My best friend is a rock, and I don't mean a shoulder to lean on: He's a rock, a stone, a solid mass of mineral material that resides within that broad spectrum between pebble and boulder. I've had other, human friends over the years, but none compare to the 65-gram supernova that is Noah.
That's right, my rock's name is Noah and he's been my constant companion for 37 years.
I met him on my eighth birthday. It was a small birthday, just my parents, my Uncle Stan, my sister, and some kid from school whose nose bled all the time.
Uncle Stan was the one who introduced me to the rock; it was wrapped rather nicely in red velvet and gold twine. I remember hearing my dad groan when the velvet fell away to reveal the rock, but Uncle Stan's steely-eyed stare stopped me from following suit.
I dropped the rock when I felt it move.
Uncle Stan laughed, picked up the rock, held it for a long moment, then finally placed it firmly in my hand.
The sensation was more subtle this time. I couldn't tell if it began in my palm or in my mind, but something was definitely moving.
I plucked up the courage to ask Uncle Stan what kind of rock it was.
"You know the difference between a meteor and a meteorite?" Uncle Stan asked.
I shook my head.
"This rock came all the way from space and zipped right by my head, so it's a meteorite."
"What kind of meteorite?" I asked as I inspected its many ridges.
"It zipped right by my head, so it's a meteorite."
"You already said that."
"Well okay, maybe it hit my head a little bit."
No one liked the joke except for my sickly school friend, who laughed until his nose began to bleed.
Still holding my rock, I quietly blew out my candles as something shifted and wobbled into being.
Two of everything? Really? What about herpes? Ask her if Noah had herpes.
Those were Noah's first words to me. I had him in the pocket of my khaki shorts during religious studies at St. Pius Elementary, and Miss Boquer was covering Noah's Ark.
Go on, ask her. You'll never know if you don't ask.
The words were slow and deliberate. I peeked at my nearest neighbor, a girl with braids, before quickly deciding that she couldn't have said anything. The voice was deep, deeper than a man's voice even.
Maybe it was the voice of God, or an angel at least, so I decided to do as it said.
"Excuse me, Miss Boquer?" I had never spoken up in class before, and my voice came out as a squeak.
I paused and thought about how to phrase the question.
"How did Noah put herpes on the boat?"
There was dead silence before the classroom erupted into laughter. Miss Boquer pulled me out into the hallway then left me there. Maybe she told me to go to the office, but I just stood there in the hall, dazed and staring at the linoleum. Then, I reached a hand into my pocket.
I felt the rock shaking, so I took it out of my pocket to inspect it. The rock sat motionless in my hand, but still I knew it was shaking from the shimmering waves cascading across my brain.
Eventually, I realized the rock was laughing—not an evil cursed stone kind of laugh, but more a I-can't-believe-you-just-did-that sort of laugh.
Rocks can't be rushed into anything, so my rock spent the rest of the day finishing his laugh. It wasn't until later that night, when I'd already put him on my bedside table, that he stopped laughing long enough for me to ask him his name.
The rock answered with a creaking and cracking, a fracturing of brittle syllables that went on and on.
So, I decided to call him Noah.
Sure, that works.
I had no other friends at the time except for nosebleed kid—what was his name… Graham something?
Noah would know, but he no longer speaks. He hasn't spoken to me for the past year.
I take my friend from the pouch that I always wear around my neck and thunk him down on my drawing desk under the lamp's bright glare. He doesn't protest.
For the love of God, talk to me one last time, Noah!
Nothing, but I know he's still there. And here I am, a middle-aged man pleading with a rock.
Anyway, where was I? Right, so after the Ark incident, some of the older kids would shout "herpes" and high-five me whenever I passed them in the hall. It felt good. It felt like I existed. With Noah's help, I became that quiet kid who occasionally said outrageous things.
And I believed Uncle Stan's meteorite story until I was eleven. My uncle always came to my birthdays, and by my eleventh birthday, I had three friends from school to invite. I'd moved up in the world, so I didn't feel too shy when asking my uncle about Noah this time.
"Right, so being a good Catholic kid, I'm sure you know the story of David and Goliath?" Uncle Stan always answered a question with a question.
I nodded and tried not to roll my eyes.
"Well, what did David use to take down the giant?"
That's dumb, Noah said in my head. I agreed.
Hey, ask your uncle about Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge.
