08 February 2004

Sunday Night

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Wish I could be there to celebrate with you -- and not just for the free food!

I began working on this (perhaps overly) long entry -- most of which is about Ali -- sometime last night, and thought I had finished it this afternoon, only to find that the computer gods had destroyed more than half of it. Awesome. So as you read, know that these musings are scattered and fragmented for a reason.

Too, it's not just that half of this was sucked into the cyberspace void this afternoon -- it's that I spent last night and today recovering from an overly emotional Friday and Saturday. Yesterday I left a message (voice quavering, no doubt) on Adam's cell phone, saying something about how he's the only one who could understand how I was feeling. This afternoon he called me back, and sure enough, he sounded exhausted... drained. Which is where I find myself tonight as well, facing the prospect of re-writing so much, of going back to work tomorrow, and mostly of another 10 months without Ali.

Saturday Night

What a day. What a weekend. More than anything, I am overwhelmed. I had planned on a quiet, relaxing weekend -- maybe get a haircut, maybe work on the novel, perhaps a short story about the FF characters -- and, well... the best laid plans.... ("But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane / In proving foresight may be vain....")

This morning, I awoke -- bleary-eyed and craving oatmeal -- made coffee, and, according to my morning ritual, took coffee and cereal to my desk so I could read "the paper" (online) with breakfast. Checked my email first - and o, my heart, an email from Miss Ali! About berloody time, says I, who had been losing... something. Faith? Or moxie, I suppose: "the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage." As I've said before, writing to Ali is learning to communicate in an entirely new way. My letters aren't conversations but monologues, one-sided soliloquies sent into the world with the abstract notion that my words will travel the oceans, across 10,000 miles and through countless hands to reach Ali's desk. And as of yet -- no proof.

Until today! An email from Ali thanking me for the letter I wrote on January 9, 2004, recently arrived at her door. Proof positive that letters matter and that Ali exists, somewhere out there. And though everyone teases me about being wordy (in Ali's own:"'Well, I don't know how to make this story short...' These are the words that will send you into a panic when uttered by Ms. Backes. I hadn't realized that all the other stories I've heard for five years had been the short version..."), writing week after week about nothing isn't always easy. And now an email from Ali which makes my letters seem more like dialogue, albeit with a weeks-or-months-long delay.

Too, an email from her parents -- MamaCB and Lare -- saying she'd called them and she's alive and though the phone connection sucked, she's doing well. And so, a happy beginning to my morning.

Renewed in my conviction that my letters matter, I jumped into the shower, planning first to wash away the shadows and cobwebs (and dog hair!) of the night, and second to sit out on our sunny morning porch and write a long letter to Ali. But. Just as I finished my short desert shower (water conservation is foremost in our minds here), the phone rang. Those of you who know me well know that I often screen my calls, let the answering machine pick up, but as our AM's currently out of service I answered the phone myself. Irritated at the delay in my writing plans, expecting a telemarketer at worst, maybe Cam or Kevin at best....

It was Ali!

I don't know if I have ever been happier than I was at the moment that my slow brain at last connected the voice on the line with the person to whom I was about to settle down and write: my Ali!

The night Ali presented her education porfolio/SRT, I gave her a you're-finally-finished-with-Grinnell present, something I had been working on for nearly a year: a book of us. I collected all the entries from my journals written either about Ali or in her presence, all the emails between us I'd saved in five and a half years, pictures, notes from the one class we took together, letters, plans, etc. It ended up being close to 400 pages long -- and that's with significant editing on my part. Though the book gives a pretty good picture of the two of us, the connection between Ali and me could never be captured in words.

...I have never found a way to explain the ties that held us together. How do you fit a friendship into a few sentences? How indeed? We were the best of friends. We shared a thousand moments of connection. We knew one another as well as we knew ourselves, because together we discovered who each of us was. I mean, we grew up together. We crossed that line between childhood – when life is so different from day to day that you have to buy new shoes every three months and nothing seems constant at all – and personhood, when you finally recognize that there are some things about you that are specific and special to you, things that make you you. [...] When you grow up that way, you become a part of one another. I read somewhere that the roots of the redwood trees in Northern California go down and then spread out and connect to the roots of the trees around them, until underneath the ground there is this massive network of roots all tied together, holding every tree up. That’s how we were....
(from "Maya," 2001)

