There comes a time in everyone’s life when the least likely of friends, or even acquaintances, steps up to lend a helping hand. It’s so unpredictable sometimes that it’s simply and prophetically precious.
Such is my experience with an old friend, Glenn Mason. We first met in 1987, when Glenn helped with my corporate relocation from Alexandria, Virginia to London, England. He was an accountant then, and several years later, he left the company to become a public school teacher in New York City. We stayed in touch, mostly through mutual friends, but months and years often went by without any contact between us.
We were then and still are different men. Glenn has a phlegmatic personality; he is a northerner and a man of color, not a southern WASP like me; he doesn’t smoke or drink; he goes to bed way too early and only after eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Yet, Glenn was the one person I knew I needed to contact when I moved to Boise, Idaho, six years ago. I can’t explain why; I just accept it as the will of God.
Here is an introduction I asked Glenn to write for my intended memoir after I finished a first draft over two years ago. It does not appear in the current published version of Southern Fried Fiction, but I plan to add it to my next update. Those of you reading this post are kindly invited to validate this intention.
“A phone call in spring 2010 started it all. Sitting in my classroom at the end of a long school day, I was happy to hear from my old friend, Stuart. I hadn’t talked to him in a while.
I had barely said hello when Stuart excitedly asked me to guess where he was living. I asked if he was back in New York, and he said no. “So you’re still in DC?”
“Nope, I’m in Boise, Idaho” he replied with shameless gusto.
After letting this news sink in for a moment, I cautiously asked if his wife was with him in his new home.
“No, she cut me loose!” he chuckled.
Over the next fifteen or twenty minutes, Stuart updated me on the recent events in his life. As our Q&A went on, I was filled with sadness, compassion and a degree of worry about his last couple of years. But I was also filled with a sense of admiration for his strength, courage and perseverance.
As we ended our chat, I observed that his life had been far from conventional; in fact, I said, it might be called unorthodox, atypical or even bizarre at times. So I encouraged Stuart to write about his experiences – the happy and the sad, the good and the bad.
His kneejerk response was to say, “no.” Furthermore, he added, “Who would want to read about me?” The simple answer was that his life has been interesting and that I thought others would enjoy discovering it on a page. But more important, I said, why not just write it for yourself? I thought he might get some comfort or better understanding about himself if he simply put pen to paper. While I wasn’t trying to be an armchair psychologist, I was certain he’d benefit from the exercise.
But he wasn’t willing to commit. At least not yet.
So I took a different tack. I wrote an introduction to his life’s story as I understood it and emailed it to him. He called me right away and asked if it would be alright if he made a few changes to what I’d written. Happy that he was on some level intrigued with what I’d sent to him, I told him to make whatever changes or corrections he saw fit to make.
He rewrote much of what I had written and sent it back to me. Reading the introduction, now in Stuart’s words, I was pumped, and I could tell he was, too. Most important, he indicated a readiness to continue writing about his life and asked if I would be willing to read what he wrote.
And so began the process of exploring Stuart’s life, a process in which I was, at times, Stuart’s writing instructor, editor and muse. Some ingredients of Stuart’s story were easy for him to write about; other, more painful, parts of his life proved difficult to draw out of him. But eventually, his rollercoaster journey spilled out onto the pages.
Stuart’s journey was exciting and revealing for us both. Now I invite readers to try and share our experience.
They’ll find, in these pages, a man who has had more than his share of tragedy, adventure, love, heartbreak, and disappointment. But each time life knocks him down, Stuart eventually dusts himself off and starts all over again. As his life journey continues in Boise, I wish for more happiness and adventure to return for Stuart. I want this for my friend and so much more.
God willing, he’ll have it all once again.”
New York City