graceful exit

by tobias crabtree

i’m writing to you. if you decide to read this, then you’ll know i’m for reals. at least i’m for reals right now. sometimes, i’m full of shit. but this is important to me and i know the ones who know me also know that sometimes i dig in a little. so yeah, i’m diggin’.

rewind to yesterday. i left a crew of friends, i pulled a semi-secret exit, in other words about half the people knew i was leaving. i like leaving like that, i call it a french exit but i don’t know why it’s called that. i hope it’s not something racist but i don’t think it is. i just figured maybe the french don’t love a ton of goodbyes so they just leave when they’re ready. i’m not french, at least mom and dad never said anything about frenchness in my background, but i like french exits. french kisses too, but that’s off track.

so yeah, i left the tiny party and pedaled my bike back toward point loma where johnny lives. it’s 8 miles. as i rode through the dark (i forgot my light) i began to push myself. i ain’t sure why, but i was racing some other version of myself, maybe the younger, stronger tobias, or maybe the older, smarter one. i was going hard. on the bridge over the bay i began to picture my heart inside me. i pictured it glowing orange, suspended in black. i was carrying the engine of my life and it, in turn, was giving me blood to carry it. in my mind, there were exhaust towers that were pumping out massive amounts of steam. legs burning, mouth open, my avatar shadow screaming past me and stretching and fading at each street lamp. i was going to win against my other self…hell yeah, i was gonna win.

rewind again. three days ago. i was in the park by the beach. a tree had grown up and around a pole on a fence. at some point someone had simply cut the pole on both sides and the tree held the piece of metal as if it had been impaled.  of course, it wasn’t a part of the tree but the tree was carrying this odd chunk of metal in it’s body until, well, until whenever.  we do this. i do it.  there are things that i grow around. things i take in, that become a part of me. sometimes i don’t even want them but my heart wraps around them anyway and i’ll be damned if i don’t just carry them away.

so far i’m all over the map. i know you’re wondering if i’m gonna ever get to the point. maybe i will, if you know me, you know i can ramble…i ain’t worried, some of ya’ll will finish this out with me. you’ll get it.

after the bike ride, you know, after my imaginary race, i got to johnny’s and i was burning up. i stripped down in the dark and showered under the hose in the front yard. naked in point loma, stars overhead, heart crashing, i thought about the ones who would understand this if they could see me. the ones who know what has brought me to be here and to be who i am. no excuses. the raw dog deal of whatever it is i’ve become. several names came to mind, but they were easy because they are close, like brothers and sisters. surprisingly one name stood out. phillip.

i don’t know when phillip was born. he’s old. i met him through my buddy dave mayville. dave, i’m quite sure is the offspring of a demi-god or something. he was born wild, is wild and will die wild. his body can barely keep up with the pace his spirit sets for him. dave told me that phillip, all 6 foot 5 of him, was one of his mentors. naturally i wanted to know what phillip was like because i’ve climbed with dave for years and never met anyone quite like him. the fact that dave had a mentor made me want to see what this guy might be like.  i needed to see what was up with phillip.

description of phillip: tall and thin. long pure white hair. dressed wonderfully, usually with a bandana tied in a knot, turned to the side of his neck. please note that these are all physical descriptions so in no way can truly describe the man. how do we explain a soul? how do we describe the light that is burning in the eyes of the ones that get it?

i hope i’m not losing you.  this is the important part, it’s not about me or any of my smarty pants comments, this is about phillip and it’s goddamn important.

i sat down with him. we chatted several times for at least 2 hours. we expressed the desire to swap books. he wouldn’t talk about oldness or youngness. he believed our existence to be now and so age was negated. when i first knew him, i was with a lover. he saw the happiness that rolled before me like a steam engine and his smile was curly. when next i saw him i was broken hearted from the loss of that lover. i mean, like i was ugly…45 year old broken hearted ugly.  oh man, did he ever step up. he was exactly what i needed. like when you’re weak and you think you need a candy bar but someone hands you rice and beans and cilantro and  sour cream with some hot sauce, it was like that.  he listened to my ridiculous flurries of self pity. he lifted me up and shed light on the dark spots in my head. i kinda wanted to just hang out with phillip, the fella who would not let me fall down too far.

after that, i saw him time and again. sometimes for minutes and sometimes for a good spell. i left town and did what i do so well. i’m not the world’s best contact guy. i suck at it. i don’t like phones and, when i’m out in the deep blue-green world, i am wonderfully lost in that place. i was away for a while.

a year. then two.

a week ago i was in joshua tree. it was hot. i mean, really hot. i was heading out of town and i looked over and saw the tallest of thin men getting in his car. i yanked the wheel to the curb and jumped out running. i caught ol’ phillip as he was pulling away from the empty, summertime parking lot. his skin was so thin, i could see the pulsing of the blood in the beautiful blue veins in his neck.  his bandana was perfect. he went straight for my heart and checked on it. “it looks like you’re healed, tobias.” yeah, yeah, you know i danced my little dance and he read my every move. he knows the dances. i asked, sincerely, about him and his heart.

“i’ve been doing some work, tobias. i am thinking much on the mis-deeds of my youth and some of the things i would rather not have done. sometimes i lied to get what i wanted from ladies, and that bothers me.” these words from phillip, a most gentle man, stopped me in my tracks. i thought of my own mis-deeds. i thought of my lies and my tricks and my petty lusts. i tried, quite clumsily, to excuse my noble friend but he was light years ahead of me and already smiling at the words i might have said. so i simply told him that i held him in the dearest part of my heart and that i was his friend. “i know that, tobias. i most certainly do.”

we planned on coffee. i took his phone, under his instructions, and put my number into it. he called me and i told him it was me. ‘yes, yes, we will have some coffee, ” he said.

i’ve gone long this time with this essay. i usually try and say what i want to say with less words. after all, we don’t have time, do we? so i’ll end. i saw a missed call on my phone this afternoon at about 6pm.  i noticed that it was a joshua tree number.  i called it back. it was dave mayville’s girlfriend, jill. she sweetly told me that phillip was gone.

today it rained. i swam out over the green, squiggly seaweed about a half mile off the cliffs. at 5 something a.m. a big gray hawk landed in the eucalyptus tree in the  backyard. johnny, as he often does with me, nodded without speaking to point out the bird. i looked. it dropped it’s head, spread it’s checkerboard wings that remind me strangely of a houndstooth jacket, and laced it’s path, perfectly down the canyon.

phillip up and left us.  french exit, man. come to find out he was dying of cancer all along. i’ll be damned if i don’t miss him already.

and how do those wings lift such an enormous soul? how will the world replace such a magnificent heart?

carry on, phillip, i’ll see you in the stars, i’m sure.


this life, if nothing else, is an honor.