On this gloomy South Florida day, I’m thinking of a friend who’s close yet far away. I haven’t seen him in a few years. And he’s the only one who would understand this: I think of him every time I put on my sunglasses.
I once gave him a book, but not just any book. A book I had since childhood which for some reason always brought me comfort.
It was that specific copy; it had to be that one, no other. Something about the smoothness of the pages, the smell of it. The poetry and prose tucked within.
The book was called The Riverrun Trilogy by S.P. Somtow. It’s a fantasy novel about a young boy, his family, and their unusual travels to other worlds. The writer gained some notoriety for other books, but for some reason this one remains little-known. The story and the characters feel mysterious, and so does the book itself. Nobody I talk to has ever heard of it. As I recall, the book has poems in it that are based on, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat….”
….Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
Each poem is perfectly paired with a particular section. While reading the story I would often page back and read the poem again.
Sometimes I get letters from my friend in the mail. His handwriting is always familiar. It’s a comfort to me, like the book.
I remember climbing into my Hyundai in North Palm Beach. He sat beside me. When the wind whipped into the open windows, he worried about me because of my trigeminal neuralgia; the wind caused me pain.
He said, “Maybe if you close your window, and we open this one…and that one…” He leaned into the back, opening a different window and the passenger side to create a cross-draft in the hopes that it would miss my face altogether.
One night we spent hours lying on the beach and staring at the stars. I’ve never had such fascinating, philosophical conversations with anyone else, and it was like we were the only two people in the entire world.
We took a lot of walks together, stood on picnic tables, went barefoot in the sand, and shared big ideas and memories as if we had known each other for a much longer time.
We held each other up. Like two leaning buildings that needed support.
He was full of kind, thoughtful gestures. It was hard to imagine that he would enter his own dream and drift away from me. I miss him and I hope to see him again, but I don’t know when that would be.
This is for you, Jacob:
Row, row, row your boat
Underneath the stream
Ha, ha, fooled you all!
I’m a submarine.
–The Riverrun Trilogy, S.P. Somtow