I’ll Admit It (Al Stephens notes)

by jkatejohnston

More old diaries that mention Al Stephens. (This is the last of them, I think.)

18 May 1998

Dear Max:  My grandma fell. It happened at night, and in the morning she still hurt, so she called my parents, and they took her to the emergency room. It was yesterday, Sunday morning. Hours later my dad called and said she has a compression fracture in one of her vertebrae and there’s no treatment except wait and get better and treat the pain, which is bad. She can walk and lie down, but she can’t sit. Annie and I decided we shouldn’t visit or call that day when she was tired and in a lot of pain. I guess we’ll go as soon as she wants us.

Last night I dreamed about my grandparents. In the dream they lived in the house in front of ours, and I saw a man in shorts come out of their house, look around, and when I saw me, he ran. Then people poured out of houses and everywhere, and we all went inside the house, but we couldn’t find my grandma anywhere, and everyone was saying that my grandpa was dead.

Before that, before I went to bed, I was brushing my teeth, and I started to cry without knowing the reason at all. Teresa and I had gone for a walk that evening and seen Fran and Al Stephens, Fran with one foot set firmly on a boulder in the creek bed, one on the bank, squatting quickly to pick some trash out of the stream, Al upright and much stiller, holding the dog. Fran has this wonderful elastic lankiness, and I could see that Al doesn’t, at least not the elastic part. I thought of my grandparents then and had this strange, awful sense of the old people going away from us.

We exchanged a few words.  I asked if it were true that Al was giving a reading the next day, and he said, “I’ll admit it.”

9 December 1999

Dear Max:  I remember when I was young (like six years ago), I was so keenly alive to the oddness and interest of the world, and I wanted to write about everything. Nowadays, it seems like I’m only interested in things that are obviously amusing, and I’ll bet this coarsening of character happens to almost everyone. We fall back on a few familiar tones and routines and sets of words, and it’s very sad.

I thought about it because I saw Al Stephens in the UCSB bookstore looking intently at some tubes of acrylic paint, and I thought, some people escape, they keep this freshness of attention. The world keeps bugging them, and they seem all alive to the world.

I asked him if he was painting, and he said “No, not yet. I’ve started up drawing again after–what’s it been?–over fifty years, half a century!”

“What do you draw?”

“Oh, I drew my dog Cassie and an old tree.” I asked him if drawing makes him see things differently, and after a moment he said, “Well, you’re looking for subjects all the time, so yes, I suppose it does.”

Well, that’s all. But the sight of him went through me like an arrow.

Note added 13 August 2013

It seems like I used to write about Al when I was feeling In Decline. I used to be so smart! And so sensitive! And now look at me!

He was probably in his late sixties when I met him, and he was old for his age, but he had this alert wariness of the world, and in that way he seemed young. I’m thinking of something Mudrick said about Criseyde. Something like, there are people who have eternal youth–a kind of alert anxiety about the designs the world has on them. Al was like that.