I was sitting alone at the bar at the Rogue – hubs called off to work – me left to wait. I clicked open the mail on my phone and saw a note that seemed to come from Gill Dennis. Oh good, I thought, something from Gill. And then I saw it wasn’t from Gill, but from Squaw Valley. Gill was dead. I sobbed. Me and my glass of wine in a bar, in a cell free area, tears rolling. I picked up the phone and went looking for Victoria.
1995. Squaw Valley Community of Writers. All of us wanna-bes looking for agents, looking to be published and there were Victoria and I every morning, early, early. While most everyone else was recovering from the late night parties, there we were with a half a dozen or so others and Gill, Finding Our Story. Never have I dug so deep or gave so freely – and in a setting with strangers. It was hard. It was painful. I cried. We all did. And there was Gill, unfazed, without judgement, kind, warm, encouraging. After Gill, all kinds of great things happened in the course of the day. But well, none of it was Gill. And there we were the next morning. Early. To dig and uncover and to Find Our Story.
As Victoria reminded me, one student asked Gill how he liked his coffee, “Black,” he said, “Like my heart.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Such a heart.
My story, as revealed in the Find Our Story workshop, is about trade off. Sacrifice. You can’t have this if you don’t give that. He nailed it. I’ve been to writing workshops all over this country. I’ve studied with the best, but no moment stands out like those with Gill. He knew.
Once, a few months after Squaw, Victoria called to tell me she’d called him. (Such literary groupies we were) So I thought, well hell, why not. So I called Gill, too. He took my call, talked to me about writing just like he’d known me his whole life. God, his poor wife. His lucky wife.
He was every man and in being every man, he was a giant.
Sitting alone in the bar, tears, cell free area … my cell rang. It was Victoria. We cried. And laughed and promised to do better keeping in touch. And we agreed, if we look, if we listen, we will know Gill is still with us. Teacher. Friend. Writer. Everyman.
And then the ladies at the end of the bar left, touching my arm as they moved by to say they were sorry. The bartender came and asked if he could give me a hug. And I, silly female sitting alone in a bar sobbing, smiled and remembered those mornings, so so early, when it was me, Victoria and a handful of others digging deep with Gill.