After Sam

Sam Shepard

“So they take off after each other straight into tan endless black prairie. The sun is just comin’ down and they can feel the night on their backs. What they don’t know is that each one of ’em is afraid, see. Each one separately thinks that he’s the only one that’s afraid. And they keep ridin’ like that straight into the night. Not knowing. And the one who’s chasin’ doesn’t know where the other one is taking him. And the one who’s being chased doesn’t know where he’s going.”
-Sam Shepard, True West

I met him on a plane he flew into the sun.
But it wasn’t until after he landed that I found out who he really was.
And I wanted to be him.
Not the pilot, or even so much the man pretending to be.
But the man.
A modern Marlboro man.
Rugged, weathered, a man of the land and of the people.
An individual and an intellectual.

He wasn’t just playing in stories.
He was writing them.
Avant garde, modern American dramas involving secrets and lies and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters
And the ties that bind families together.
The plays were presented on a stage, but there was nothing staged about them.
And that’s what drew me to his words, to his vision.
Not the subjects so much as the way he saw them,
The way he wrote them.

God, I wanted to be him.

Writers have idols, heroes they look up to.
Men and women who came before, or maybe contemporaries,
Who they emulate, who seemed to have captured some aspect of the craft
They themselves want to master.
For me that hero, that idol, that man, that writer, was Sam.
Who I wanted to be.

I took up smoking to look like Sam.
I wrote plays with crazy avant garde memes
Like the one about the man being pulled apart by his girlfriend and his mother.
Sam was the writer I wanted to be.
Who’s acting was good, but who’s writing was better.
He was the writer in me. The outward version of my inner self.

I am older now, and wiser, and I have found my own writer,
With his passing I see that I have become my own version of him.
A writer.
With my face on the cover of a book.
A writer who is not a reflection of a man I saw on a book cover,
Nor the man I first met on a plane.

Here’s to you, Sam.
You done your bit.
The Unseen Hand has you now.
Time to have a little peace and quiet.
Under the Sycamore, time to “Let the world alone. It’ll take care of itself.”