If I told you the truth about him, the absolute, best-as-I-know-it-truth, he wouldn’t seem believable. How could there be such a person as John, so much in one man? How could it be that when I met him he was a singer/songwriter who opened for The Indigo Girls, was featured in Rolling Stone, caused legions of young women to sit in dark clubs one weekend night after another? He didn’t notice them, the girls.
We met thirteen years ago. He was wearing a faded pink t-shirt from the Eno River Festival, and he had round glasses at that time. We both lived with other people. The first time we really talked was the 4th of July, eleven years ago, at a party at my house. We were on the back deck with a man who was so stoned he was crying, and a woman another guest had dubbed Lion-Person Costume. I think we were the only sober people in attendance. He played me a song with three different birds in three verses, a chorus as delicate as an eggshell, and one of us asked the other why it is that artists always lead a double life. I said it was because it takes a double life to understand metaphor, but what I meant was he was the most astonishingly gifted, beautiful man I’d ever met.
He apprenticed with a potter in Mexico, and became a craftsman of such renown when he has kiln openings people arrive an hour early to buy the most perfect things. He is also fluent in Spanish. He’s a master carpenter, and built his house, his studio, and his kiln.
It was John who read the early drafts of the essays in Zippy, and who passed them along to Lawrence Naumoff, who recommended I give the book to Lee Smith, who recommended the right agent, who then sold my first two books. He has read, edited, and copyedited every book since then. All of my books are, in some way, the product of his tireless devotion and care and brilliance. Every word. When I wanted to write a book about a pool player, he shot pool with me almost every day for eighteen months. He beat me consistently.
It would be both a cliché and an understatement to say he loves my first two children as though they are his own. They simply are his own. There is no distance he wouldn’t travel, no debt he wouldn’t honor, no fire he wouldn’t face for all of us.
When I brought home an above-ground pool for my beloved Obadiah, John patiently explained it was too large to fit anywhere on our property, then proceeded to build a deck that had sections cut out around trees, and the pool fit on it perfectly. As I understand it, he used something called ‘geometry,’ the same trick he employed for beating me at pool. He did it for this boy:
He is an amazing chef, he works harder than any man I’ve ever known, he has the voice of an angel, and he never left my side when I was pregnant for Baby Augusten and on bed rest. He gave me this:
Sweetest of men, Happy Birthday. I have no way of naming what you are, even after all these years. But of these things I’m certain: you are the definition of honor and goodness and integrity. You are lovely and heroic and an angel of Yes. Thank you for this family, for my mastiffs, for building me a study in the barn, for telling me every day that you believe it’s your life’s work to protect me. When we were first friends you wrote, in one of your best songs:
And now I sit
With a bottle of your industry
And a notebook full of starlings
And that’s all the work
I’ve done today,
And I’ve put on
As if from vintage clothing racks
The habits of what we call men
But I’m just trying to slip back
Into a faded photograph
Of a boy with birds
In your scarecrow-haunted garden.
Those aren’t habits anymore – you are that man. The song is just as gorgeous, but you are better yet. And while I’ll always adore one of the other songs you first sang to me, I no longer believe that love is a cold and lonesome hallelujah.