S BLUEBIRDBLVD.’SANNIVERSARY! GUESS WHAT I DID FOR YOU, HUSBAND?

The Husband: (Small fearful voice.) Oh?

Bluebird: I IRONED ALLOFYOURSCHOOLCLOTHESTODAY! YOULIKE EXTRASTARCHINYOURUNDERPANTS,RIGHT? HEAVYSTARCH! (A pause.) GONNADANCESOMEMORE TOCELEBRATEBLUEBIRDBLVD.’S ANNIVERSARY!

(Bluebird jumps up and starts dancing again.)

The Husband: (Whispering to you.) I hid the espresso maker in my truck under the driver’s seat. (Then speaking to Bluebird through the wall.) That’s GOOD, honey. THANK YOU. You KEEP dancing UNTIL you COLLAPSE, OKAY?

(Bluebird is dancing. The dogs are barking. The Husband is smiling. Here’s what The Husband doesn’t know: Bluebird keeps a back-up espresso maker in the office, which is now steaming a fresh cup.)

Bluebird: (To all and sundry) HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO BLUEBIRD BLVD.!

The Husband: (Through the wall.) Yes, happy anniversary! (A beat.) I can HEAR that you’ve got an espresso maker in there, Bluebird!

Bluebird: NO,YOUCAN’T. THAT’STHEDOGANDTHEMUSIC AND—(picks up a stack of books off of her office floor and drops them.)—ANDSOMEBOOKSIJUSTDROPPED—

The Husband: —I’m coming in there!

Bluebird: EEK!


Like this instrumental? We’re big fans of RJD2 around here—Bluebird owns four of his albums, and they get lots of airplay in her office. This song comes from More Is Than Isn’t.