His Facebook page is still up, showered with remembrances and pictures he will never read or reply. I go to the Message link, as if I am going to write him a note as I do almost daily, asking for a contact or proposing an idea or simply to poke the bear into an outrage over bankers or the Pope or the Dalai Lama, and link onto our full conversation so I can copy over 2,500 chat entries between us, now doomed to a one-way edit. He will not read me and he will not reply. His 40th birthday would have been in ten days and two daughters on the cusp of teenagehood will spend his birthday without the one guy who knows how to celebrate birthdays.
Sandra and I are clueless, zombie-like, and wander a night full of elves' mischiefs to end up in Burger King on Connecticut Avenue. Two big whoppers, two large fries, two large Vanilla shakes, even if Ingo would have preferred strawberry, and the workers let us stay after they lock the doors, and one Latino guy responds to my questions by brewing a fresh pot of peach tea, bringing it to us with a tender service I've never seen in a restaurant. He looks like Ingo, even, a smaller Viking with pomade greasing his hair, scraggly beard on his chin. He knows something is wrong, that Sandra and I are in the presence of a spirit, voyaging, so he leaves us to our last supper and starts cleaning the joint. I remember telling Ingo he would hate the smell of the cleaning liquids poured onto hospital floors every few hours: from the chat, I say "You will never smell cleaning liquid the same way again," and he writes "right" and I write "Anything typical to a hospital will irritate you the rest of your life," and he writes "YES." But how many of us will die in one? I look at Sandra and wonder how either of us could ever say goodbye to the other, and I am resolved more than ever to buy the Rooster Comb mountain in northern Iceland so I can go there to die and have the wind in my face and the planet rolling like a ball beneath my touch at my last breath. But I don't say anything to Sandy. I don't want the elves eavesdropping on my plans. They will move the mountain to Manhattan and make it too expensive for me to buy. When I lie down to sleep I open the window because it is as cold as Iceland right now, colder. Wind wisps while I dream, and when I wake I don't wail about Ingo but wonder why my nose is so cold. I've got to die on a mountain. Help me do this Ingo menn. Steal me some wings, man.
And as I write this about your wings, Sandy calls me to say she has written something about a patient she has to see every week. The woman is younger than you, man, and she is locked in. Can't move anything but her eyelashes. A machine pumps her lungs. Her family has her on something called a slow wean, which I leave to your imagination, man. She doesn't know it. What kind of an exit strategy is this? Why didn't we write these things before you got lost in the wind?
I managed to go to Iceland with a thumb drive containing a movie I am editing about choosing a place to die. A place where there is no fluoride in the water and no diesel in the air. A clean room, we can call it; an unpolluted nook on the planet of which there are millions but to which we make rare pilgrimage because our jobs are too important and vacation time too scant and our habits too tangled and thick to cut away from our legs. It is our nature to die in Nature, and the hum of the hospital deathbed is the worst malignance in human invention, we all know. But our routines deny reality, don't they? My bond to you was the promise of wildness, the fantasy of Vikings, who as we have seen through history were really land speculators and mafia wannabes more than the great warriors imagined while drinking liquor. We were going to go on that boat in Greenland with the crazy dude who shoots seals with a Remington, remember? You wanted him to meet me. Not the other way around. What benefit would I be to him? Wild men, doomed to toxic lameness, limping out of life, poisoned by habit. You were a wild man to me, a wild man in my stories about you, and now I am scared to death about my own exit, and Sandy's, where I assume fireworks but am beginning to fear a whimper. Those wings, steal them for me, I need them more than ever.
You wrote me from your job as a Viking at a fair: "I terrify the tourists!" And I say I was born in France and have the rights of the soil so I can get a passport and ask if I can come over and be a Viking slave, or maybe an old Irish priest they knock on the head while stealing my wine? "No, you will be a Norman," you say, "Like the upper class English, win the Battle of Hastings and be William the Bastard," and I agree that I can be William the Bastard. And then you write: "You can be the local leader, the mayor" and then the next line: "You can be a hermit," to which I reply, "Yes, I like that."
Who among us is a hermit, alone on a mountain, listening for escape in the wind, looking for a loading dock in the sky? Not me. I am grounded, hobbled by comfort. The wings Ingo flies upon are mine. They always were.