I like socks, I do. However, I am resentful that I have to wear them while I sleep. I love the feel of cool, crisp sheets on my skin and I love to make her angels to warm the sheets to my body temperature or achieve a happy medium temperature of sheets and skin. I recall my close friends from grad school looking at me strangely as I revealed these details of my sleep process. While they respected the disclosure, they did spend the next year referencing “cool sheets” whenever they could. My cool sheets were a lot like Tammy’s slave toes, Jasmin’s frappe, and Jesse’s “Ooh.” They were touchstones of our relationship and bond during the hell that doctoral study can be. These were also our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that sustain our relationships across this country—Jasmin in Georgia, Tammy in North Carolina, and Jesse’s ashes sifting through the Atlantic seaboard.
Jesse left us far too soon and I struggle to fill the sinkhole that his unexpected death wrought within me. He was my brother from another mother, my road dog, my brunch buddy, the guy you took to go people watching on the ho stroll. He loved it when I called someone or something “low budget.” His raucous and protracted laughter at the absurd, insipid, and moments of questionable taste we witnessed typically shattered the level-headed and stodgy persona I often adopted during my time in Bowling Green. Our quartet had many good times that helped us to endure our time in northwest Ohio.
When I think about it, he and I were like a foot and a sock. We fit. No matter the length of time that we sat apart in a drawer, in a clear plastic box with a cedar block, or under the bed battling dust bunnies, we fit when we came together. The heel was supported. The toes had room to be, to wiggle, and mingle.
Now shoes were another matter! My poor friend has notoriously problematic feet. His arches had stopped doing their job many, many years ago. I don’t know if he knew, but shoe shopping with him was an emotional storm…hopeful, disappointed, indifferent, optimistic, disillusioned, and sometimes, triumphant. Whenever we were together we’d often end up in a shoe store and I was honored to weather this storm with my dear friend. His feet hurt every day. This pain was counterbalanced by his unbridled joy when he ate some good food. He would coo, ooh, and hmm until it was gone. Then he’d order some more.
His zest for life and the simple things combined with his passion for analysis of the nuanced and the complex, gave me a sense of agency. A self-possession, if you will. Being in relationship and brotherhood with him gave me the inspiration to reconcile my loquacious, extroverted tendencies with my analytical and isolationist nature. On occasion, he’d look at me and say, “What you should do—No!, what may be helpful to you is…” and I appreciated his acknowledgment of my inherent rebellion against anything that I should do. I’m very Nat Turner in that way—not to be confused with Ike Turner. He’d remind me to “ebb and flow, because there’s a lot of shit you cannot and never will control.” He was right.
I could not control his death or the way that I learned of it. I could put on a show for people to make an impression, but I could not control the depth of their study of me to discover the real me. I cannot control what other people think of me and have embraced that it’s none of my damn business! I can control what pair of socks I slide my toes into. I can choose the right pair of socks and shoes to cradle my slowly caving arches and my emboldened heel into. They fit. Thank you, J.