Saturday I went to the Boston area to attend a holiday party thrown by some friends of mine. I have to be in Boston later this week to help my aunt, who is going into the hospital for back surgery. Fortunately, this is a procedure she has had before; this instance will be quite a bit less drastic than her first go-around (some discs they elected not to do last time have since developed problems), and there is very little risk associated with it. Essentially I'm going to stay with her for a bit, as she lives alone and mobility will be an issue for a few days.
While on the way to Boston I'd gotten an email from a friend of mine I haven't heard from in a few months. He had warned me prior to vanishing that 'he had some things to take care of' and that he might or might not get back in touch. I know that sounds odd, but for this person that's a fairly normal statement - he's intensely private, and there was a chance I'd annoyed him (although he didn't mention that at the time). I told him I'd be sad if I didn't hear from him, and I'd miss him, but that I hoped whatever he needed to get done went off okay, and to let me know if I could help. Sure enough, didn't hear from him for 5 months.
I was ecstatic to get the email, which said he'd be available by phone evenings this weekend, and to call if I had any questions, and he owed me an apology for not getting in touch. I emailed back that he had been perfectly clear about the chance of vanishing, so I didn't think he owed an apology, but if he insisted I'd take it gratefully but mostly looked forward to talking to him.
Called him Saturday during the party, because I didn't want to leave it too late and I'd arrived in Boston on the late side (couldn't call while driving). He answered immediately and went to get his headset.
The long and the short of it is that it turns out he has a brain tumor. He's not expected to survive past February.
He's known this for quite some time. He is, as I said, an intensely private person, and the only person he told (other than the doctors he was working with) was his current employer, as he had signed up to carry out a task for them and it looks like he won't be able to complete it.
He has made it quite clear that he doesn't want me to come see him; he'd prefer I carry with me memories of the last time I saw him, when he was physically still quite healthy. In most other folks I'd give careful consideration to whether they were just trying to spare me the ordeal, but not him. He never prevaricates or white lies or otherwise doubletalks, especially in personal matters. Never.
He's already deteriorating physically, so it's not clear how long he'll be able to talk on the telephone. We talked for an hour - and about more personal things that we've ever talked about, really. I didn't process it well, realizing only about 20 minutes in that this was goodbye.
Turns out that he had been planning to not tell me. But the one other person he told, his employer, is a mutual friend of ours and had asked if he was going to tell me - and said 'I'm not going to tell you what to do. But I would.'
I'm pretty fucked up right now. We've known each other 15 years.
I'm not going to see him again.
I had already semi-prepared for that when he told me he might wander off, but of course, I hadn't thought it was because he wouldn't be around, just that he might not want to talk to *me* and might change his mind in the future. I know, that sounds really odd for a friendship, but you'd have to know him to understand.
Part of me wants to call him every day. I told him that I understood he just wouldn't answer the phone if he was unable. But when we rang off, he told me to call him 'if I had any questions.'
I really think he just told me goodbye.
I did tell him I loved him, and I'd miss him, and I'd tell his story one day with names changed to implicate the innocent. He had mentioned he'd like that, as he considers me a better writer anyway, and that I am one of his oldest continuous-contact friends. So I don't feel there's anything left to say, really. I'm realizing that wanting to call him again is mostly me wanting to get to talk to him as much as possible, before. But it's clear he doesn't really want to talk, or he would have been talking to me already. I understand that, and I respect it.