To the Sagster, from the Pink Punk

"In the months since Dad died, I've found myself wishing that my friends, here in this sparkly new life, had some kind of honest understanding of all the years that came before I moved here. I didn't come to Huntsville to try to fit in, and I cheerfully plan to never do so. I came here with plans to make a small piece of this town my own; to find people I could relate to; to start over if I had to; to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life."

—September 12, 2002: "eight tenths"

Every now and then, amidst stories of knitting and cats and life in general, something happens that actually matters. Sometimes I talk about it, and sometimes I don't. My choice of what to write about here is capricious at best and random at worst, and I've never attempted to pretend that what is written about here is the sum of my life. It isn't. Sometimes it's a lot of it, sometimes the overwhelming majority of it, and sometimes … sometimes what is here is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today is a day in which I can't be everywhere I want to be. There are two places I'd love to be right now, both of which are mutually exclusive, and the current state of my health dictates I be in neither. Instead, I am at home, recovering, curled up with my technicolor cat pants and my favorite ice cream…and my memories.

Four of my friends are picking up degrees today. Three of them are at UAH, and two of them are married to each other. We'll celebrate those on Tuesday. It's the fourth friend who's on my mind today, enough so that I'm going to step out of my usual and put something up on ' that is far more personal than most entries I write here.

* * * * *

Today, up in Illinois, in Urbana-Champaign, one of my oldest friends receives his doctorate.

Andrew, we are not nearly the people we were when we first met, are we? I was thirteen, and you fourteen at most; we both had truly questionable haircuts, a determination to spend the rest of our lives somewhere other than here, and a love for words that transcended distance.

I still have your letters, hidden away in a box somewhere. I haven't seen them in years, because I haven't needed to look at them, but I know I still own them because I can't imagine getting rid of them. I always marveled that we managed to nurture a chance summer-camp encounter into a more lasting friendship, even though we did not go to the same high school or college, and have never lived within a local phone call of each other.

When I think of you, I see these images:

You staged dive-bomb Thanksgiving Day rescues of me from my aunt and uncle's house. One day, you introduced me to the hedonistic pleasure inherent in drinking a Sonic cherry limeade while in the passenger seat of a Ford Fairlane on a hot summer's day. I still remember the taste of the cherry on my lips as I pulled it away from the stem, even though the substance of our conversation that day is long gone.

You introduced a lovely dark-haired girl to me in the summer of 1993, saying, "This is Joy," and I in my shortsightedness never dreamed that several years later you would marry.

You discovered that one of the best places for me to hang out with you and visit was in the piano practice rooms at OBU. I still remember the smell of the stacks of sheet music I held in my lap and the soundproofing tiles on the walls as you breezed from song to song, talking about what you were studying that semester.

You were the true instigator of the best prank of Jeff's and my wedding rehearsal, by substituting "The Imperial March" for "The Wedding March," causing all my friends to howl with laughter, my parents to look at us with the don't-these-pesky-kids-take-this-seriously? look, and me to think, "I should find ways to insinuate the Imperial March into all my friends' weddings from now on…"

You (with Joy) showed up completely unannounced for the visitation before my father's funeral, and sat with me for hours afterward, laughing and making jokes in my mother's living room on a day that should have held no laughter.

Joy, Andrew, Eleanor, Amy, and Jeff at the visitation.Old friends
Tara, Joy, Andrew, Amy, Jeff, Monica.  What should have been a post-visitation time of sadness and mourning instead turned to stories and laughter.  It was exactly what I needed that day.Swapping stories

You, along with Jeff and Joy and me, had a several-year streak of only seeing one movie together each year but always managing to make that one movie the one that ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture that year.

You eventually made sure that I got past just being acquainted with, to being friends with, your older brother, who through random vagaries of fate moved from Arkansas to North Carolina, and now lives eight tenths of a mile down the road from us.

* * * * *

He played at my wedding. I turned into a watering pot at his. Somewhere amidst high school graduations, college graduations, our marriages, cross-country moves, international study, deaths, mortgages, and births, we grew up. We tucked our silly teenage nicknames for each other away, agreeing that whoever revealed them (or our awful incriminating photos of each other) first would incure the wrath of our Mutually Assured Destruction pact. We learned how to masquerade as adults in public, we continued our endless quest to find new music, and we swapped movie recommendations when we got a chance.

We don't look a damn thing like we used to. (I credit the better haircuts.)

He and Joy are expecting their first child this fall.

Today he receives a doctorate in musicology from UIUC, becoming the third person in his immediate family to earn the title Dr. Granade.

* * * * *

Andrew, I am so proud of you. I always have been, but it's the sort of thing that friends don't always say, because it's a little unnecessary and uncomfortable to go around trumpeting it all the time in daily life when all you really want is for the person next to you on the couch to pass the damn Cheetos.

As your friend, I maintain the right to turn into a sniffling watering pot at the thought of your graduation—and the while muttering under my breath, "and should you ever develop an ego, you know I'll post the photos"—because you know me, I can't stand to let a serious moment like this pass without some truly inappropriate levity.

I love you to bits. You have worked so hard to get where you are now, and it gladdens my black little heart to see you achieve this goal.

Congratulations, Doc.


He had two graduations, one in the gigantic mothership of Assembly Hall, the other in a tiny auditorium in the school of music. This involved two graduation speakers, one funny but empty of content, the other full of boring irrelevancies. Thankfully Eli demanded that we not listen to the second one. His graduate advisor returned and hooded him. We threatened air horns and whooping. Afterwards there was dinner at a local dive, him in his doctoral robe. Mom allowed as how Andrew's haircut that you mentioned was sooo cute. He's away from the internet for a few days, so let me be his interlocutor. His day was wonderful, and would only have been more complete if you could have been there.

Mothership! That's awesome. Good to know Eli rescued you - I wondered how he'd do. Good to know that he's quickly turning into a toddling Occam's Razor ("You are not worthy! Let us begone!"). Oh, and his haircut was kinda cute. Mine at that age, however, is a thing of horror not to be discussed. I bless the goodness of hairstylists and friends finally teaching me that I must embrace the Great Mass Of Wiggles on its terms, instead of trying to make it conform to what I think it should be. I wish I had been there. I ached that I wasn't -- in the same way that I ached not to see Rick, Ashley, and Jon pick up their masters' degrees on Sunday. But life doesn't always work out the way you plan (the past six weeks of my life have been prime testament to that!) and I just have to hope that a hug and a grin will make up for my absence. Besides, it isn't as if they rescinded the degree because I wasn't there.

Eli, of course, has his own take on the whole thing at I'm certainly not going to point at other people's hair and laugh, given that in high school I had the parted-down-the-middle wings for a while.