When I was in college, I learned to sing and play folk songs so girls would like me.
That didn't happen. But I kept playing, learning a tune here and there. I was in choir for four years in grammar school, so I had a decent voice. But my guitar talent, and desire to practice, were limited.
So I learned a ton of chords and songs that were singable. James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Harry Chapin...stuff that was supposed to make women swoon. Did I mention that there wasn't any swooning in my direction?
Anyway, some time ago I received a call from a roommate from college. Nice guy, a little headstrong, but there were great times laughing together. And when I practiced the guitar and sang, he never seemed to be bothered.
I discovered that he'd been living about two hours north of me for the last fifteen years. He'd been transferred by his company and truly loved his job and the climate. We had a long conversation. He said he'd been reading my essays and really liked them, which surprised me because the guy I knew back in the day would never have read my essays, let alone liked any of them.
He said that he appreciated our friendship in those days, and told me he had a reason for the call. He asked if I could do him a favor.
"Could you come up here and bring your guitar? Wanted you to play some of those songs I listened to when were were in college." I was about knocked over with the request. I asked him if he was serious. "Yeah, absolutely. I'll tell you about it when you get here." I heard the words, "when you get here" in my ears, and it sounded as if he was expecting me soon. "When did you have in mind?"
"How's this weekend? Pretty much the sooner, the better."
I told him I'd clear some time on Sunday, and asked the time and place of the meeting. He said, "Well, I'll be here all day. Don't think I'm leaving anytime soon." I asked where I should meet him.
He said, "Cedar Sinai Hospital" and gave me the room number. It was the Oncology ward.
That Sunday, I grabbed my guitar, put it in my car and headed up to Los Angeles. I texted him when I was in the lobby. He didn't answer. I went up to the room. The person in the bed didn't look like anyone I ever knew. Over forty years had passed since I'd seen him last, and lying in the bed was the body of a dying man. Machines registered their watch, beeping every three seconds or so, while the din in the room announced the purpose for my friend's presence.
I sat next to the bed, holding my guitar by the neck. He was asleep. I felt like I was intruding.
The next second, he opened his eyes. He smiled at me and said, "You're not as ugly as I thought you'd be." We both laughed. His voice was strong, as it was on the phone, and I was surprised at how much he looked like his old self when he smiled. A sick, weak version of his old self, but I was so happy to see him.
I asked about his life, he asked about mine, and we talked until he got sleepy. He apologized, saying that his energy was so low. Was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eighteen months ago, and it was "pretty much the end of the road."
We talked a little more, then he nodded toward the guitar. "I really liked it when you played that thing. I never told you, but it was always good music to sleep to." I would practice when I went to bed. Played a song or two, and dozed off. He'd study through the night. He told me the songs helped him focus, and one stood out for him more than any other. "I'm getting a little sleepy, and I was hoping you still remembered how to play that song."
The song was was "Sweet Baby James." I played it. "You want me to sing, too?"
"Please." he said. He closed his eyes, and I sang the following:
"Goodnight, you moonlight ladies.
Rockabye Sweet Baby James
Deep Greens and Blues are the colors I choose.
Won't you let me go down in my dreams.
And Rockabye Sweet Baby James."
My friend fell asleep. I touched his forehead, put by guitar in his case, left a note on the nightstand for his daughter to call me, and headed back home.
Three weeks later his daughter called and said my friend died. She said he told her about my coming to play with him, and she said it made him really happy. "He said that every time you played the song when you were in college, it was as if you were singing to him." I told her I never realized that. She said, "Especially the song you played when you visited him. He was really happy you came. Thanks for doing that for my Dad."
I should mention: My friend's name was Jim.