Keep the River on Your Right

I left Pittsburgh last week. Sure, I’ll only be gone six months. I go six months without seeing people when I live in the same city as them. And since I packed up my house knowing I’d unpack it all in the same place in six months, there was no real feeling of closure there. I threw myself a goodbye shin-dig at the Cantina on my last night in town, where a healthy number of people showed up to say their “see-ya-later”s. No tears were shed and on the whole, it was a pretty easy goodbye.

But there were a few true goodbyes in there, too.

I couldn’t help but notice that Fernando, my dear Peruvian friend, didn’t come to the Cantina. Since he’s moving back to Peru in December, it hurt my feelings that he hadn’t come, but I decided not to make him feel guilty about it. Two days later came a text: “I couldn’t say goodbye. Take care, keep the river on your right, and read ‘Michael Strogoff.’ Huge kiss.” Oof, right to the gut. “Keep the River on Your Right” is a book that I shoved down Fernando’s throat last year when we were in Peru together. It’s the story of a young Fulbright fellow in the 70s who wandered into the Peruvian Amazon, was adopted by a cannibalistic indigenous tribe, and didn’t come out of the jungle for a decade (and later becomes a centerpiece of gay fashion culture in NYC, but that’s a different story for a different time).  The phrase “keep the river on your right” became something of a personal mantra for me over the past years–wandering through life, relationships, travels and heartbreaks, the simple words seem to speak to finding grounding and maintaining perspective. Fernando pulled it out at the right moment, and hearing that he couldn’t say goodbye–I should have known, it’s so classic of him!–actually brought me to tears. That’s a goodbye that felt real.

There are more that are less poetic. My dearest friend, who is also a housemate, will only be around for a few weeks when I return in March. Having grown so close with him over the past year, and relying on him for major supports of varying types, it is difficult to believe that our in-person friendship is likely over with. These are the scariest ones, because when two people click so well in person, I’m always afraid that distance won’t know how to sustain that bond. Especially busy people with full lives–I’ve lost a few close friends to the abyss that is unanswered e-mails and only occasional texts.

There are more, but honestly, that Fernando bit tuckered me out. Before I start wishing I too were to wander into the Amazon and never emerge, I better get some sleep. Trip countdown: 11 days.

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