This is Charles.
Are you there?
Jay, where are you?
I remember the first time we met.
You seemed so familiar.
We searched through a litany of possible connections.
Yet, we were only strangers.
Your raspy voice was such a comfort.
But, I still couldn't place where we had met.
I'll never forget the day you and Maryanne were married.
It was sunny in the Berkeley hills.
Somehow the Golden Gate managed to restrain the fog from the Pacific.
You were always so fortunate.
That day, Joe held a knife to my back as Sherrie and I were posing.
I regret that you never saw the picture before we left California.
Ironic isn't it?
Perhaps not as implausable as my father trying to place your ethnicity.
It was my 40th birthday party. "You're Israel aren't you," he said in his broken English.
To which you replied, "it takes an Armenian to know one."
I carefully observed the two of you that evening.
Watching you and my father get acquainted reminded me of the first time you and I met.
"He seemed so familiar," he told me afterwards.
He and I tried to identify possible connections between the three of us.
We finally agreed that we were merely strangers.
Seven years later, he asked about you before he died.
What about the day Sherrie and I invited you for Khema?
You couldn't even pronounce it, let alone enjoy the meal.
"Not used to eating raw meat," you said.
To put you at ease, I relayed my mother's complaint.
After all, she's the one I watched all those years growing up,
Kneading thrice ground raw meat and bulghur as if wedging clay.
I never noticed the subtleties of her cupped hands.
Now she's repulsed by the idea of me preparing that dish.
"You have hair on the back of your hands," she said.
"You extrude the meat like excrement from between your fingers."
Funny, but I still attribute her response to gender bias.
It's only recently that I've noticed the lack of hair on her hands.
God, I loved coming to your house to watch you cook.
The stories you told in that raspy voice, your laugh-they were great.
What a gourmet.
Preparing dinner was the same for you as building a relationship.
"Love and respect are key ingredients," you said.
After meals, we would talk into the night.
You said we would go to Mexico.
You and Maryanne were going to retire there.
Sherrie and I would visit.
It never happened.
Now, it never will.
I'm angry with you and I'm angry with the cancer.
You were fine the last time I visited you in San Francisco.
After lunch on Union Street, we watched the kites fly over the Bay.
I felt so close to you that I was willing to share my deepest fears.
You were a close friend, more like a big brother.
That all changed, of course, the day you telephoned with the news.
I'm still very angry.
I really shut down.
I feel like I failed you.
I walked on eggs talking to you about the condition of your body.
I couldn't speak about it openly.
It continues to be difficult for me.
At first you sounded the same.
Later, I could hear the disease taking its toll.
It was apparent, even long distance over the telephone.
Your voice grew weaker.
I didn't know what to say.
I wanted to take the pain away, but couldn't.
I was careful not to offend you, not to reveal my fear for your life.
I monitored my conversation to the point of indifference.
Thereafter, I felt the receiver grow colder each time we talked.
Trying to suppress the possibility of your dying, I didn't call for weeks.
My betrayal was unwarranted, yet I continued.
By the time I mustered the courage, your voice had grown faint. "I've given up the house," you said.
The one that was nestled in the Oak forest along the hill in Orinda.
The stairs to the front door had become unmanageable.
I know how much you loved that place.
Nonetheless, you moved to your office to convalesce between Chemotherapies.
"It was a shorter distance from the hospital," you said.
The last time we spoke, you and Maryanne had moved away.
You stopped seeing your doctors.
The fire was gone from your voice.
I could barely hear you.
Then, you suddenly stopped talking.
There was a lull in the conversation.
Maryanne took the telephone.
I could hear it coming in her voice.
I'm still not certain of what she actually said.
Her tone was enough to inform me.
She called a few days later with the news.