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2016-12-14 - 4:03 p.m.

up reading late at night

lately - mostly late at night - i've been revisiting books that are old friends to me. they have been my faithful traveling companions, loaned and returned, covers worn from being roughly packed or carried in my teeth, a bad habit since childhood.

* * *


in the summer of 2000, i decided to take as many introductory courses as possible in the summer session, so i could enroll in more advanced classes that coming fall. i was paying for college myself and wanted the most for my money - the most knowledge, the broadest and deepest experiences. really, i was still a precocious child, with all the drive and intensity that entails.

in ant102: introduction to human evolution, i made a friend whom i would continue to meet for lunch by the campus pond long after the course was over.

either the term "neckbeard" was not yet in common parlance, or i was simply unaware of it - but my god, this kid was funny - well read and quick witted and such a delight. after i quoted gk chesterton at him - a borrowed affectation - he arrived at our next lunch with the first two volumes of the sandman comic series in a bag from waldenbooks. i cannot remember how we fell out of touch, but i have not been able to find him since. he had a generic cv and a very common name.

* * *


the collected poems of wendell berry, 1957-1982 came with me to kenya, where i read them under the spread of a marvelous-smelling acacia beneath an even wider sky. it emerged that the tree's flowers were entirely odorless; the fragrance was a property of nondescript little ants running up and down its trunk.

in a town most famous for its camel derby, i met an aging englishman described by the mediocre - albeit wonderfully named - memoirist and travel writer kingsley holgate as a "larger-than-life character." to me, he seemed precisely the right size for the life he had chosen. arriving at his lodge very late at night, i began to cry because the kitchen was closed and we had missed dinner. at the sight of my tearstained face, the proprietor rousted his staff and brought me a dish of fried potatoes, his demeanor smoothly pivoting from a colonialist-inflected wrath to avuncular solicitude. in the morning, he took me aside to cook me eggs, stroll among the jade trees in the flower garden, and let me ride a camel. we had a long and pleasant conversation, and thanks to kenya's abysmal postal service, i wrote him letters for several years after he had died.

* * *


when we lived in raleigh, it was always a joy to lend books to my silent friend. he would respond via email with some tremendously pithy insight, and we'd go for long hikes and talk about books and ideas without ever making eye contact.

he promised he would never vanish on me without a word or forwarding address, but that's exactly what he did. his fellowship ran out, and miserable crippling shyness prevented my brilliant friend from finding a job in either academia or the private sector.

someone told me his dad helped him move back down to texas. the ghosts of our conversations persist in all these books i lent him.

* * *


oh, i know my newborn baby is not the gravitational force around which pivots everyone's personal galaxy. but when i am up late at night with these books like old friends, i miss all my friends who would have liked to see the next chapter, but instead fell out of the story and drifted away.

* * *


reading: books for baby and things i've read before.
listening to: sufjan stevens' christmas music - combining two things my husband hates for maximum efficiency.
working on: shepherding my students through finals season.
in the garden: everything that can be killed by a hard frost is quite dead. everything else is sleeping.


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