Monday, April 14, 2014

Old Friends, Gone

A couple weeks ago another high school friend passed away, the third in as many years. We called him Easy, which he was when we started out.  At some point early on into adulthood things would become not so easy for him, the details of which I am glad to not know. One story about him from those high school days was when running from the scene of an infamous high school prank (today it would be called “multiple felonies”) Easy couldn’t keep up and shouted to his partners in crime, “Leave me to the dogs.”   Which seems somehow telling, as if we all did, in a way, leave him to the dogs. I remember him as a sweet, generous guy, and I’ll leave it at that.
But in the same week, another friend from my past left us, rather mysteriously, too. I found out on facebook.  No obit appeared anywhere, though the funeral home included a lot of photos in which at first I hardly recognized my old friend.   Comments at the funeral home website alluded to the end of his long-suffering, and this showed on his face in most of the photographs. 
I remember Steve Levy mostly for his laugh, which was constant and infectious.  We taught high school together for seven years and spent a lot of time coaching track together, too. Steve had turned himself into a high-jump expert.  One time we were on a school outing to Joshua Tree in winter and I cajoled him up a rock climb on a thing called Moosedog Tower (pictured above), which was ominous looking when we scoped it out in the moonlight the night before we climbed it.  I remember hurrying our rappel off the summit to get to mass said by one of the priests, Father Cronin, I think, the mass outdoors amid a giant rock amphitheater on a crisp winter morning.  I remember having a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which was not being late for Father Cronin's mass.  I still have a lot to be thankful for.  And, I still have a photograph of Steve standing below the Tower.
When I left high school teaching, I left southern California and I never saw Steve again, never kept in touch at all.  He probably never knew how much his friendship meant to me.  Or, maybe he did; I don’t know.
A few years ago (2010) I published an essay in which were included some remembrances of him and I sent a copy of it to him in care of the school where he taught.
Here are the pertinent paragraphs from that piece:

“Sitting out on one of the decks waiting for the telepherique I met another Brit.  He was sitting barefooted in the sun eating some dreadful concoction that he squeezed out of a tube.  Had just soloed one of the big alpine routes, I no longer remember which, and would be heading over to the north face of the Eiger.  He had done the north wall of the Matterhorn earlier in the summer.  His toenails looked like someone had taken a hammer to them and his hair was almost matted.  He was in some highly personal zone into which humanity did not venture often, though he was friendly enough.   
            During this era I taught high school in southern California.  I worked with Levy who, it turned out, was a kind of armchair mountaineer.  He had done a little climbing but not much and we were always making plans that fell through at the last minute.  Levy had been particularly enamored of Bonington, having read the first two of his early biographies—Bonington’s biographies a publishing enterprise unto itself.  I don’t know what it was that Levy so loved about Bonington--perhaps just a distanced appreciation.  Levy would ask me to tell him about the Alps.  And I’d mention something.  But his favorite image was of the lone climber up on the deck of the Aiguille du Midi.  He was like a child insisting on a favorite bedtime story: “tell me about that guy again.”
            Trying to arrange a climbing trip with Levy was impossible--he never came through.  Later in life, after I had children of my own, now for example, I felt I understood Levy much better.  I feel I owe him an apology.”

What did he think of it?  I’ll never know, nor will I know even if the magazine ever reached him.
In any case, I miss him now that he’s forever gone, in a way that had I guessed at years ago would have spurred me more strongly to get in touch. 
Godspeed, Steve, you were good man, and you knew that if there was to be a reward it would be in heaven.