This is my first round two! Reuben wrote about an experience in jail for his first Defining Moments post. When I put out a call asking if anyone in my MFA program were interested in writing something, Reuben asked if he could contribute a second piece. “Hell Yeah,” was my answer.
My best friend’s name is Lesson. It’s his, as in he chose it; changed his driver’s license, amended his birth certificate. Freedictionary.com, then, defines him as “something to be learned.”
* * *
Three days ago, when the Texas temperature finally dropped below 100 degrees, we sat outside on the patio of the house I choose for us, the house I scoured Austin, with a real estate agent in tow, to find for us, and he tells me he’s making a road trip. His freckled, cherub-esque, perma-smile flattened and his eyes criss-crossed my face, picking up all my micro-expressions because we both know this is trip I wasn’t taking with him.
For the nine years that we’ve known each other the open road has been some sort of component of our lives. When I was living in Atlanta with my family, one phone call, one text message was all it took for Lesson to pack up from Orlando and bolt out on the eight hour drive to come get me.
Three years ago we drove out to Texas together because we wanted to see something different. We drove for twenty hours straight through, not once turning on the radio. We’re the kind of best friends who can have conversations across whole time zones.
Lesson is always the driver, and I’m always the navigator. He can pull the car up mountains, eyes focused on the few hundred yards in front of him, and I can read the road signs, gauge the sun in the sky and tell us where we are, where we’re going.
* * *
Two days ago, I watch Lesson and his girlfriend pack. I ask questions like a bad actor in rehearsal, an amateur who turns into cardboard when they aren’t speaking lines.
“You’re going where first?” I over-emphasize.
“San Francisco.” Lesson says, “It’ll probably take a day or two. And then I’m thinking Denver, you remember Devin and Ben? They live there now.”
“I go to school with someone who lives in Denver.”
“And then Richmond, to visit Lani.” Lesson’s girlfriend hands him folded clothes and he packs them into his duffle bag. “She’s got this garage that I want to talk to her about converting, putting in A/C, bunking down.”
I deliver my line flat, “And then Orlando?”
“Yep yep! Cross country.”
“My birthday is in two weeks.”
“I know, I’m sorry, brother. We might not make it back in time.”
* * *
No one’s sad in these last few days. There’s no hurt feelings. Lesson and I joke, and I breathe in his amped anticipation like oxygen. In the spaces where conversation lulls and laughter peters out I notice we both breathe in and stare ahead of us. I realize we’re both prepping ourselves for the road ahead. Austin’s become a fork and we’re about to take different paths.
We call each other “brother,” not just to ourselves but to other people. At concerts when we lose track of each other I ask people, “have you seen my brother? He’s about this high, chubby, red-orangish hair? He’s white.” From him it’s, “my brother’s that Arab-looking guy, you know, with the curls.” We have friends from the bar scene who think we grew up together in foster care.
* * *
Yesterday, the he day he left, I ride shotgun through all his last-minute errands. New tires, inspections, oil changes. I have school work and a deadline for grad school but I don’t think to even touch my computer or pick up a book.
Randomly, we light cigarettes for each other and say, “I’m gonna miss you, man.” He’ll be gone two weeks, maybe three. Maybe a month. Lesson will be on the road for as long as he can take it. Parts of him will come back but I know enough: parts of him won’t. Parts of Lesson will change, grow without me. Parts of me will settle and emulsify, without him. A season will change, it will be Fall; I’ll be older when he gets back. And we’ll both know: our friendship isn’t going to die; it can’t because we are brothers. What it can do is bend, twist and turn, branch out like a maze. There’s always options, choices between two roads. And there will always be a driver and a navigator. One to propel, one to orient.
Today, I get phone call from Lesson.
“I saw the Pacific.” He says.
“Is it beautiful?”
“Gorgeous! I miss you, Brother.”
“I miss you too.”
“Gotta go. I love you, Reuben.”
“I love you, Lesson.”
And that’s what I’ve learned.