I awoke this morning to this email from my old friend Greg …
HOLY SHIT GREG! AND CONGRATULATIONS!
Nina is responsible for the inscrutable image.
At her urging I have been filtering my image searches with “Labeled for reuse.” While this will keep me out of trouble when it comes to copyright infringement, it presents some seriously slim pickings. This was as good as the search for a congratulations image got.
So bad it’s good?
Anyway, I’ve known Greg since I was 13 years old, he was part of the package deal that included Marcia and Lauren, back in my most formative years.
While I’ve written about Marcia and Lauren, I don’t think I’ve written about Greg.
He was once Lauren’s partner and, like many of us who are lucky enough to find themselves in Marcia and Lauren’s orbit, a family member for life.
While my feelings about being involved in these activities at such a young age are mixed, I learned some useful skills and met some wonderful people. Greg is right up there.
We both attended a home-grown encounter group called The Awakening that took place during a week-long retreat in the mountains. Think sleep deprivation, primal therapy, rebirthing, Gestalt, guided meditations, oversharing and never enough food.
The hours had a way of dragging on as we were all forced to sit and watch each person in the group of about thirty “process” childhood trauma to a Moody Blues soundtrack.
It was at times fascinating, enlightening, emotional, boring, and above all looooong. Each “breakthrough” lasted between 90 minutes to three hours.
Times 30 people.
The way most of us coped with fatigue of sitting on plastic chairs for hours on end with little to no sleep* was to take copious notes. Because boredom.
*We were often only allowed to sleep for a couple hours at a time and assistants were charged with keeping us awake while in the process room. If someone nodded off, an unpaid volunteer would nudge them awake, including me, a 13 year-old child.
And that’s where Greg comes in. I often sat next to him and observed him taking notes. He had simply the most beautiful cursive handwriting. It was elegantly slanted, sometimes stripped of embellishments, like the way his F’s and T’s are simplified. Here’s a not-so-great example …
This is more like his scribble but take it from me, he has lovely penmanship even if I can’t put my hands on a sample.
I spent an entire week sitting next to Greg and teaching myself how to write like him. It’s how I deal with being bored.
I taught myself how to write backwards in cursive to help me cope with weekly staff meetings when I worked at the university. I even made worksheets!
So much alike was our handwriting that back in the olden days before the internet, Greg and I used to write to each other frequently via the Pony Express. We both favored Pilot’s disposable Varsity fountain pens, in the light blue on the far left.
I recall writing him a letter in that blue ink, addressing it and dropping it in the mail. A day later I received a letter addressed to me, in the very same light blue ink, and in what appeared to be my handwriting.
I stood there in my entryway staring at the letter, genuinely confused. At first I thought my letter to me had been returned for postage. But no, it was addressed to me.
Such was my state of mind that for a moment I actually entertained the thought that I had entered a fold in time-space continuum where my future/past/alternate-universe self had sent me a letter.
I can’t say I was disappointed to realized that it came from Greg (I am never disappointed to get letters from him) but I was pretty psyched to see what future Viv had to say. Perhaps some hot stock tips? Or maybe I shouldn’t get married that first time …
And no, I wasn’t high or drunk (as some people might assume), just stupid and watching way too much sci-fi. It was a letter from Greg that had crossed mine in the mail and happened to be in the same type of envelope, with the same color ink, from the same kind of pen, in the same handwriting.
For a second my mind was completely blown.
Now we just write emails or communicate in the comment sections of my blog. Letter writing is a dying art and Greg and I were exceptionally good at it.
People have a way of leaving indelible marks on each other. Greg’s influence can be seen the the swoop of my cursive S or the angular fashion of my F’s.
I was reminiscing about Greg the other day to My Parasitic Twin. I flew out to Eugene Oregon over Spring Break back in my 20’s. Lauren landed a shitload of iridescent salmon colored slate tiles, each weighing 30 pounds. She had it in her head that what her garden really needed was to have all the cement walkways covered with this tile.
It is abundantly obvious where I inherited my love of excess from.
It was a miserable week of backbreaking labor. I mixed 100 pound bags of cement in a wheelbarrow for eight hours a day and cut slate with a wet saw while Lauren troweled and placed the tiles while on her hands and knees.
Outside. In March. In Oregon. In the rain. Ah, to be young again.
Yes, I was a good friend to do this and yes, Lauren repaid the favor back to me in spades. We were kind of like the Justice League of punishing home improvement projects to each other.
The best part of that week was at the end of one particularly cold and hard day, Lauren and I came in from rain, soaked to the bone. We stripped off our sodden rain gear and took turns showering.
I emerged from the bathroom in my nightgown and robe and Greg sat me next to the fire he built (he is aces at that), handed me a large glass of chilled chardonnay, a joint, and ordered me to relax as he finished up dinner.
Greg is the kind of guy who knows his way around the kitchen.
Lauren joined me at the hearth; I can’t remember what we talked about but I’m sure we laughed really hard because she and I had a way of making each other laugh until we were on our backs and barely able to breathe.
Greg set the table with cloth napkins (and to this day I never use paper at the table) and we tucked into the most delicious meal of pork chops that had been braised in caramelized onions and stout beer, served over a brown rice risotto with a green salad from the garden.
It was like eating pure love.
I haven’t made that dish in 15 years but it still is one of my favorites. If I ever find pork that I truly feel okay about, I’ll make it again.
Just thinking about it evokes images of sitting on the carpet with my elbow on the hearth, chin propped up in my palm, the windows steamed up from cooking, rain drizzling onto the deck that overlooked the small urban farm, dogs sprawled next to us, Toni Childs playing softly in the background, and feeling truly and absolutely cared for and loved.
When I think of Greg I think of his smile, wry and with an adorable crooked front tooth, his loose hipped walk (in moccasins), the way his bed was always made with military neatness and how his room was always neat as a pin.
He never had many possessions (the trappings of his nomadic lifestyle as a career forestry worker) but everything he owned was carefully picked, well worn, well loved, and useful.
He is meticulous with his words, his writing, the flies he tied for his secretive love of fishing, discerning to fault and loyal. He is a lovable curmudgeon and that rare type of bachelor that chose to become a skilled homemaker rather than slob. He’s a fixer of things, at home in nature, both the archetypal man of few words but also extremely compassionate and able to listen and connect emotionally.
I couldn’t love Greg more.
Greg, congratulations on finding the love of your life. I am over the moon to think of you settling down at last. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Susan, you must be one hell of a woman to get Greg – the most cynical person I know – to embrace marriage and a life together. You are in such wonderful hands. I am so very happy for both of you and hope to meet you one day.