Southern Views

“When I was a young boy, my little sister drowned, and it was essentially my fault,” the American journalist William T. Vollman told The New York Times. “I was 9, and she was 6, and I was supposed to be watching. I’ve always felt guilty. It’s like I have to have sympathy for the little girl who drowned and for the little boy who failed to save her–for all the people who have screwed up.”

I’ve been carrying around in my head these past couple of days the news of the death of a former colleague. So far no news of what took this exceptional man, only in his mid 60s, although some have speculated that his heart betrayed him.

(Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon/Wikimedia Commons)

We were never really friends, since I don’t think he valued friendship, at least in how I understand the word. He was a “quick read,” as the phrase once was used, and saw life through a different prism. There was little conventional about him, especially the way he thought through problems. On the down side, he became known as a taskmaster who took few prisoners.

He was always on the “fast track” and deservedly shimmied up the ladder of success without pause. But there always seemed to be an aloneness to him, something missing that barred him from closer contact with others. He was wed to his various jobs and identified himself so much with his journey of promotions that perhaps he thought little of the considerable hide he had left behind on the fences he had hurdled and climbed over.

Last time I saw him was a chance encounter at a chain hardware store that was closing and selling everything half price. He was in the area temporarily between overseas assignments and approached me, as though he wasn’t quite sure if I was who he thought I was. So instead of saying hi, he formally introduced himself all over again and then gave me a rundown of all that had happened in his life in the five or six years since we had last met. No slap on the back or invitation to have lunch, just a recounting of his ventures and well-articulated successes.

As I drove home later, I couldn’t turn the page on the afternoon.

Now, more than a decade later, I have learned of his death and am just as puzzled over this man as I was following our hardware meeting. I have no idea if he had anyone close to him, although he had two children from a previous marriage. His passing conjured up a telling memory of him. One day out of the blue, he shared a dark secret that he was annoyed when he saw his infant son snuggled up with his wife taking their afternoon nap. In his typical blunt honesty, he confessed that he was jealous of this intimacy.

So today I am troubled but not especially saddened by his death. He was an intriguing and gifted man, but perhaps full of too much certitude and disdain for others not on his perch.

For him, the shortest distance was between two points. I doubt if he ever trotted by fits and starts, and certainly never by indirection. That just wasn’t the way life was for him. I believe he saw life as an arrangement of neat patterns. And I doubt if he ever saw the big show as the disjunct it often plays.

And I wonder if he ever said, “I’m kind of sorry that I caused so much grief.”

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David Evans

David Evans

I'm retired from another life and live in the mountains of eastern West Virginia with my muse Jody along with one little and two big dogs and a diminishing pride of two cats and other critters who come along the path from time to time. I retired one morning years ago when I woke up and said, "This is the day." It was simply time to do something new with my life. I had done whatever I did long enough, and now it was time to do something else. Being independent and no longer in the reins of someone else's driver, I believe I have found something to cherish that I never had before. Retirement may be dull and boring, but that's true only if you are dull and boring. But if you’re like I was, and am, I saw a lot of things as I went along the trail that I would have liked to linger over a lot longer if I had had the time to spare. Above all, I wanted to think about what they meant and have the chance to go back over them and figure them out. I'm not abashed to say that today I lead a life of real luxury. I also recognize that I'm a lucky boy. In the words of Katherine Anne Porter: "My life has been incredible, I don't believe a word of it." I am the author of the recently published collection of essays entitled Meeting Memory In The Dark. Earlier I self-published Words To Woo Her By And Other Distractions Along The Way; Tunes of Glory: The Slow Ticking of the Heart; Cradle My Soul: Glimpses Into Other Lives; and Unscheduled Stops: Essays on Love, Loss and Other Roadside Attractions. All are available on either Amazon or Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. Proceeds go to the Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.