“Everybody might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that way to me
Everywhere that you look in the day or night
That’s where I’m gonna be, ma
That’s where I’m gonna be.”
Woody Guthrie, Ballad of Tom Joad
A dying can do funny things to a person. Part of them can leave with the passing of another soul and another part might gain strength, as if the deceased gifted their final breath on the dying embers of some warming fire. And often, those who are closest to the death will not know how to interpret this newfound heat within their hearts as it pushes up against the steely cold pain caused by the loss. It’s a fine line.
Here’s a good riddle: What travels uphill faster than down? Fire, of course. If you can out-run the fire and jump off the other side of the mountain, consider yourself lucky. You will only fall though a hole in your life. It might be a space of soft clouds or clear air before you meet Mother Earth. Smack. Choose your poison or your perfume, for dying by fire will surely kill all of you. The brave ones though, they will wait at the top and hope the fires of pain will melt the snow near the peak, turn them into water that runs downhill. It’s always a risk.
When Ruth died I felt the flames building alongside the winter of my heart, fire and ice eyeing each other precariously, the glacier that her death caused was holding fast. It was like my mind starting to work differently; sharper in the middle but dull around the edges.
The words too, they came out differently — thoughtful, strange, like a neighbor who’d lived next door for years knocking on the door to introduce himself.
This isn’t Ruth’s story. Or mine or Harry’s of Phin’s or any one person who became a party to and a part of my life as it unfolded. And while it seems that this story is book-ended with tragedy, I like to think of its circularity as its truth; that it really did, really could happen this way. The lived-life just ain’t an easy thing to go through. But when you consider the alternatives—being mostly dead while you’re alive, or never even being alive at all—I’ll take what I was given.
Whether or not you think this is all made up or whether you take it as pure fact, it matters little. It’s what I remember as far as I could separate the two. I done a lot of talking early on, mostly to try and make sense of it all. And then I let Phin tell his own piece. Probably for the same reason.
The other voice that fills in the blanks, well, that’s just a sound that made itself up, split down the middle of the page but joined together at the heart. Or maybe it’s the reader’s thoughts jumping out of their head and landing on the page.
Like I said, it’s true, or at least ought to be. Because it’s like those little silver charms shaped like half a heart-shaped puzzle—you can’t buy them separately and you best be giving away the other half to the right person to complete the circle. I’ve done my best to keep my half. And I know that Phin and Harry and the others have done theirs. I’m beginning it and pray God if I don’t get to, the right person will get it done. Or not. Ahab’s whale showed us all that. White ain’t always perfect and the best we can do is try and get some color and light to stick to the canvas along the way. Job talked about it in the Bible. So did Phin, in his own way.
It starts here with Ruth, the only one I knew who started out at both ends, looking skyward, and ended up in the middle, looking down.
My God she was a woman.