Get Out and Learn

July 18, 2017

Two years ago around this time I lost a man so dear to me, and to so many. He name is Ed Cavanaugh. He went off into the mountains on his dirt bike and he never came home. We searched for him. Eventually we found him. My friend Paolo made this mini documentary about the search for Ed. It is beautiful.


Meeting Ed, losing Ed, finding Ed and saying goodbye to Ed changed me deeply. I am grateful and I am sad. This year in the two weeks leading up to the day we think Ed died and then eventually the search began I lost two friends. One to his own hand the other to the heartbreak of addiction. Life is precarious and precious, a roller coaster of heartbreak and loss mixed with love and light and adventure. We all love and grieve. Grief never goes away. It lingers and changes. It is filled with joy and pain. It is unpredictable and predictable. It is a part of the fabric of our lives, individual and shared. There is no fixing it, but sharing it and the feels around it can lighten its load and perhaps give light to others.

There are as many stories in the story of finding Ed as there are people who were touched by the need to find him. He was a man of many circles. The search for him included so many, each with their own need to find this man. These words are a part of my story of finding Ed. One day hopefully a longer more detailed tale will emerge.

Get Out and Learn

I wore a few sweaters, knitted leg warmers inside my boots, a scarf and a wool hat as I rode my Green Schwinn to a small dark bar on the other side of the Mission from where I lived to meet this guy I’d met online. He had written to me asking if I’d like to meet in person. This man told me his name was Ed. He was a high school teacher. He liked snacks a lot. Enjoyed whiskey,  the ocean, moving on things with two wheels, especially mountain bikes and dirt bikes. He liked Metal and Diana Ross. His prose was whimsical and straightforward. He was handsome. He didn’t send me photos of penis, had no photos of him with his cat resting on his neck or head or with all his dogs in his bed. He wanted to meet someone who was willing and kind. I said ok.


He was there before me in Carharts, a slim black sweater with a little hole near  the shoulder and a softly worn flannel. He had a drink in hand. He bought mine. Whiskey cocktails the both of us. His head was clean shaven bald with a perfect grey stubble on his face. He had the weathered skin of a pale face who loved the outdoors and ocean. His blue blue eyes held that special Irish twinkle that said trust me, it will be a ride and I might hide. We sat on a long wooden bench, this teacher and me. We talked and laughed. He told me he was a type one diabetic. I told him I was the mom of a teenager. As the whiskey got lower in the glass and the stories more animated his long leg leaned into mine. I did not pull my leg away. But, I did have to run off to work, so I left before kisses could be planted. Hugs were given and chemistry stirred. Later that night he texted me a beautiful painting of the human rib cage and a hope to meet again. I liked him.

This teacher, this man with blue eyes, big hands, a good belly laugh and a love of lunch went away to the mountains on his dirt bike just after our first date. He’d promised me a second one upon return. From the mountains he sent me a selfie of him squinting into the camera with the trees and trails behind him. He wore a checkered button down short sleeve shirt and a there were a few beads of sweat on his head. He also sent a photo of his bike and of the rocky trails he’d ridden. He told me that there, up in the mountains upon his trusty steed in his armor riding the ridges along dusty dirt and rock trails under the trees and out in the blaze of the sun – that was the only church he needed. That was where he prayed. We had a second date. And then another. I got more selfies and a trail photos from the mountains…the happiness and curiosity or new romance budding slowly, sweet and clear like the first timid moments of spring.


Ed, sometimes the veil between our worlds is so thin I feel the real things are a dream. This dream grows more solid as time weathers its sharp edges and distinctions. The dreamscape and world of brick and bone blend seamlessly with the wandering breeze that is you in the present. You know this. You have a place on both sides of the veil. I can feel the warmth of your hands, though your touch grows more diffuse as time does its work. I can feel your energy spread as you lope and roll towards all the many many whose lives you touched, your smile and arms gliding over them in hope of convincing them you’ve actually paid the ferryman to cross The River Styx, and that they will indeed be okay without you. I met you more in death than in life. You blew my heart open. This meandering set of words is for you. That maybe you will know me too, and have a glimpse of the depth of the touch you left on so many.


