Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Am Listening

I've been straining to hear since Cyn died. My wild tomboy friend whose heart gave way two months ago after grappling for two years with illness, trying to stay here with us. Because we could not bear to lose her.

Maybe that's why I haven't been sleeping so well. Am I listening in my dreams for something? A few months after my father died, I had a dream about him. He called me, from a payphone of all things. He was dressed in his summer seersucker suit. I told him, "We have been looking for you all over. Where have you been?" He told me everything was fine, not to worry, he was doing well.

I loved that dream.

I'm not really waiting for that from Cyn. It's not the kind of thing she would do. This girl who told off boys, for reason and for no reason. Who came up with the best games to play at her house -- hubcap was one. We got a can, hid in the ditch and when a car drove by one of us threw it in the road, hoping the rattling metal would convince the driver a hubcap had fallen off. Especially since we shouted "Hubcap!" from the ditch, in unison.

It never worked. Except for the time her little brother hit the car with the can. The driver stopped then, furious, scattering us in all directions, running fast through the dark night of the rural deep south with only stars and the moon lighting our way.

I always spelled her name with a "y." She directed me to do that, years ago. "My name is Cynthia. So don't spell it Cindy. Spell it Cyndy."  So to this day I will not cross her in this. Because if she does decide to give a sign, maybe it will be me she gives it too. Because I'm not spelling her name with an "i."

Because I'm remembering her. Because I'm telling her stories, the ones she always told.

Our fishing trip, for instance. She loved telling about that.

She told me we would never catch a fish in the pond behind my house using safety pins and bacon, something Mother gave us. But I insisted. So, I tied my black satin cape around my neck and off we went, jumping over the grassy ditch spanned by my father's wooden footbridges, running past the huge oak with the rope swings and the barking bird dogs. We ran past their pens with bamboo poles flailing, a black-haired girl and a blonde, and one satin cape floating in our loud, laughing wake.

I will never forget the path to that pond. Through the clearing with the old tree houses, we moved past the gnarled tree where we stole honeycomb when the bees were quiet. Then a quick bounding run through the strange bright light and eerie quiet in the middle of the woods. The spooky place that didn't make sense because the leaves were so thick overhead that I never understood where that light was coming from. But soon we were out of the ghostly light, climbing the old fence, careful of the rusting barbed wire with traces of old blood left by the careless, the unsuspecting, the clumsy.

And then we were at the pond. We climbed our favorite tree and threw in our lines. I stretched out on a limb, the black cape fluttering in the breeze. Cyn was irritated, argumentative. She made fun of the safety pins. I defended them. Then she started in on the pond. She didn't see any fish. I dismissed her claims. Cyn and I were not easy-going children. But she got me, finally, on one point. I was lying on the tree limb with the black cape tied tightly around my neck. It was flowing down toward the ground. The sun was beating down. She kept talking to me, but I acted like I was about to fall asleep.

"You are going to fall off that tree limb and that cape is going to break your neck." I remember her words, clearly, to this day.

She was afraid. It took me years to comprehend that. But I remember taking the cape off and dropping from the limb. She was uncomfortable. So, forget the cape.

For the rest of the day, we played in and around the pond like the children we were, little wiggling snakes and all. Cyn's unease dissolved in the sun and the water. Because she had been an ordinary girl, like me, just one year before. Then catastrophe struck. Her father took her brothers to a football game and never came home. His heart failed him.

Cyn understood, in a way I did not, that disaster unspools in the blink of an eye. That even a child must watch and be careful. Or bad things will happen to those you love. So Cyn watched and controlled and fretted. Because she could not bear another hard loss.

But her good nature won out over the years. She turned the hard and the fanciful into stories. She worked with flowers and lightened her tales with laughter, drawing people to her along the way, so many people. Through her illness, we returned to the stories time and time again. About all the time we spent at her house, about the fishing, about a monster called "Tromper" in the woods. About the boats we made out of old shoeboxes and newspapers, which we lit and launched into the creek beside her house, sending them flaming into the luminous southern night.

So what am I listening for since she passed away? Why am I not hearing what I need to hear?

Because I think about the grief so many of us shared after Cyn died. And then something Victor Hugo wrote.

"A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon, and someone says, 'she is gone.'
Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her...
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone says 'she is gone,' there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout, 'there she comes!'...

And that is dying."

So I wake up in the night and think "was that fire" but there is no fire. I see the creek and feel the mud under my bare feet and watch in my mind's eye the burning cardboard boats floating into the night. And I listen in the dark. I can almost hear it. I know the voices are there. They are shouting. Because they see Cyn coming to them, away from us, but heading for them. "'There she comes!'..."

I am still listening.


  1. I have that quote by Victor Hugo as well. It is one of my favorites. I like how you pay tribute to your friend and miss her. Such childhood innocence is hard to recapture as adults.

  2. People move around so much now. I wonder how many people know what it is like to have friends for that long. They become a part of you. And then they are gone, they're not really gone. If that makes sense, Syd.