I was looking over the old manuscript of Dojo Wisdom because my favorite small publisher, Wish Publishing, is planning to reissue it this fall. It has been out of print for a few years, and I haven’t read it since I wrote it, which was a bit over seven years ago, so it’s sort of like going back to an old neighborhood that you liked a lot but left before you were all the way grown.
Dojo Wisdom is my favorite of all the nonfiction books I’ve written, and as I was reading it, I was glad to find that it’s still a good book, and that my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me.
And then I got to the section about a photo shoot where a bunch of martial artists were horsing around, and I remembered, “Chantal was there” and I stopped being able to read.
It was the year before she was killed in an auto accident, immediately and without warning. She was a sister to me. Losing her gouged a chunk out of my life.
Her parents, good friends of mine, were beyond devastated, and I remember thinking—how clearly I remember this—We always thought it would be my daughter who died.
But my daughter lived, and Vickie’s didn’t.
I keep thinking of the last things. The last time Chantal did me a favor and took the dogs to the vet. The last time we went to a tournament together and she won every event. The last time we took a class together and I promised I would stop letting work get in the way of training. We didn’t know they would be the last. We thought the future stretched on forever.
But it didn’t; it stopped one summer afternoon on a county road outside of town.
My future went on. Even though it has been years, I still see her on the sidewalk now and then, her chestnut brown hair shining in the sun, and it’s a physical blow to remember that it can’t be her, that she is buried in the unforgiving earth, and I was there to see it.
I think of other last times, and I never knew they would be the last either. The last time my grandmother recognized my face. The last time I wrote a letter to my Aunt Kay. The last time I made love to Keith. All the last times we never know are coming, so we can never see them for what they are.
If we knew they were coming, would they mean more to us? Or would the knowledge ruin them?
I don’t want to hoard the experiences of my life, worried this may be the last time ever, but I also don’t want to be a spendthrift, always assuming there will be more where that came from. Perhaps the secret is just to remember, every now and then, that you never know what may happen on a summer afternoon.