It was three years, three damn good years, and I don't think it's the sandpapering nature of memory saying that. I remember arriving in Bend, pulling up alongside all this good weather and better beer, passing Badlands and bad golf swings on my way to making great new friends - thank you great new friends. It wasn't love at first sight, but this place sure is a head turner - thank you Cascade Range, Deschutes River, High Desert of Oregon - ultimately I fell in love with you. Granted, it took time, a few years to feel like I belonged, but it happened - thank you Dudley's, High Desert Journal, the Source, The Nature of Words, KPOV, you precious ones at OSU; quality is the word that describes you. How ironic, then, that just as I feel I've arrived, I look up to see you in my rearview mirror. Dammit. Dammit all to hell.
What happened? I still don't know. Except it's a leaving that needn't, shouldn't be, and yet calm-voiced Prudence prevails, counsels me, and I listen - thank you Prudence, and damn you. On top of everything I discovered shame, because never in my life have I felt more ill-will toward a person. Let me repeat: I am ashamed. I'm ashamed I feel this way, act this way, show myself to be the small person I am. Where is my forgiveness? A long time ago I learned the story of a woman who'd been infected with HIV. Her husband had hidden from her the fact that he was gay and eventually he'd passed the disease onto her. The woman was able to forgive him. In South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was freed, he instigated a program of reconciliation where murderers and rapists came before their victims and victims' families and confessed their crimes - and they were forgiven. So why can't I?
Is it because I don't want to? Is righteous anger that sweet? I hang my head. Meanwhile, the good-meaning peanut gallery recites clichés. "Everything happens for a reason." "Time heals all wounds." But the scar tissue, I remind them, the scar tissue remains. And what about my home, my friends, an entire community and landscape I love? Taken away. Can time replace them? Because I'd like to be around for that. As individuals, I know we can withstand a lot, but when a person we love is hurt? In this column I've often written about my wife, whom I love dearly. It was to her the injustice was done. To my surprise, the other day she said she was moving toward forgiveness. I stared and stared.
Facing the awful truth about oneself is uncomfortable, and I will or will not face mine. But Bend, for all that is good about you, there are some awful truths you need to acknowledge, some of them the worst you can find. And I will leave it at that.
So this is my farewell, and first stop is a great, great, great big thank you to Terri Cumbie and her husband Neil and all that Dudley's Bookstore/Café represents and has to offer. For all the talk about "community," for every Make Local Habit bumper sticker I've seen, how sad Bend barely knows you're there. Best books, best coffee, best people in town. Celtic Jam, Bare Roots, Big Pine and the Pitchtones; best free music around. In Dudley's is the salvation of books. In Dudley's is the salvation of every small city and town. In Dudley's my best memories were made. The address is 135 Minnesota.
Next a deep bow and warm thank you to Elizabeth Quinn and her beautiful High Desert Journal. Designed by Thomas Osborne in Terrebonne, printed by Ryder Graphics of Bend, it's one of the best literary journals/magazines in the country. Period. I say this not because I've been its editor for the last year, but because it's true, a simple statement of fact. Compare it to any magazine. Try and find the ads. (Hint: you can count them on one hand.) I urge you to pick up a copy, subscribe, tell a friend. It's what journalism and reading are supposed to be, and beauty, we all know, should not be ignored.
Finally, to the Source, to editor Eric Flowers and in particular Arts and Culture editor Mike Bookey, thank you. You do a hell of a job, every week. E.B. White once wrote that sometimes a writer, like an acrobat, must attempt a trick that is too much for them. I've tried, in my own stumbling way, to do this every time I sat down at the keyboard to write this column. Thank you for the opportunity. You trusted me, gave me the chance to fail (as I often have), knowing it was the attempt - the essay, my essai (in the old sense of the word) - that was important. Which brings me to you, the readers. Thank you for your time, your patience, your indulgence, your ear. You were good listeners, good readers and it was a pleasure spending time with you. It ended all too soon.
So here we are, and here I go, a last pint lifted, a last sage-scented breath breathed, a last column printed. I pack my computer, loop a horseshoe over my mirror, point my truck east.
Farewell Bend, I say. Fare thee well. You were good to me.