Of Love and Loss and Futons

Walter Slinky

Walter Lee Howard IV plays with a Slinky at his 18th birthday party

Let me tell you about my friend Walter.

First — spoilers—Walter (actually the resplendently-named Walter Lee Howard the Fourth) is no longer traipsing around this particular reality, having recently passed on. He left a huge Walter-shaped hole in the universe, and those of us who were lucky enough to know and to love him are missing him dearly, alternately crying and laughing and crying all over again as we try to come to grips with our collective loss.

Walter Russell crop

L-R: Russell, Walter

When I look inside my heart, I still see him seated on the sofa, peering through his glasses with a glimmer in his eye, holding court, telling larger-than-life stories, and being charming and opinionated and brilliant and unforgettable.

I tried to think of something profound to say about Walter, but it’s funny how sometimes it’s the smallest things that stick in your mind, so I’ll say something little instead.

The little thing is this: “Men are futons.”

It’s something Walter once said when a group of us, impossibly young college students at the time, sat lounging around a rented beige living room like a pile of puppies, watching something on television – probably Star Trek.

We had all – a jumbled crowd of boyfriends and girlfriends and crushes and casual acquaintances and longtime friends — just settled in on the taupe carpets and tan couches; the young women were leaning against or in the arms of the guys, and the room was quiet, expectant, waiting for the show to start.

Walter looked around at the group and said, “Men are futons.” We all laughed, because it was true.

To this day, whenever I find myself snuggled against my husband (who was there, and my futon-boyfriend at the time), watching Sherlock or Doctor Who, I still look up at him and say, “men are futons,” and think of Walter. It’s a ritual.

Walter earring

L-R: Curtis, Walter, and Edie. Curtis is cracking up because Walter is sporting a huge jeweled clip-on earring.

Of course, this seemingly insignificant memory reveals a lot about Walter: that he had a knack for making people laugh, for one. He was good at brilliant observations, or saying the thing we were all thinking but didn’t really have the nerve to say – and saying it in a charming, memorable way. He also didn’t mind being a futon once in a while, which speaks volumes about his kindness and generosity and warmth.

Today I dug up some of my favorite old photographs of Walter and his friends, taken when the world was new and we were all ridiculously beautiful and young and still had plenty of hair. (Click any image for a larger version).

I hope they make you laugh and cry and smile – and remember to appreciate your futons (of whatever gender) while you can.

Beach group

L-R: Julie, Tom, Julia, Walter, Lila, and Greg at the lake

Beach pair

Walter, Julie, and an antique form of iPod known as a “boom box”

dorm

Clockwise from left: Julie, Lark, Lisa being squished by Lark and Walter, Walter, Edie, Lila, Kelly
The first week of college at the University of Texas

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This entry was posted in Essays, Things I remember and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Of Love and Loss and Futons

  1. RRMom says:

    Beautiful photos….sorry you have lost Walter. All of you looked so young and innocent back then.

  2. Florence Wong says:

    beautiful sweet tribute. love seeing the pics and you as a young pup.

  3. Julia (Meriwether) Kennerly says:

    Well done, Julie. I love the pictures, too.

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