Recently enough I attended the International English Honors Fraternity’s yearly conference.  The Sigma Tau Delta Conference, which was one of the most delightful experiences of my life, not only afforded the opportunity to present my work to an audience, but also to go to workshops.

I attended one.  It was a creative writing workshop with a little psycho-therapy mixed in.  We were supposed to go to our happy place, person, or thing in memory.  Then, we were supposed to write without stopping.  Pausing meant we were thinking too hard about it.  We were to ignore grammar and syntax, do nothing but write.  This is what came out:

The long-ignored role of the friend who never cares to step away has always been filled by Nick.  And because the role was previously ignored, so was he.  Nick was a champion back-bencher: he knew when to step up, when to just step, when to hang so far back I nearly forgot he was there.  But he’s never forgotten me.  Nick’s a perfect friend.

He’s the crazy gear-head adrenaline junky that I swear is going to send me into cardiac arrest one of these days.  He does stupid things only outshone in stupidity by our third, JB.  But that never really matters–he always comes back for a hug and a smile.  Next time we’re in the car, there’s always some crazy indie rock band from no one quite knows where blasting out the stereo.  Next time I see him, he’s taking care of me, whether I like it or not.

I haven’t seen Nick for too long.  I left for my Junior year of college in August of 08–in December of 08, days before I made it home from finals–he left for the Philippines.  I missed him by three lousy days.  But that doesn’t mean he’s not here.  He’s still the perfect back-bencher, stepping back when I need him to.  We don’t talk, seeing as he’s in the Philippines, but I’m never without him.  All I have to do is close my eyes and there I am in his arms.  He’s stepping up with that hug and grin I so badly need.

I remember one day, several years back, when he caught me just crying–barely just–and he lifted a finger to my cheek and whispered, “You’re leaking.”  I had literally just arrived home a few days before and this was the first time I had seen him in a year and three months.  College had taught us we were better friends in high school than we supposed.  This day had been a day of discovering physical nearness–we’d never sat by one another before and now we knew why: we never stopped talking if we did.  After this day so many years ago, I became his “leaky faucet,” and that touch is one of my memories that makes up him.  It’s tangible.

Another night, I fell asleep at a friend’s house.  I had so bad of a nightmare that I fell off the couch.  Nick didn’t buy my crap, but he watched me instead.  Just as I lay on the cusp of sleep, I began to twitch restlessly; the nightmare was returning.  I heard someone ask, far away, if they should wake me.  Nick stopped them.  I needed my sleep, he said, and I didn’t like my head touched.  Evidently, they had been reaching for my hair.  Later, it was he who woke me, by touching my shoulder.  He took me to his car, play me some Indian indie rock, and allowed me to fall asleep.  Again, he woke me by a simple touch on the shoulder.

Years before, he lent me a ridiculously small sweater, underestimating my weight in a sweet gesture of love.  He let me keep it until it came time to go to the warm car–and walked me there so I had the warmth of his hug to compensate for the loss of the sweater.

Years later, we climbed up a cliff in the dusk turned dark.  We had spent so much time atop a cave with JB that the hillside had gotten almost unnavigable in the dark.  I was in flip-flops, like an idiot.  Of course I tripped, and of course my hands landed on prickly pear cacti . . . twice.  I gasped, and Nick rushed back.  In the end, I held my flashlight in my mouth as he gently picked out the spines from the flesh of my palms until I could climb up to my house.

Not too long after that, I found myself wrapped in a hug that I expected to end far, far sooner.  But Nick always surprised me like that.  He held our hugs longer than I did and was exceedingly gentle while being forever stubborn.  Always the perfect back-bencher: knowing when to step up, when to step, when to step back.  And yet, even when he steps back, the memory of his gentle hugs remains.

Maybe that is how I’ll always remember Nick: a series of gentle touches.  I think that’s why his arms and his smile make up my happy place.  He’s always going to be there for me in my times of need, even when he can’t physically be there.  I know this without a doubt.  Though long and wrongfully ignored, Nick will always be there because he loves me.

And it’s about time I tell him: I love him.  That’s why I remember him as a series of gentle, loving touches.  That’s why his arms and smile make up my happy place.  Because even as my conscious ignores him, my subconscious has logged everything.  I remember all that he’s done for me and I appreciate it more than I can say.

My happy place is one of safety and peace.  My happy place is one of warmth and friendship.  My happy place is one of love.  My happy place is hugging Nick.