We ascended the hill together in the cool dark of early evening. It was blue and windy. There were no trails to follow, only places here and there where the trees and scrub and brush became less frequent and the grass more trammeled. Surrounding us on every side were high brown rocks. It was like walking amid the pillared ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery where oversized statues of the Buddha lay on ivy pillows dreaming. All the rocks were as big as life, and some were even bigger. They were stony glaciers in the nettled eddies of a vast green sea.
Kyle strode slightly ahead of the rest of us. He was wearing a Mexican poncho and carrying a long staff he had picked up on the ground near the base of the hill. Following shortly behind him was Helen, who seemed heedless of the wind and grass and trees and stones and was speaking animatedly to Kyle with an avidity which suggested that she was ignorant of the rest of us, and of the fact that Kyle had given up listening a long time ago. Suzy, Bonnie, and Anna Beal had formed their own group, although Suzy couldn’t seem to resist pausing every few paces and turning and grinning at me like a shark of the crags. Bonnie was explaining how she had seen an angel earlier that day, but refused to tell anyone about it except to note that she had seen an angel earlier that day who had forbidden her from talking about it.
Taylor and Allison and I were together. It was the greatest day of our lives. It was also the worst. It was everything at once. We didn’t know what it was entirely, but it was soaring. Taylor soared; I soared. No longer were we trekking up the mountain; we were running with the clouds. We had left that little cliff behind a hundred years ago.
Allison was telling us that she thinks life is a puzzle, and that every person she meets in her life is a part of that puzzle, but that she won’t understand it in fullness until she comes to the end of her life and sees the whole thing laid out in front of her, and I was just getting ready to quote a line from the “angel” sequence in It’s a Wonderful Life and see if anyone got the reference when Taylor interrupted with a long story about how he had walked into a room that was nothing but mirrors, and how he had seen his whole self in its totality from every angle, and he said he thought that half his life had been an out-of-body experience. “Existence is a strange thing to me,” he said. “But as a stranger, I give it welcome.” Then I talked about how exciting it is to know that, when everything comes crashing down around you, you have yourself, your resolve, and the strength of your own mind, and then I threw God in for good measure, and I talked about the beauty of life among ruins, and the light that shines in chaos, and the pulse, the fever, the excitement, of even the most horrifying things, and Taylor agreed, but then Allison said that that sounded depressing, and Kyle (who had left Helen in the lead and appeared alongside us, his belled curls beadily sweating), called it “a bunch of random garbage that you just strung together,” so Taylor and I immediately began talking about the unutterable beauty of living, and how everyone needs to embrace the reality of reality, and Taylor made jazz fingers, and I danced around and jumped and jigged out my excitement until Allison laughed so hard that she had to bury her head in the back side of Kyle’s poncho and there was no more to be said.
Night was waiting for us at the summit of the cliff, an elegant blue lady clad in stars. There must have been a thousand of them; I had never seen so many at a single time. It made me think of being in love, and how much I pretended not to want it. Camping trips, pillow fights, late nights, starlight, the Chapel, the Chapel Garden… clichés.
There was a fire pit set in the gravel, and Kyle was running around like Diogenes seeking for someone, anyone, to help him build a fire. But Taylor and I were currently engaged in spinning around in circles like a pair of Oompa Loompas, which rendered us, for the moment, entirely unable to assist him. Bonnie was quoting the Bible in that unnaturally meek and supercilious voice she always used when she wanted to indicate her superiority to the rest of us. Suzy was crouched low in the shadows at the base of a tree in the hopes of watching me when I passed without the indignity of being noticed. Anna was sitting sulkily at the top of a boulder on the margin of a wood to our left like a monk among the enchantments, so that there was no one left to help Kyle but Helen, who had stormed off in a huff after he ordered her (in a voice that echoed through the hills) to take a vow of celibacy.
“SILENCE!” he added, after a remarkably awkward pause during which everyone gawked at him. “I meant, ‘SILENCE!’”
Allison was wrapped in a blanket, standing on the crest of a rock at the mountain’s utmost edge. The night was in her hair and in her eyes and the wind blew around her in whispers and the stars had formed a crown around her head.