The only poetic stanza I know by heart are the opening lines of Longfellow’s Evangeline:


This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.


In my childhood I often let those words carpet my mind in cool green and quiet melancholy to temper the shine of the sun. They spoke of the beauty of real love of person and place and that with love there is always a lingering promise, a sense of fated devotion, a grand mix of loss and hope. It is the saddest poem and my romantic soul loved it. I have grown to understand that the beauty of real love is that love stays. Hope, loss, despair, excitement, devotion, joy those things are fleeting parts of what it is to love. But love, it just is. It is sharing.


I hadn’t learned that before. Not in my marriage or with the men that came after. Even with you. I know that now. After the woods.


Before you I’d never really been to The Woods before. I’d been to the forests of movies and books, the nearly paved paths of the redwoods of Marin, the tree forts in the side yards on my friend’s homes in New Jersey, to scraggly blueberry laden paths along the Atlantic Coast, ridden my bicycle around Europe and California, hiked and explored the rusty  burned out urban landscapes left by humans in cities and towns. But, I’d  never visited The Real Woods, where there are actual places to be lost or found, to use a compass and get poison oak. I had heard tell there were songs there that filled one’s soul with a blanket  you could always wrap up in.


When I saw your eyes I knew those tall tales for truth. Back in the cityscape the trees and rocks and creeks, the dark skies and their stars filled the blue of your eyes. When we sat in the deep hot water of the tub and I lay back into you the scent of wet green things and cool dirt steamed through your skin mixed with oil and dust. You talked slowly in your deep sleepy voice that cracked when you were tired and filled my head and heart with those forest songs.


Once you took me to a place where there were few trees. We slept under their shade in the back of your truck. We could hear the call of baby owls in the branches. When the sun rose we walked out of those sparse trees into a  desert of sorts, we sat in the open. I was afraid under that huge sky, exposed to the vast expanse of rolling hills and huge sun without cover. When the night came again we returned to the trees. Under them in the deep hot sulpher water of the tub you asked for my stories and you wiped my tears.


One day I kissed your face and waved ‘see you later’ as you looked up my stairs on your way out. Sunday. We’d go to Santa Cruz. Motorcycle, fish tacos, ice cream, roller coasters on the boardwalk.


You never came home. You went into the woods and they kept you. The dense manzanita trees, the blackberry bushes, the creeks, the slate, the bears, the vultures, the tall pines; they called you their own. I have heard tell there is a single Golden Eagle with a vast wingspan flying over the hills of the forest that hid you.


The thought kept creeping in that you were missing. I could not feel you out in the universal ether, but then you were not always so easy to find. My phone did not ring, no pictures came by text, you did not map your afternoon ride. Silence. Not your normal silence, which you often filled with the warmth of you, even with your cards close to your chest. This was silence cold. Final and abrupt like the sharp stealth drop of the guillotine.


You were missing. Missing people make no sense in this world of time and place mapped out so clearly. Missing people are no place all the time that they are some place the whole time.


Missing. Beloved teacher. Freind. Brother. Son. Cousin. Uncle. Nephew. Coworker. Neighbor. Lover. Stranger. On his beloved dirt bike. In his beloved mountains. All over the grapevine and the news. Missing. I called some people. Messaged others. They called other people. People came from all over the globe. My friend’s arms held me. I drew Tarot cards and walked under the stars mingling with the spirits, I met yours. The cards I drew I didn’t share. I told myself stories that you’d dropped your whole life and returned to some far away lover. Drones flew. Dreams came. Dogs sniffed. Neighbor’s fed us, housed us, brought water, took out the trash. The internet informed us IN ALL CAPS. We were 10, then 20, then 100s. We made so much food, cleaned bathrooms and drank whiskey. Mixed helter skelter from all parts of your life we laughed and cried sitting atop coolers of beer and deep in thickets of blackberries and poison oak. Psychics called and wrote. The Sheriff’s office worked, we worked. Talked. Thought. Wished. I didn’t eat. My skinny jeans fell off me. I walked through creeks, slid down slate. Listening with my heart, looking with my eyes and ears. I met your Principal amidst the intricate clutter of jars of glitter and bauble of your artist’s friend’s home, now a drop off point for shoes, bug spray, radios, power bars, sun bloc and hope; in there holding onto the wall so not to fall I talked on the news. I cried on the news. I was called your girlfriend on the news. I’d left you in the trees. To the trees. The interviewer cried. I was so nervous I was peaceful. My heart was pounding in my chest ten hundred miles out in space and my feet were planted in the earth.


