This wonderful man, Jon Maslow, died a few months shy of his 60th birthday, 7 years ago this week. We met in college, a tiny school in southern Vermont, where I was just about the youngest freshman, newly 17, and he was a lofty four years older, a senior. It was like, maybe even love, at first sight. Within minutes we knew we were soul mates. I dated, and then lived with, Jon’s roommate. Jon attracted all of the most beautiful women in the area with his dark grace and passion for living. He was my first and best guy friend.
Jon made me laugh. He knew all my secrets, and I knew his. We came of age together, shared everything, and loved and respected each other. We coached and counseled each other through love affairs and marriages, and supported each other even when we didn’t approve of the inevitable bad choices and bad decisions.
I roamed with him in junkyards, looking for whatever he needed to repair his ancient Volvo. I visited him in the winter on the farm where he lived with his friends Richard and Oliver—no electricity, no heat, no running water, but a massive wood stove kept us warm, and houseplants flowered despite the cold and dark. We often talked all night. He peed off the porch. I slunk around the back of the house in my boots and jeans and flannel shirt and aimed as best I could into the snow. We walked our dogs together. We went skinny dipping in the small ponds in our town, and in the bright enthusiasm of youth and idealistic fervor, tried to change the world by changing our corner of it. We started a restaurant, a day care center, a political party. We talked endlessly, read deeply, stalked wild mushrooms and owls in the forest, baked bread, argued about just about everything, gardened, complained, challenged each other, grew up. I felt safe with him, always.
His letters from South and Central America were long, insightful, silly, and written in beautiful calligraphy. His house and garden in New Jersey were messy, crammed full of oddities he’d picked up from great distances and around the corner. The books he wrote—The Owl Papers; Bird of Life, Bird of Death; Sacred Horses; Torrid Zone; Footsteps in the Jungle—opened up my world, and I was thrilled that he chose to rest in my company between his voyages.
In our one, and only, attempt at becoming lovers, we ended up laughing so hard we simply gave up—makes sense, in hindsight—we had a different kind of chemistry. I loved to look at him and to hear him talk—of course I did, look at that face! He’d read Mark Twain to me at night until I fell asleep, every time he came to visit. His annual calendars of adages and proverbs were the best gifts ever. This is the one from his last year on this earth.
I still talk to him when something great or funny or perplexing happens. When I get lonely for his voice, I read his letters. Grief has no timetable, and love endures. Here’s to friendship. Hang on to the people who get you and let them know that you love them.
Thanks, Jonathan. Without you I wouldn’t be who I am, or have all those 19th century Russian novels under my belt, or know how to make a mushroom print, or have the skills to be a lifelong friend. I miss you, wherever you are in that mysterious space/time/matter continuum. And I still want that hat.
A wonderful tribute to your friend and a celebration of the love we call friendship.
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Kate, this is so, so beautiful! I’m lying in bed in an AirBNB apartment in Santa Monica looking forward to, and dreading, today’s memorial service for my friend Laurie. My head is full of memories of her, I’ve read her final piece in today’s newspaper (she was a reporter), even watched a recent video of a presentation Laurie did at Stanford about her disease. Your story here helps me remember Laurie as a friend who lives on through her work and her impact on the rest of us, including me. Thanks.