kindred spirits

On the drive north Tuesday I listened to Tears For Fears, Songs From the Big Chair ... twice and loud. The trip to Bangor is just over a hundred miles, perfect this time of year, the spicy colors of fall beginning to paint the landscape.

I remembered the first time I’d heard the album, I must have been about twenty-four. My girlfriend Lori had invited me along with a few friends for a water skiing weekend in eastern Washington. We trailed a boat behind cars packed with tents, water skis, sleeping bags, coolers, hot dogs, bags of chips and beer. Destination: Chelan, a long worm-shaped lake, the largest of its kind in the state, cold, deep, fresh and crystal clear—large rocks thirty feet deep looking as if you could reach out and touch them.

I quickly made friends with a tall skinny guy named John. He had short, thick, mink-brown hair, gorgeous Italian eyes—light in the center, dark around with thick long lashes—and sharp, high cheekbones. He liked smoking cigarettes, lots of them. To me, he seemed like the odd man out—unabashed, distinctive, carefree—and that’s probably why I liked him so much, seemed somehow like a kindred spirit.

One black night the two of us took the boat out into the middle of the lake, left the others behind. We hunkered down with our beers and he put on the tape. The smooth, crisp music cut through dark silence and echoed off of the shirred cliffs encircling the water. The sky was bigger than I’d ever seen it, billions of stars shining like sugar and salt on black velvet. I felt so small, and yet simultaneously enormous, as I was transported into space. The music filled the canyon ... the sky ... my brain. Every so often the coarse snap of a match caught my attention as a flame glowed behind cupped hands and the smooth draw of smoke fused with the ethereal sounds. There, alone in my mind under the cosmos—in fact in it—was, for me, a perfect moment in time.

Halfway to Bangor, cruising just over seventy miles an hour, I imagined not stopping, but keeping on as far as a tank of gas would get me—Quebec City, perhaps. I felt totally free—like in that boat a lifetime ago—flying down the road, my only companion a burlap bag stuffed with a t-shirt, toothbrush, camera, wallet, brush and cell phone all crumpled into a khaki lump on the floor of the car. With my worries behind me and the big sky above, I felt so unencumbered, like I hadn't in years. But I didn’t stop—couldn’t—I had a date with a friend who was in town for the night.

After checking into the Bangor airport hotel I climbed up on a padded stool big enough for two and made pals with the bartender. Nick poured me a huge glass of Pinot Grigio, on the house, while I waited for my friend. I’d never met her before, but I’d memorized her face from pictures and video: lovely and slender with light eyes the color of lake water and river stones, and long silvery hair swept back behind her ears. When she entered the bar I jumped off the stool and we embraced.

Susan—heroine, warrior woman, survivor, champion against the loathsome monster that is epilepsy. Founder of CURE, she travels to the ends of the earth to find one for our children, to end their suffering and their regrettable reliance on drugs. We shared wine and stories, got lost driving—and in conversation—but always managed to loop back around. While dining on Italian food, we spoke of our children, our families, of aging, illness and hardship, of motherhood, loss, marriage, pain, ignorance, hope, joy and triumph. Talking with her was like catching up with an old friend, a kindred spirit—simpatico. If not for our travel weary eyes, we’d have stayed up all night long like a couple of teenage girls camping out under the stars. Yet another perfect moment.

When I crawled into my hotel bed it was already the next day. Six hours later, after sinking into my dreams, I awoke in the darkness to the rumbling of Susan’s plane—like rolling thunder—rocketing her westward to wide open country, desert canyons and gorgeous, endless skies, where the simplicity of a song or a friendly smile can transport you to another space and time, and it does.

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