He was dead. After we found him I wanted to be near him. But, he was no place I could see, or find to fall down into. He was everywhere, with everyone. In all the hearts he’d touched, in the aching bodies that had walked and ridden the mountains in the scorching sun or sat rigid and glued to their screens around the globe for any word, and in the mind’s eye of those who searched eyes shut and wide open surfing the strings of the universe looking for his single strand. He was in all the breezes, the grass underfoot, the waves and all the tastes to touch your lips. There were words, silence and tears and the communal ache of the strangers of his tribe and the basket of arms of my family and friends. But, nothing to hold onto in the sobs, nothing to bite when the sobs were too small to express the void. That is grief. It is. It is a solitary singular pain whilst standing among many swaying to the same mournful note, D minor, the note of cowboy songs and whiskey slouchers.


I wrapped myself in his sweatshirt; hood pulled down over my eyes, knees pulled up inside and searched for him. I was not the only one. His clothes left his drawers, closet and hooks on the wall to find homes on the backs of family, friends, lovers and students seeking solace in the familiarity of the garments and hoping to find his scent. But he had done his laundry. So few things held his smell. We fell into them nonetheless.


Him. He was gone. Into spirit, big enough to touch us all as we clamored to be held in his gaze, that to each one of us was irreconcilably dear. All the 1000s of us. The whole universe had a crush on that man. Separately and now together we put all the stories into one poem and each knew him more than before. Maybe he intended that, to have this chance to show us his whole heart. Each alone, together knowing him.


Nice cups of tea are made in his mugs held by hands that searched for him. His plants live in other’s homes, and mine which was his. His books feed other people’s eyes. These things of his that we grasp with needy hands they keep him here in a pale flesh. His spirit laughs at our grappling with kindness, but he knows we will learn to hold less tightly and begin to feel him just in the breeze and the smell of salt upon it by the sea.


When I close my eyes sometimes I see him wave to me from the top of a mountain looking out over the trees, shoulders wide, lungs full of sweet air. Other times he is floating, eyes closed on his back in a calm azure sea a small smirk of contentment across his mouth. When I see him I know he is home and his soul is filled with song, for what the woods did not claim of him we fed to the sea. Ed, true to his nature of moving at his own pace, did not leave the shore when we were ready. In his ash and bone, covered by flowers, he lingered, parted the tide even, and we had to move him.  Joker, he was still with us.


Is it the warm sun and long wide view of the summit or the cool dense shade of the valley where the light is dappled and soft and the view close that is called peace? I didn’t get to ask you, but now I have seen both. There are so many rocks to turn your ankles. Sometimes I feel your hand on my shoulder when I walk. Like always it comes down from your long arm swinging in your broad shoulders so far above mine.  



Lov(Ed). Miss(Ed)


Thanks for reading. Take care and get out and learn.

Get Out and Learn (GOAL) was Ed’s education baby. You can learn about it here. It is a beautiful thing.

6 Responses to “Get Out and Learn”

  1. Beautiful Megan. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jin Says:

    I purposefully didn’t read this earlier. I saved it for when I needed some inspiration. Aww, Megan. Sometimes it feels like you couldn’t describe something to someone who wasn’t there. Your writing makes me feel like even if I had witnessed, I never would have understood.

    “…this teacher and me”

    You have an amazing voice. Please keep writing!

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