I’ve been meaning to write this story for several months. Hopefully, I can still do it justice.
When Jen and I started dating, we were talking about our favorite authors. (That still happens, right? I doubt it, but it happened this time. I’m not lying. Quit looking at me like that, I’m being honest.) We decided to give each other a book from our respective favorite writer as kind of a homework assignment. Or litmus test, perhaps.
(Ok, seriously. Stop giving me that incredulous look. We both like to read, alright? I mean, who are you to judge? You’re on a freaking blog, weirdo.)
My choice for her was easy: “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins. He’s so different from my usual reading (John Grisham, Nelson DeMille, and others of that same entertaining ilk) that people often find it hard to believe that he is my favorite author.
But that’s exactly why he’s my favorite. Because he is different. And funny. And smart. And he is the master of the simile. No one can write like him, though I did buy two books by Christopher Moore because he was compared favorably to Robbins. I haven’t tried to start either one of those books yet, by the way.
But this story isn’t about my favorite author. It’s about Jen’s favorite.
A foundation built on nothing I could see
Secure in your immaculate perception
The last resort I ever thought I’d exercise
Now, all that I have to stand on
I was presented with “A Prayer For Owen Meany” by John Irving. I knew little of the author other than the fact that he wrote “The World According to Garp“. And that whole “landing the airplane” scene in the movie made based on Garp kind of made me leery of this Irving fellow. I mean, anyone who could make me not like the idea of what was happening during the “airplane landing” (even if that thought only lasted about 12 seconds) has got to be a jerk, right?
And, to make matters worse, religion was a big, huge, player in this book. In and of itself, that isn’t a major deal. I’ve read Dan Brown (“Angels and Demons”, “The DaVinci Code”) before (among others), but Irving makes faith the major focus of this book. And he focuses on “lesser” (in quotes, because I am still not sure if that is the correct adjective) denominations, though getting his digs in at the Catholic Church.
Anyone who knows me well already knows how I’d feel about a book like this.
But you’d be wrong. I effing LOVED it.
Grieving from a different point of view
I learned its meaning from you
In life and death
…But faith is just a
Mine is just a desperate act
Give him back
I know. It surprised me, too. (And Irving seems to be one of those kind of writers that it takes about 50 pages or so to get into, if that makes sense. I’m glad I stuck with this one.)
A (very) brief synopsis of this novel: Set in New Hampshire, the story is about the unlikely friendship between a guy named John (!!) and Owen, from childhood to early adulthood. The latter is comically small, and he also has a weird condition with his larynx that makes him sound like he’s shouting when he talks in his normal voice. Thus, every line spoken by Owen in the novel is written in all caps.
I like non-conformist writers (I already mentioned Tom Robbins), so I found this literary device not only effective but brilliant.
And that was an all-too long preface to the real meat of the story – the reason I’m writing this.
As best I can tell, it was early August when one of my friends started posting comments on my Facebook updates in all caps. Right about the time I really started getting into the Owen Meany book. And it was total coincidence. Or maybe divine influenced?
This friend – let’s call him “Dex” (because he did nothing at all embarrassing, so those who know us both will know who I am referencing) – was a classmate of mine for a long time. That may sound like a weird statement, but we were both in the TaG (Talented and Gifted) program in its earliest of stages. In elementary school, that meant we would be in the same room one day per week (a group of about 25 kids from 4 schools) from 4th to 6th grade.
In middle school, it meant we were in a couple of classes together based on the TaG designation alone.
In high school, we were probably in 90% of each others classes. (But we all know that TaG English is the only one that really mattered. That is where we bonded.)
I owe him
Throw me a line, I’ll suspend
Following your lead
I’m led into this concession with hope and doubt
A seemingly futile gesture
But high school is still high school. All of us TaG kids might have been friends (or friendly?), but we all also had our own groups that we hung out with that were independent of the classroom hierarchy. Teenagers just want to feel normal, too, you know?
Dex was in the school band, and I played baseball. Dex was into sci-fi and I was into Rush (quit shaking your head, ladies) and warming up to U2. Dex graduated a year early because he was such an over achiever (I had totally forgotten about this) and I made the first Cs of my education career as a senior because I was mailing it in.
And yet, in 2010, the two of us somehow found ourselves at Little Woodrow’s in Austin, TX (the north location, off Parmer) catching up on 23 years of not knowing each other. Actually, more years than that if you consider the fact that we had totally different social circles in high school even if we had most of our classes together.
I’ve seen him once since then, I think it was 2015, when he and his girlfriend came to Texas from their place in the Pacific Northwest. To say we are an unlikely friendship would be an understatement. But we do have a strong bond of friendship, nonetheless.
No one else from my high school years sends me a text message out of the blue, just Dex. Hell, only two other people from the class of ’88 even have my cell number. (#HumbleBrag?)
I guess my point is this: Adolescence is weird. Dex and I were never really “friends” in school, though we were friendly to each other. But now as adults, as we went through some of the same life events, we found some common ground and could appreciate each other.
Ok, that is an undersell.
Dex is a great friend.
And the fact that it took an author suggestion from Jen, some random out of charcter all caps typing by Dex at just the right time, a few shared experiences, and 20+ years of life kicking us in the gonads (not in that order) should be an inspiration to people.
And perhaps a life lesson to others.
I’m not sure if you’re my Owen Meany, Dex, but the fact that you are in the conversation is pretty cool.
Faith is just a silent tribute
Mine is just a desperate act
It’s just this desperation that
Takes me home
– “Owen Meany”, Lagwagon
(If you want to hear the song that I got these lyrics from, have at it. It actually starts out kind of cool, but the tempo change when the singing starts is really weird. And kid of stupid, actually.)