So, I asked my uncle about Snake and Jake's. Uncle Stan turned beet red then quickly changed the subject. Uncle Stan the man. Anyway, I didn't mind my uncle's fibs about Noah's origin. They only added to the enigma of my secret friend. Noah himself was rather murky on the subject, but I suspect he just didn't remember.
Now, having a rock that talks to you is magical when you're a kid, but you start to worry once you reach high school.
For the first few weeks of ninth grade, I tried leaving Noah at home but lost what little confidence I had whenever he wasn't there. So, I started carrying him in a leather pouch around my neck everywhere I went. Noah liked the arrangement as it made it easier for us to share our thoughts, and I tried to pretend it was normal, but who wouldn't have their doubts?
Instead of talking to a priest or a psychologist, I called my Uncle Stan.
"How's the rock?" He always asked that.
And I usually just said "good," but this time the words poured out of me as my uncle listened silent on the other end.
"And so did the rock ever talk to you?" I finally asked, on the verge of panic.
"Well, that's between me and the rock. And what you have, that's also between you and the—what do you call him anyway? No, don't tell me. Listen, you've got nothing to worry about, Dylan, believe me... Hey, ask him about trying to skip across the Mississippi." And with that, my uncle hung up.
The first chance I got, I asked Noah about skipping across the Mississippi and laughed when he quickly changed the subject.
Now, I don't believe that best friends are supposed tell each other everything. There's no joy in knowing every little thing there is to know about someone. It's what we don't say, what we hold back, that also shapes the friendship.
So, I learned not to take offense when Noah would periodically fall silent to gather his thoughts.
It's time to quit this job and travel the world.
That's how Noah broke his two-week silence as we were watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon.
After finishing school, I had gotten a job with the National Park Service and drew comics in my spare time. Noah and I liked working at the Grand Canyon and we both agreed that the rocks there, while a bit pretentious, were certainly majestic.
Still, I was pushing 30 and felt like something was missing. I hadn't said anything, but Noah sensed it.
As the Crayola colors of the canyon dimmed and the first stars appeared in the sky, I realized I really could quit my job and use my savings to travel the world for the next few years at least.
What do you say, Noah? Do you want to do it all over again? Should I take you to the Grand Canyon one more time?
Noah waits, implacable, on my desk. This silence for the past year is his longest yet, and I know he's not going to break it this time.
To his right is my unfinished storyboard for next month's issue of my comic. To his left is a box. I've already taken him from the pouch that hangs near my heart, and I'm eventually going to have to put him in that box.
It's a nice box as I've chosen it with care to complement Noah's peculiar shade of brown. Noah waits, like a handsome toad squashed flat, wide enough to cover most of my palm but only two fingers high in the middle where he's thickest.
For the millionth time, I try to memorize all the small irregular ridges that cover his body. Most of those ridges are rounded with age, but there's a little jagged edge near what I've come to think of as his head.
That sharp flake is from the time that Noah saved my life.
We were in Rome—he didn't save my life in Rome, but that's where the story starts for me. Anyway, we were visiting the Colosseum and I made this joke:
"Hey Noah, is this where you killed your first gladiator? You know, when they threw you from a sling."
Not funny. I'm not that kind of rock.
But the more Noah was not amused, the more I couldn't stop laughing at the prospect of him being hurled at high velocity toward some poor guy's skull. It was just so not Noah that I found it hilarious. So, I made more cracks about him returning to the scene of the crime and how some of the Colosseum's older stones would now have to join a witness protection program.
For the rest of our time in Rome, Noah was terrible company. When he wasn't maintaining a stony silence, he was making snide comments about how the Romans had simply stolen every part of their culture from Ancient Greece.
"Fine, if the Greeks are so awesome, we'll go to Greece," I said after I'd had enough.
The Greeks just copied Crete.
"Oh my God, Crete is part of Greece."
It wasn't always.
"Will you stop being a dick if we go to Crete?"
Noah didn't reply, but I had learned to read his silences over the years. This was a promising silence that spoke of reconciliation, so I put us on the next flight to Crete.
I had to admit that I liked Crete better than Rome, so I was in high spirits when we stopped off at this little bar after visiting the palace of Knossos near Heraklion.
I saw the woman at the bar right away. Give her a toga and she could've been a goddess drinking among us mere mortals.
Talk to her.