My Ali. In five and a half years, we've had our share of adventures, have driven across the country together several times (I'll never forget the look on MamaCB's face when Ali and I showed up unexpectedly in the summer of 2001, after driving 20-odd hours straight from Iowa in my advisor's smelly dog-car), have lived together in two different states, have had the most ridiculous conversations and the most profound, have taught together (always learning from one another in the process), have fought bitterly and come out stronger for it, have cried together and laughed together (sometimes in the same breath), have held one another up, have kicked ass for each other (our club junior year: Fired Up Chicks Unite!, or FUC U!), have laughed ourselves to sleep, have kept ourselves up all night long talking, have done countless crosswords together, have taken care of one another through illnesses, have acquired an entire dictionary of inside jokes and verbal shortcuts (to the point that we often have conversations in which whole sentences go by without a single noun: "Hey, do you--" "Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing!"), have watched hundreds of cheesy movies together, have scored thousands of points on the dartboard, have created too many memories to count.... In other words, have been the best of friends.

Clearly, I would not be the person I am today -- nor the writer, nor the teacher -- without Ali. Of course, the same could be said of many people in my life, but few have had an influence on me as profound or as obvious as Ali's has been.

Talking to her was a great gift, one that seemed miraculous. She sounded wonderful, though from what she said (and didn't say) it seems as though she's having some trouble at school -- however, all fellows faced the same kinds of trouble at the onset of the year, and assuming it's the same thing, it should settle down (or at least the chaos should begin to seem normal) in a few weeks. She called from Ladybrand, South Africa, where she and Lauren were staying at a Bed & Breakfast with a kind proprietor who wouldn't go to bed until he was sure that Ali was safe in her room. Ali said she and the man had a long conversation about apartheid, and that they didn't see eye-to-eye (he's an Afrikkaner who grew up under the system) but Ali managed to express some of her views without being disrespectful. It's one of her great talents, I think. She can disagree with you and be so sweet about it that you suddenly find yourself wanting to change your opinion to match hers. Of course, when she disagrees with me she usually just calls me "Backes" and punches me, but I've seen her work her sweet-talking magic on others, I have indeed.

Anyhow, she was calling from South Africa, so the connection was amazing -- she could have been calling from across town -- which surprised me after talking to Nadia in college, when she was in Tanzania, or to Nadia's parents when they'd call from Barbados. I expected that talking to Ali would be the same: echo-y as hell, with a several-second delay that makes normal conversation almost impossible (whenever Nadia's parents would call White House, I'd go crazy trying to talk to them), but it was just fine. Also, the entire time I was talking to Ali, she was talking about how the cars were all driving on the "wrong" side of the road, and how she worries that she's going to get hit because she can never remember which way to look when she crosses the road.

Eventually, because I couldn't keep her on the line forever, and because the nice B&B owner was waiting for her to get off the phone so he could go to bed, we had to say goodbye. And knowing I wouldn't hear her voice again for weeks or even months ---- ah, me. Saying goodbye: I suck at it. After more than the usual number of i-love-yous, we let go the connection.... I spent much of the rest of the afternoon either in tears or on the verge (which is when I called Adam -- he didn't understand my message until he talked to Ali later that night, the next morning in Ladybrand). I miss her every single day, but hearing her voice reminded me of the exact dimensions of the hole in my life without her, and I was sadder than when she left in the first place.

And so it goes....


After reading Coelho's El Alquemista ("what, for the 20th time?" asks Kevin) to calm myself, I cleaned a little, took the dog on a walk up to the golf course and took pictures of mountains to finish up a roll of film (tried to take pictures of the dog in front of the mountains and ended up lying on my stomach in the grass on the highest hill, laughing my ass off and generally looking like a crazy person), did some cleaning, read through the entirety of Johnny Cavalier, 1998-2002, and then talked to Kevin for a long time, which was lovely as always.


Speaking of paying the bills, we knew our old friend Ian Honeyman had a credit on the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but what we didn't know is that he's building a substantial resume for himself! Which just goes to show that Oregon grads can do anything. Maybe.


Oh, and I finally read Things Fall Apart, after meaning to do so for eight years. Thanks for the other book recs, folks. Keep it up!

----- Much love from an exhausted Molly -----

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