Reflections on Losing Friends

tumblr_mc5vf0jUMH1qzozjoo1_500This is a photo from Amanda Palmer’s Tumblr, with the caption “books are home.”

When I saw it go by in my Tumblr feed last night, I thought that I glimpsed the distinctive spine of a book a friend wrote. To the point that I downloaded the photo and magnified to see. I had this idea that it would be Karol’s book and I would write the story about what it meant to see her book on that shelf.

And how I mourn her still.

Even though it wasn’t her book, I had a happy feeling, knowing that her book is out there still and people read it. I know this because they search the Internet for her and sometimes find that blog post and send me messages. I hadn’t intended that, when I wrote it, but now I kind of love that I have that lasting connection to her through that.

I’ve been reading this book, The Friend Who Got Away: Twenty Women’s True Life Tales of Friendships that Blew Up, Burned Out or Faded Away, and it’s put me in a reflective mood. The essays are so varied, with different friendships and reasons that they didn’t last. One is about a friend who died, but also a friendship that formed around that death – and then faded away again. One “rule” that I’m extracting from all the stories is one I thought I knew already – it isn’t always about you.

In fact, it rarely is.

I think it’s human nature to believe the world revolves around us. Even though we learn as kids (ideally) that people lead lives when we’re not present, that revelation can be hard one. I remember when my stepkids were little. They would spend every-other weekend and one weekday night for dinner with us. Once they excitedly told us about a new restaurant in town (small town, so big news) and we said, yes, we’d eaten there. They insisted we hadn’t, because they hadn’t yet been. They couldn’t quite grasp that we did things when they weren’t around – as if we retired like companion androids to the closet, when not needed.

Eventually, we grow up and realize that other people have complex external and internal lives that have nothing to do with us. And yet, when a friend turns away, we automatically think it must be something we did. Or didn’t do. Most of the time, though, it’s really about them and what they need.

At any rate, it’s a very interesting book and has given me a lot of food for thought. It’s been lovely, too, to return to reading some nonfiction.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Frogs in My Driveway

It’s been a funny weather year for everyone.

Certainly a wet one. It’s hard to say, after all the spectacular drought if all the snow and rain is unusual, or just not drought.

One of my Facebook friends, a distinguished Southern gentleman I work with, commented yesterday that they’ve had so much rain that he had frogs in his driveway. I said that sounded like a metaphor for something. He replied that he’d be proud for me to put it in my blog.

Someone else pointed out that it’s a toad, not a frog. He said he could live with that, too.

Yesterday ended up being a sad day. I wrote about Karol, as I really wanted to do, and then people replied. It was wonderful and gratifying, to see the various comments and read the emails. But it made each new contact freshened the grief. I suppose that’s good, the catharsis of it. At times, though, I felt like I was drowning.

I find deaths and funerals to elicit strange reactions from people. In the first place, people in general don’t know how to deal with grief. No one knows what to say to the ones grieving most. Largely because there’s nothing to say. And then there’s a level of competition, of who knew the person best, who loved her most, who’s the most affected.

For me, Karol was far from being a central part of my life. There was a time we were in almost daily contact, but that had long-since changed. And yet, her disappearance from the world feels pivotal to me. I’m sure my issues play in, my own mortality, facing the ways in which that very fun and fertile era is over.

That’s how it is for all of us. A death is rarely about the person who died; it becomes about the people left behind. After all, the person who died doesn’t care about any of it.

Not so far as we know, anyway.

Perhaps that’s why elegies always become autobiographies. People stand up at memorials and funerals to speak about the dead and almost always spend the whole time talking about themselves. They don’t intend it that way, but the thoughts always wend towards how that person made them feel.

Nothing wrong with that, really.

Rain is just rain. It falls without reason, without emotion. We are the ones who assign meaning to it.

We’re the ones who notice there are now frogs in the driveway.


Fair warning: today’s post is sad.

I found out yesterday that my friend, Karol Griffin, has died.

Yes, it’s a shock because she was my same age. And because she didn’t tell me she had Hepatitis C. I didn’t know she was waiting for a liver transplant.

But then, we’d fallen into a pattern of only emailing every once in a while. Actually, I should say that we’d taken up that pattern after falling out of touch for a number of years.

I met Karol sometime around 1996. I know this because that’s always the year I cite when people ask me how long I’ve been writing. Those were the days of shiny exuberance. I’d joined a writers group and was producing real work that people liked and gave substantial feedback on. It was the beginning of what would become the Silver Sage Writers Alliance. We were a serious critique group that we eventually capped at 12 members. Most of us went on to publish in admirable places, several of us with books.

I remember when Karol joined the group, though I forget on whose recommendation. She was kind of wild, with her Betty Page sensuality and her full-sleeve tattoos. Her essays ran raw and sexy. One of our middle-aged members tried to turn a critique session into a counseling session, which Karol would have none of.

To my admiration.

Another one of our members once wondered if Karol wrote about her crazy life, or led a crazy life to have things to write about. She was fascinated by the idea of the outlaw — both in the sense of the Mythic West and in our personal lives. When her book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, the Disappearing West, Very Bad Men, and My Deep Love for Them All, was published to the biggest advance any of us got, her outlaw life seemed vindicated. It’s a wonderful book, too.

I remember helping her come up with the title. I know I had input and, not surprisingly, argued strenuously for my take at the time — and now I don’t remember which part I liked or didn’t. It was Karol’s book and full of all her deep love.

That was the thing about Karol. She was larger than life. Another one of our group said Karol reminded her of Marilyn Monroe.

Beauty, charisma and a smidge of tragedy.

Eventually things went bad for her. Those who know her, know what went down. Those who don’t — well, her writing tells you most of it, and tells it well.

We fell out of touch and I think it was because she wanted it that way. It was something she went through on her own. I always had the impression she didn’t want witnesses. And that was part of her, too. Karol always did things her own way.

A couple of years ago I was at a book festival at one of Wyoming’s community colleges. To my surprise, Karol was also on the program. After a couple of diligent hours at my table, I enlisted someone else to watch my books. I worried that she wouldn’t be happy to see me, but her face lit up in her characteristic radiant smile when I walked up.

We talked a bit — there wasn’t much time — but we started emailing again after that. She was teaching at the college. She’d met a man that she said met all the delicious criteria of a “Very Bad Man,” but without the other stuff. She had custody of her son, Sam. She sent me the wedding photograph.

I was really happy for her.

I know there’s no morality to death. I know that a person’s liver doesn’t care whether a person cleaned up their act and practiced a healthier lifestyle. Or whether she had a son who needed her. Or whether she had a lot to offer the world.

I suppose that all I can offer is my grief.