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The Missouri Review 30.1 (2007) 30-38

Letters to David
Cynthia Coffel
[Meet the Author]
[Begin Page 31]

All through my twenties, those playful, makeshift years when nothing seemed serious or settled, my friendship with David was the most important constant. I was building what I thought of as my teaching career, those young days, and I moved to a new place every two or three years: I worked in a daycare center in Live Oak, California, first, then in a school for teenaged mothers in Ogden, Utah; next I taught English as a second language at a Catholic college in my home state of Indiana, then high school English in a little town in the Catskills. All through that time—through each new job, through the cardboard boxes and the packing string, the maps, the too-heavy-for-California coats and the not-right-for-Indiana halter tops, the cross-country Greyhound [End Page 31] trips and the flights on United, my friendship with David was steady. I wrote him long letters describing each new apartment, each new group of students. In his ugly hand, in ballpoint pen, he wrote back about his yearly rafting trip with friends from high school, how everybody was changing, taking grown-up jobs, getting married, and why wasn't he? Long-distance on the phone we talked late into the night about ex-lovers and sexual guilt, about the hostages in Iran or Reagan's election, about the ways we were each going to improve our own little corners of America. I read The Untold Story of the Unions because David told me to, and Chuck Colson's autobiography ("Don't you believe people can change?" he asked); he learned about the Catholic Workers and about Pippi Longstocking from me.

We first became friends in 1975, during the summer of our junior year of college, a minister's son and a religion professor's daughter lifeguarding and working in the daycare at Ghost Ranch Presbyterian Conference Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At Ghost Ranch, on a moonlit hike up to Kitchen Mesa, we discovered that we'd both just broken up with Jewish chemists; we discovered, on a Jeep ride out to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, that we'd both read Saul Alinsky; around a campfire by Conjillon Lakes (my boyfriend playing banjo under the stars), we learned that we shared a particular kind of loneliness. I recognized his mixture of egotism and insecurity. He may not know it, I thought, but this boy needs me. When I left Ghost Ranch, David came out into the rain in his long green poncho and hugged me, with tears in his eyes.

After that summer we only met occasionally, and almost always, in my memory, in romantic places. We both moved to California to work as volunteers after college—I worked up north at the Live Oak Church of the Brethren Preschool; he worked as a legal aid for the United Farm Workers in Salinas and LA. In 1978 we met in San Francisco, and as the sun came up, wrapped ourselves in blankets and walked along windy Ocean Beach near the Presidio; we fed each other greasy noodles at the Peacock Café. That summer we watched night fall from the second-floor porch of the UFW house on South Alvarado Street in LA.

Later, older, before he started graduate school and after I'd gotten my first MA, we met in far-flung places: one hot Fourth of July in 1982 we sat on a blanket at Point State Park and listened to the Boston Pops play "America the Beautiful" from a freighter on the Monongahela; in 1983 we watched wild ponies from his little green tent at a sandy campground somewhere on the island of Assateague. By the time we broke it off—I would like to say that I was the [End Page 32] one who ended it, but he had shown his disillusionment with me long before I stopped writing him—both of us, and the world...


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