I haven't seen his face in four months. The last time I saw it it was framed by dreadlocks, his square jaw and straight smile just the same as they've always been. His back was against the kitchen wall and his guitar was in his hand. His guitar is always in his hands. He never lies to me. I've hung up on him, been angry at him, and cried unabashedly in front of him. He is solid, like a rock. And he never lies to me. We've been friends for seven years. Seven years. Two Septembers ago we rode bikes down a Kentucky lane at midnight, the trees arching above our heads, then we came home and drank french press; he played his guitar and told me truths.
I haven't seen his face in four months. He finished grad school and went to explore Scandinavia on foot and bike, but now he is back, beginning a PhD program in the Colorado mountains and I've promised him a visit. (I don't always tell him the truth, but I hope this will be true.)
What's going on with your writing? he asked me last week. You're less straightforward, less you.
When he says something, I listen. He's wise. He proofread most of my papers in college and tutored me tirelessly through math and, well, let's be honest, I'm certainly not beginning a PhD program in anything. Also, he knows me.
I don't know, I said. And that is the truth. I really don't know.
There's some weight on my shoulders that hasn't been there before, some instruction to get my numbers up, some reality that more people read this than I ever dreamed, and more and more there's the weight that comes from knowing that I'll take account for every word I write and say.
Just tell the truth, he says to me across the miles, his face framed no longer by dreadlocks, but by the rectangular frame of my laptop. That's easier said than done, I tell him.
So? He says.
Just tell the truth.
The truth is that I feel a lot of pressure these days. I feel pressure to be one sort of writer, the gentle, lulling sort who lauds grace and gathers chicks like a hen-mother, petting and purring us all to sleep. But I also feel deep within me this fervency for the gospel, this desire to be clear and firm, immoveable, like a pillar carved to adorn the thing I think is most beautiful, the palace, the kingdom of Heaven.
I want to be a poet theologian. Someone who makes the truth beautiful.
That is the truth.
Sometimes the truth makes people hang up or get angry or cry unabashedly and I don't like that.
But tonight I thought about my friend and all the times he's made me angry and I've cried and he's been angry too. And I thought about that September night two years ago when we ricocheted truths back and forth to one another and how those truths hurt but the hurt leads to healing and who doesn't want to be healed?
Figures that the only photo I could find of the two of us was him playing yet another stringed instrument and me being silly —a fit likeness of our entire friendship...