Debra Di Blasi
The friend I had was a town child, an only child. Lonely child conceived in adultery: mother not young, blood-father married with child. While the not-kin father who chivalrously rescued them all from dubious small-town reputations died drunk in a snow bank alongside a country road in the middle of a bitter-cold silent night when we were fourteen—
[My friend did not know the facts of her conception, not then, and not for decades. Though townspeople suspected all along. Whispered and clucked.]
And I'd say none of this—this gossipy tale I may someday rue repeating—would be important, not really, to the remembrance of farm and creek, except I'd be wrong because now, in hindsight, as her aloneness in the world seemed a ravenous scorch, a burning reach toward and toward, as if the genes of her body smelled what her mind could not decipher: the accident she was, and maybe unwanted until the godsend she became to the mother, and to me in my own crowded aloneness on that farm in summer, and to her children later, and maybe even once or always to the adopting father in his untoward touching when womanhood was pressing her outward, he who might have thought lastly of her, the not-blood-daughter, as he lay in the dark whiteness of his own farm snow, numb to everything but a fond gratitude for the privilege of once being the old man she called Daddy . . .
I'd be wrong because I recall her, the friend I had, really the only true friend for so many years
[And even now, though we never speak, no friend summons in me such melancholic affection so that I know on my deathbed, if I'm afforded one, she'll be one of few I'll choose to recall from such bygone years.]
as so damn happy there then, squatting on the warm beige sand of our slow-flowing creek, lonely only child swaddled in big family of my siblings and I, and the swaying arc of trees bent careful over such a small girl as she bending over a friable castle of sand and water that—even while a tiny infantry of minnows invaded the moat as the castle washed away and could not, not ever the same, be rebuilt—gifted her an elated long squeal of a laugh, a chortle and squinty-eyed gleam for a perfectly perfect day at the creek.]
—that friend stayed weekends on our farm in summers young and fabulous, as she did not mind the outhouse or cold well water or hot crowded bedrooms and slanting floors and walls, nor the insect bites and animal corpses, the cow shit and horse shit and pig shit, the rats in the corn silo and mice in the attic, nor the disappearing nightscape under the gegenschein belt.
And only that friend.
Because she was trusted early on to keep the secret of how a life others found ignoble and shame-rife can be crowned with a kind of wealth high beyond the flat innertubes and broken dolls of childhood. And how a covey of quail rising from cornfields speak a particular secret name at wingtip, as write the crawdads scuttling across streambeds, and so rattle the cottonmouth snakes tangled in creek bank brush.
Until, at sixteen, when we were each and all of us trying to find our peculiar name for paradise, she leaked my secret shame (my opulence) in a silly fit of complicity with a friend who, like so many girls those adolescent years, was also turncoat.
And so it all came to an end.
And I invited no one. Never again.
[And now she, my once only lonely friend whom I will always love, lives on her own Midwest farm where, I think, I hope, she ends each summer night satisfied, gazing at a wide ribbon of lustrous cosmic dust, with no need to remember anything but did she leave a light on somewhere behind her.]