Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sailing Home

My childhood chum, dear friend and soul brother, Nat Bowditch, died in the early morning of September 4, 2008 from complications due to multiple myeloma. He was fifty-three.

Nat and I met at grade school and were friends for over forty years. We discovered and became ourselves together. As teenagers, we hung out together and smoked pot and cranked up Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. We discovered girls together and shared details about our first sexual encounters. We went outdoors and stayed out all night under a full moon and wandered all over town, watching the eastern horizon gradually brighten as day began to dawn.  And we got in trouble together.

Even now, I can see Nat's father, Phil, standing there by the liquor cabinet, in the kitchen of 33 Cedar Lane, Cohasset, MA.  And he did not look amused. Nat and I had been called up from Nat's basement bedroom--affectionately known as The Hole--to stand before the great parental judgement seat. My recollection of the occurrences of that ill-fated morning are as follows:

As was his weekend custom, Phil had arisen early and had begun to make breakfast. I believe chipped beef on toast was on the menu.  As Nat recalled, Sheba--the family cat--had commenced howling piteously as if from some hidden recess within the kitchen wall. In due course, Phil traced the cat's pathetic cries to the liquor cabinet where, apparently, it had been confined overnight.

And there we stood before Phil, the cat having been freed from its captivity, the door to the liquor cabinet stood ajar. A bottle of Jim Beam bourbon was poised ominously on the countertop. Phil said: "Goddamit, if you guys must drink my booze then go ahead, but don't water it down!!!" Phil was referring, of course, to that moronic and age-old ruse of refilling the booze bottle with water after having siphoned off much of its contents.

Last July, not long after he came on hospice, I conducted a series of interviews with Nat using a digital recorder. We'd lie together on his bed and reminisce. I asked him questions about his childhood, about favorite memories that he had. It was difficult for him to speak at that point. He'd tire very quickly, become short of breath. He said:

There's one memory that I'll always relish. I was ten or eleven years old. I was sailing at the yacht club. We had these sailing dinghies, sort of starter boats for everybody. In the mornings we'd learn to tie knots and that kind of thing. In the afternoon we'd go racing. I didn't like racing very much but I did it. And I remember one particular day in July or August. It was a beautiful day. Nice breeze. It was five or so in the afternoon. We'd finished the last race and it was a nice easy broad reach coming back into the harbor. I remember sitting in the bottom of the boat with the tiller on my left shoulder, just leaning back in the seat. It was warm with a nice breeze and I just relaxed. No rush coming back in. The sun was low enough in the sky that you'd have that beautiful golden light all over the place. I didn't want that moment to stop. It was nice to be by myself, knowing we had a good day. I'll always remember that moment. It was a really peaceful moment.

I often think of that conversation now. I'm glad he had an image like that within himself toward the end.  I hope that it was a guiding image for him. Toward peace. Toward wholeness. Toward that beautiful golden light.


Sarah said...

David...this post moved me to tears. Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing more about your lifelong friend Nat. He was lucky to have you too...

David Heald said...

I was just warming up! Pull out the hankies!

Sukie Curtis said...

I love this reminiscence of Nat... yours of him and his of those peaceful golden moments sailing home.

Amy said...

Dear David,
I heard about Nat at a Christmas party. I felt like I had a potato stuck in my throat. I last saw Nat when we were at the Museum School; he was wearing a beret and looked quite dashing! We were so YOUNG! I thought of you and how terribly sad you must have been losing such a dear friend.