Letter to a Friend – Part Four

Some of the Class of ’82

You’ve been reading some old letters.
You smile and think how much you’ve changed.
All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days.

– This The Day by The The

Yearbook Signature

Dear Bernie –

We only saw each other a few times after graduating from high school. I had no plan for my future. “Become a comic book artist” is a direction not a plan. I did odd jobs throughout the summer and finally ended up as a dishwasher at the Apple Orchard Family Restaurant. I worked there for the next two years, moving from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook. I finally decided that getting out of California was a plan and I moved to New Jersey at the end of the summer of 1984. That’s a whole other story.

June 26th, 1982

In your signature in my yearbook you told me to call you. I’ve never been much of one for phone conversations (my best ones are always with people who are happy to talk and let me listen) so I invited you to a couple of parties. My mom left my brother and I alone for a few weeks in that summer of ’82 while she revisited Alaska. Naturally we had some parties. You came to both of them – the first for most of night, the second only for a quick visit.

June 26th, 1982

July 9th, 1982

I saw you a few week after that outside of Zerbinos again. When I didn’t know what to do with myself at night I’d often wander around Sebastopol smoking cigarettes. I rarely had a direction in mind. It took me a moment to recognize you that night. You’d shaved off half your hair. It was strange and delightful. You’d always seemed so … normal. In Sebastopol, in the summer of 1982, there weren’t punk rockers in Sebastopol, at least no punk rockers I knew. We exchanged a few works (I hope I complimented your style) and then I wandered off.

Later that summer, during one of my late night wanders, I passed your house and saw that you were having a party. So I went on it. Your hair was mostly all buzzed off by then and I think you had acquired a punk boyfriend. I think I met your mother that night, staying up smoking and drinking with the kids. I’d probably met her before, after plays but I’ve forgotten those times. Only a few of my friends’ parents made impressions on me. I stayed a couple of hours and wandered off again sometime before dawn.

I passed your house on other nights that year but on those nights I just passed. I didn’t know what to say. (I often didn’t know what to say to people. That’s why I have so many friends who like to talk.) Sometimes I’d make a sculpture of rocks or pebbles on your driveway. Or in your mail box. (That was probably a little irritating.) I never signed them. How do you sign rocks?

The last time I saw you in person was at your sister’s graduation from Analy in 1986. I went to every Analy graduation from 1981 to 1987 when I finally stopped having friends in school. You and I talked briefly, two people in a crowd. You looked stylish and very thin. You told me you were working for Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco. It didn’t occur to me get your phone number or an address. I didn’t know I’d want to see you again. You looked like you’d found a path in life. I was still making it up as I went along.

So it’s been 22 years since we spoke and almost two years now since you passed away. Why am I writing? Who were you for me? Why is there such a large hole in my heart?

I love stories. I love to hear them. I love to read them. I eat them for breakfast lunch, dinner and midnight snacks I’m good at telling stories when I’m flat out making things up. I’ve even gotten paid for writing a few stories. But I differentiate stories from life. A good story makes sense. It leads you somewhere. Life just happens and trying to make it seem logical usually means ignoring part of what happened. When I talk about my life, the lives of people I know or how the world works, I’m a lousy storyteller. I get too caught up in the facts, too attached to the true of true story to make the story live.

It often helps to look at life as a story for the hurts to make sense. Stories give meaning to life. A biography that’s just a series of events might be interesting but it’s usually unsatisfying. There’s a good story, many good stories in your life. I wish I knew the stories that came after high school. I’ve only got an end to your story. Most of the rest of it is a blank.

In the week after I got the news I tried to figure out where that hole had come from. It was as I began to try to imagine telling someone about you, imagine telling the story of who you were that I started to be able to see the void. See if someone were to write the story (make that movie, miniseries, tv show) of your life, David Ingersoll wouldn’t be in it. We manage to function in life by filtering the information our senses collect, ignoring everything that’s not essential to our task at hand. A well told story filters life down, cutting out everything that has no meaning. In the story of Bernice Jinkerson’s life I wasn’t important. I wasn’t your first kiss. I wasn’t the guy you had a crush on or the best friend you told your secrets to. I didn’t give you important advice at the time you needed it the most. If I were to have appeared at in your story at all it would be as one of those composite characters, a combination of people you knew who get streamlined together so the reader doesn’t get confused by too many incidental characters. The truth is I wasn’t a pivotal figure in your life. I was just some guy you went to school with.

When I first realized that I felt a little odd. I also realized that that wasn’t where the emptiness came from. The blunt truth is if someone were to write the story of my life you’d get the same treatment. The impact you had on my life was quiet and gentle. There was no drama to it. The drama in my life happened with other people. We don’t have a big story someone would write about.

Too many people I know have had periods in their lives when they felt alone. They lose track of friends and then come to believe that they aren’t missed. They look back on a lousy time and see only the brambles they had to crawl through. I hated high school. I also got very lucky. I made friends who got me through those brambles. Thirty years later a lot of those friends are just a phone call away. If someone were to write the story of my life most of those friends would get streamlined away. But my life isn’t a story and I wouldn’t be the person I am without ALL my friends. You made my life a better place. All the little things you did. I’ve never forgotten you. I’ll never forget you.

I thought you should know that.

I’m posting this because I know that there are other people looking for you, people who cared about you and wondered what became of you. I’m posting this because a simple notice wouldn’t have been enough.

Just a couple more memories. Dreams actually.

I rarely remember my dreams. Most nights pass as if I didn’t dream. I like to think that I don’t dream. My head is usually so noisy when I’m awake that it seems like a dreamless sleep would be a rest. The few dreams I remember are usually the ones where I run into old friends, friends I no longer know how to get in contact with, at the Party That Never Ends. You know the place.

Back at the end of 2002 I dreamed of you. I no longer remember the details. The dream was vivid enough that I felt like I ought to tell someone so I wrote about it to a mutual friend from high school. When she wrote back that she hadn’t heard from you in years I was inspired to post that notice on my web log.

The second time dream was a couple of years ago, in late 2006. If I were writing a story I’d say the dream was in September but honestly I don’t remember the date.

I was at The Party That never Ends. The Party is usually in a big rambling house surrounded by a big rambling yard. I’d been wandering through the house talking to friends, enjoying far off music. I came into the library. The sun was shining through big bay windows. You were curled up on a big white couch reading by sunlight. You looked healthy. Happy. Your hair was long and you wore a summer dress. We gave each other hugs and talked about inconsequential things. I told you I was glad to see you. And then we wandered on.

Bernice Jinkerson
15 December, 1963 – 23 September, 2006

One thought on “Letter to a Friend – Part Four

  1. If you were a friend of Bernie’s and you have photos or memories you’d like to share email them to davidlee.ingersoll @ gmail.com

    I’ll be happy to post them in separate entries.

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