I was shocked last week when I heard about the death of a high school acquaintance.
It’s not unusual to read about the death of someone you once knew, but it brings home the fact that you’ll never have a conversation with that person again. I’ve lost several friends and relatives over the years, including my mother, my grandmother and an adored uncle. These people are part of me, literally, and I talk to them daily in my thoughts.
Others visit occasionally, memories of them jogged by an event, a turn of phrase, a certain place. When I read about Treva’s death, I remembered John Ross. These were two people who crossed my life at very different times, in very different circumstances. Treva brought back my teens—a few years of angst tucked back in my memory banks. But John brought back my struggles as a poor, single mother and my need to write.
I met John in Humboldt County, in far northern California. He was a poet, a writer, a sometime journalist and one of the most intense people I’ve ever known. We were both part of a group trying to get an alternative newspaper started with no money but a lot of liberal zeal.
Over the next seven years, we were close .John was an old leftie from the Beat years, born to noted parents in New York. He was proud of the fact that his birth was announced in Walter Winchell’s column and by eighteen, he was reading his poetry in Greenwich Village bars, accompanied by bass player Charles Mingus.
He always joked that his formal education consisted of two boxes of books “liberated” from the New York Public Library that he took with him for an extended stay in an indigenous community in the Michoacan state of Mexico. They must have been celebrated books, because he was well-read. We shared a passion for e.e.cummings and John pushed me to write poetry, which I did, badly. He used to call me his “Secret Wife” though I was never sure why.
He was forever broke, living on disability and occasional odd jobs he picked up, including a stint planting and harvesting lilies at a commercial nursery. Today, he’d probably be called “occasional homeless”, primarily living in the back bedrooms and on couches of various women.
He called one night, on the verge of hysteria. He’d been renting an apartment, but was being evicted for non-payment of rent, he’d washed all of his identification in the pocket of a pair of jeans and was having free-floating anxiety. I loaded my daughter in the car and went to cook him dinner.
As I cooked, he raged around the tiny kitchen, ranting that the “capitalist landlord” was unfair. All he, John, needed was a quiet place where he could write, without all the other worries and burdens of life.
I moved from Humboldt County to Southern California, John moved to San Francisco, and I’d hear about him every so often. When I went back into journalism, he’d pop up in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle every once in a while. One time was in 2005 when his book, “Murdered by Capitalism: 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left” was reviewed. Thomas Pynchon wrote a blurb and the book won the Upton Sinclair Award.
This came ten years after he received the American Book Award for his reportorial work “Rebellion for the Roots: Zapatista Uprising inChiapas”.
Another time was May 12, 2009 when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared it John Ross Day.
I don’t know how he found the quiet space and peace in his soul to write. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me for finally coming to the life of a writer. And now I fully understand his meltdown that dark night.
I’m still looking for that quiet place to just write.
John died of cancer January 17, 2011 inLake Patzcuaro,Mexico. Every so often I reread his letters to his Secret Wife.
Michele Drier was born inSanta Cruzand is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state, calling both Southern and NorthernCaliforniahome. During her career in journalism — as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers – she won awards for producing investigative series.
Her mystery Edited for Death, called “Riveting and much recommended” by the Midwest Book Review is available at Amazon. She’s working on the second book in the Amy Hobbes Newspaper mysteries, Labeled for Death, out in spring 2013.
Her paranormal romance series, SNAP: The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, is available in ebook, paperback and audible at Amazon. All have received “must read” reviews from the Paranormal Romance Guild. SNAP: The World Unfolds, SNAP: New Talent, Plague: A Love Story and Danube: A Tale of Murder are available singly and in a boxed set at Amazon, B&N and Kobo. The fifth book, SNAP: Love for Blood rated 5 stars, is now out. She’s writing SNAP: Happily Ever After? for release in summer 2013 and a seventh book in late fall 2013.