For the first time in a year, I have some time on my hands. Such a funny phrase that. I have actually had 62 years of time on my hands. But I guess what I mean to say is free time. A year ago, I announced in this blog that I had finished a draft of my first novel. Little did I suspect, that it would be almost a full year later that the novel would actually begin to feel “finished.” Or at least as finished as it can feel at this point. Finished to the point of giving it to an agent who is going to take it out into the world and I hope find a home for it. I think that I have never better understood Balzac, who was famous for making changes right up to and past the time one of his novels was at the printer. It’s hard to stop trying to improve the thing or to let it go.
How did a year pass though? I was astonished just now when I looked back and saw that the second to last entry I wrote here, You. Complete Me, about finishing a first draft, was written in May 2016. What the fuck? But it all goes hand in hand with the ever accelerating clock. Life is flying by. Flying the fuck by.
That encroaching sense of and acquaintance with mortality has been underlined by two mortal events in the past year: the death of my dad and the death of my dear friend Josh Gilbert. To my surprise, the death of my friend Josh in some ways hit me harder. Obviously my dad was my dad. But I had been bracing for his death and mourning his loss for years, ever since his dementia had started making it harder for us to have the kind of deep dive conversations that I’d always loved having with him. That served as a pre-loss loss. It helped to prepare for the real and irrevocable loss that was to follow. But with Josh, who was younger than me, there was no preparatory mourning. Even though he had a particularly rare and nasty form of cancer and had it for three years, I never once doubted that he was going to beat it. He was a fucking warrior, a honey badger in human form, a vital subversive madman whom I loved, and when I arrived at the hospital, five minutes too late, I could not believe that I was looking at his dead lifeless face. It didn’t compute. It couldn’t be. He was too alive to be dead.
Not having him around in physical form, not having him accessible, hurt more than I ever imagined it would. He lived right across the street from me and for the past few years I had frequently stopped off at his cluttered third-floor walkup after dropping Eden at school. Coffees in hand, we’d talk about writing and work and love and movies and the madness of the world and what it meant to be a parent in this day and age. Josh left behind a young son, Henry, whom he had adopted with his longtime girlfriend Cheryl before he got sick and before they stopped trying to make their incredibly complicated relationship work. More than anything, it was Henry who made me think that Josh would never succumb. He wanted so much to live for Henry.
I am not alone in missing him, of course. Along with Henry and his family, Josh had more best friends than anyone I’ve ever known. At his memorial, the unifying theme was that everyone who got up to speak, and there were many and from all over the country, all thought they were Josh’s best friend. He had that gift of making you feel special and loved and that his connection with you was unlike his connection with anyone else.
I didn’t start out planning to write here about Josh, mostly because all I could hope to do here is capture a small part of him (and to paraphrase my uncle, sometimes it’s better to write only a few sentences because anything more would require a novel), but I will tell you that Josh was the greatest champion anybody could ever have, and I know that if he were still alive, no matter what his own fight demanded, he’d summon the energy to fight for my novel too, and with the same ferocity he brought to his own battles. In my mind, I can hear him strategizing with me, thinking of connections, of people he knew, saying, “Don’t worry, Bub (he called everyone Bub and Chief), we’re going to figure out a way to get someone to buy this.”
More than his help and support and the undoubtedly amazing advice he’d give me for making the book better, what I’ll miss, what I do miss, is his unwavering belief. Josh believed in the healing power of art. But more than that, he believed in friendship. He believed in his best friends. All several hundred of us.