“Boze,” she said brightly, as I stole up behind her, “I’ve got that song in my head that you and Taylor were playing in the car on the way here. But I only know the chorus.” She began to sing it. “‘And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows you home?’”
“Here, I’ll help you out,” I told her. I began to sing—timidly at first, and softly, but with mounting emphasis:
Where have you gone?
Did I know anything about you?
Many moons have come and gone
They wane so easily without you
All along I said we’d be
Sorry, sorry, and so we are…”
Suddenly, Taylor was between us. We were all singing together, Allison in a melodious soprano, Taylor in a tenor.
“And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows?
And ain’t that, and ain’t that the way that the wind blows you home?
Sorry, sorry, and so we are.”
I was quiet and sad when we had finished. Taylor took me by the shoulders and shook me with something like paternal affection.
“Your singing is horrible,” he informed me.
“I know,” I answered coolly (throwing off his arms). “I should just stick with quoting poetry. It’s what I’m best at. ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to each a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.”
“The mystery of BEING!” Taylor exclaimed. Allison giggled.
“‘I do not think that they will sing to me.’”
“I think Boze memorizes poetry the way Allison memorizes songs,” said Kyle, strolling over from the flameless pit. “I’m going to laugh when, one of these days, you quote Romantic poetry at a girl and she quotes it right back at you. You would be scared out of your wits!”
“That’s definitely one of the twelve signs of the apocalypse,” I agreed. “I would run.”
“Allison, there’s a bug on you,” said Taylor, reaching over my head towards Allison’s shoulder like a toy crane. “Here, I’ll get it off.”
“No, I like it!” said Allison, grinning at the bug in a manner which intimated the bond they undoubtedly shared. “I read a poem by ee cummings once. I liked it so much, I memorized it. It’s about the spring.
since feeling is first
who pays attention to the syntax of a thing
will never wholly kiss you… ”
“Oh-ooo, that’s my absolute favorite ee cummings poem!” I shouted. “Let me recite it with you.” We recited it together.
“wholly to be a fool
while spring is in the world
lady, i swear by all flowers—don’t cry
the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelid’s flutter
which says, ‘we are for each other’
then laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
(and death, i think, is no parenthesis) ”
“We should all memorize poetry,” I concluded, when we had finished. “Poetry is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
“Everything is the most beautiful thing in the world!” shouted Taylor gaily.
Allison was almost trembling with laughter. Her silhouette shuddered in the darkness.
“That’s true, though!” she yelled. “Let’s try and make every day the best day of our lives!”
“What could go wrong?” I replied.
“Exactly!” cried Taylor. He seemed not to have noticed the thin undercurrent of sarcasm in my voice. “Hell is only one step behind us every moment of our lives, heaven only one step ahead!”
“I’m so glad I finally found you guys,” said Allison quietly. “You don’t know what it was like… all those months of school when I would see you walking around together and wished I was with you. I even told my friends, ‘I know these two guys, and they’re like the funniest people I’ve ever met!’ I seriously just thought about walking right up to you and saying, ‘Let’s be friends!’ But I didn’t know what you would think of me if I did that.”
“We felt the same way,” said Taylor. “We even talked about doing that.”
“It was all we ever talked about, in fact,” I told her.
“And I told my Jewish friend Michael about you, Boze,” she went on. “I told him, ‘I know this guy who is just writing his whole life.’ And he said, ‘Well, there ya go, you oughtta write him a letter. And I was like, ‘No, he’s probably too busy writing his life to write to me…’”
“But we’re friends now!” Taylor shouted again (drawing the subject of the conversation away from me in the process). He folded us up in a hug. “‘Joy, gentle friends!’” he exclaimed. “‘Joy, and fresh days of love accompany your hearts!’”
“Yay!” cried Allison.
“Ah, what joyyy!” he growled. “Ah, the hearts of us all are one! Laughter, flowing through the channels of friendship like a river from its source to the limitless ocean, the cycle that never ends, the beauty that never dims! Every day is more beautiful than the previous, every moment a little closer to celestial perfection and I can’t get enough of LIFE!”