I ignored Noah and ordered some raki instead. He persisted and, after two more rounds of raki, I gave in and sat down next to her. Rather than shutting me down, she seemed eager to have someone to talk with. She knew enough English for us to have a passable conversation. After a few minutes, she bought me a drink for "the English lesson" then laughed when I ordered one for her and asked to learn Greek.
I was wondering if I should stick around Crete for the next few months or maybe for the rest of my life when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.
He must've just come in to the bar because I would've noticed him otherwise. His forearms were covered in the densest black hair that I've ever seen and his head brushed the low-hanging ceiling. One word came to my mind: Minotaur.
The guy's voice was almost as deep as Noah's as he rumbled out something in Greek. The woman beside me spoke fast then pushed me from my bar stool when the Minotaur bellowed.
I heard something slam against the bar then saw the crack that would've split my skull if the beautiful stranger hadn't pushed me from my stool.
I ran for the door, but I ran for the wrong door and found myself wedged in a tiny bathroom.
I slammed the door and slid the flimsy bolt lock in place right before the Minotaur charged. The door rattled on its hinges, then a black stick broke through. A club. A nightstick.
Quiet. Let me think.
I didn't realize I was screaming until Noah spoke.
"Call the cops!"
No. He's wearing a police uniform
"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God." The nightstick had made a wide enough hole in the door for the hairy arm to fit through, and I watched as the hand reached for the bolt lock.
Listen to me, Dylan.
You got a rock.
You got a sock.
You got me.
And with those words I felt the weight of eons, the shifting of tectonic plates, a planet's molten core in my mind.
I ripped off my right shoe, pulled my gym sock free, and dropped Noah in my sock.
When the bathroom door flew open, I was already swinging Noah in a wild figure eight.
And Noah found his mark.
The Minotaur staggered but didn't fall. He touched his forehead then stared at his bloody fingers in disbelief, just long enough for us to slip past him. We heard the bellows and breaking glass, but Noah and I didn't look back. We were already running with one shoe in to the night.
So, that's how Noah got his little jagged edge.
I can hear my wife upstairs. She's telling our daughter that we're leaving in five minutes, which really means thirty minutes, so I have time for just one more Noah story before I have to say goodbye for good.
It's the story of how he introduced me to my wife against my will.
I was boarding a flight, heading back home for my Uncle Stan's funeral.
I had a window seat and I forgot my heavy heart for a moment as the aisle seat passenger got up to let me in. I was staring at my dream girl, not the dream girl of my feeble imagination, but a radiant being standing mere inches from me. I know love at first sight sounds stupid, but there I was, struck stupid.
So, I bowed my head and smiled then stared down at my hands after I took my seat.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her looking my way, but I thought she was simply looking out the airplane window.
Talk to her.
This was two years after the Crete incident, so there was no way in hell I was going to talk to her.
TALK TO HER.
Noah said it with such force that I doubled over and clutched my chest.
She was definitely staring at me now, and I made eye contact with her for the first time.
Without thinking, I made this motion, like a cartoon heart was popping out of my chest.
She blinked a few times, then laughed like a hyena until a baby three rows in front of us started crying.
We talked for the entire flight. I found out she used to be a professional stunt woman before realizing teaching was her true passion. I also found out she had been looking at me because she recognized me. At the time, I was publishing a monthly comic about a guy and a sentient rock who traveled through alternate worlds, and this gorgeous freak was a fan. Ten months later, we were married. My brother-in-law stood by my side during the ceremony, but we all know who the real best man was.
Oh yeah, Noah cried like a baby at Uncle Stan's funeral before pulling himself together to say a few words for the one and only. I expect the same treatment at my own funeral.
And I know why Noah has gone silent, never to speak to me again. Humans are fleeting, but rocks persist. They are there when you need them, but this rock has already given me everything: the willingness to ask stupid questions and travel the world, the courage to battle a Minotaur and not let the love of my life pass me by.
I hold Noah for the last time, my hand hovering over the empty box.
God, was it this hard for Uncle Stan?
Ever so gently, I place Noah in his box then wrap it with a special edition comic that I created just for him.
"Pickle, it's time to go." That's my wife's nickname for me: Dylan, Dyl, Dyl Pickle.
"Yeah, pickle pickle pickle." That's our daughter, who was born confident.
I turn off my drawing desk lamp then gather up my carefully wrapped box.
We're taking a drive to see my sister and her son. My nephew.
He's a timid boy, small for his age, with ears that stick out and make him look like a mouse on high alert.
And the kid could really use a friend.
He just so happens to be turning eight today.