As anyone that knows me could say, I think dramatically. I probably deserve the title drama queen (I’d prefer king of course, but to avoid being branded a homophobe I’ll accept queen if need be and simply cringe). But I must protest the implication that I have a direct hand in deliberately creating the drama, as if every time I trip on a sidewalk crack I pull out a pen and paper and begin to chronicle the event in terms that make it more a plummet to my death than a momentary stumble. I don’t. Deliberately. But sometimes, when I’m not really paying attention (and even, most of the time, when I am), my brain takes off on this little trip and builds what could have been a non issue into the straw that breaks the biggest camel you’ve ever seen…’s back!
I’ve had a messy life, so it’s not as if I haven’t had actual mountains to fall from. My first divorce for instance. It was a mountain. I made it into a volcano, but I’d demand it was a mountain to begin with, I only added the roiling, molten ire. I could go into it all again but I won’t; I’m sure much of it is written elsewhere in dribs and drabs. For brevity, I’ll just say whatever small amount of self worth I may have had before that time was ripped from me by my own hand, with help from a woman that was just too young and narcissistic to understand what she was doing to fragile little old me.
I was always big on realizing symbolism, standing on conviction, demanding honor from oneself… things that weren’t popular even 30 years ago. I’m sure everyone that has said marriage vows had at one time or another believed they actually meant something; yet were able to change their minds when the time came that the vows were in the way of one’s perceived, desired future. I thought I was different. It was one of the few things that made me unique. I married until “death do us part” and as such, even if I were stuck with Anna Nichole Smith I would have to keep my vows, regardless of the flu like symptoms I would feel nearly every second I was in her presence.
Now there was a caveat naturally. I only had to keep my vows. There was little I could do about it were I untied and set adrift. So the only way in my eyes to find an honorable peace was to convince her that she should file for and consummate a divorce, if that’s what she really wanted. It’s not as cynical as it sounds; I did do whatever I could to keep us together, and to every move on my part in that direction, she offered a chair and whip to counter. The bottom line was that I was way beyond heartbroken by a year into my separation; I was obsessed with it and busily tearing myself to shreds, in public, endlessly. It became indicative of my seeming destiny of failure. I could only shake it loose if I were able to a: admit I had screwed up six years of my life by way of bad choices and poor execution, and b: admit that core beliefs are nothing if not reversible at a moment’s notice, to serve whatever self gratifying purpose one deems important at the time. Yes, I have a way with spider web logic.
I was trapped. I was miserable. I was incessant and obnoxious at times, and at others, broody and teeth gratingly silent. I buried myself in my work in the main, but some days even an 18 hour day would leave 8 in which to roll around in bed, alone, and conjure conversations that damned me and my lousy luck/stupidity/incompetence/homeliness/immaturity/etc,etc to hell, or worse.
Backstory: There were a few people that remained my friends during that ugly time, and two were much closer to me than any others. In fact the four of us were such close friends we’d done nearly everything one could do by their early twenties together.
John and I had been friends since the first of our biker days. We weren’t inseparable, but we really understood each other which isn’t easy for either men, or teenagers. I considered him a brother in all ways but fact, and I believe he felt the same about me. A few years down the road we met Anita and Mary, two really cute chicks who liked us well enough, and liked to party even more. They were best friends as well. Now who could imagine such a perfect scenario? Best friends meet best friends of the opposite sex? All like to party? God! It’s like a movie!
Luckily there was no question as to who would travel with whom; I was hot for Mary and he, for Anita. That lasted about 4 months. Then we switched, somehow. It wasn’t anything weird you see, we didn’t have an “arrangement”; we just moved apart and then back together again, only this time with different tails on each donkey.
I married Anita first I think, and John and Mary were our best peoples, and then they married and Anita and I were their best peoples; and we rode together and camped together and drank together and sang dirty songs together and… life was magical.
After a couple years of magical, I went to school and got into radio, which meant breaking up the old gang. It was sad; like going to camp for the first time and missing your parents sad. But I wanted to “make something of myself” and “leave the world of poverty and selling hallucinogens” so I really had no choice. A year and change later… WHAMMO! We’d been living in a smallish northern Minnesota town where I was a local radio hot shot when it came into public discussion that my wife had “known carnally” a handful of the local “men of stature”, and that was the beginning of the long road to divorce.
I tried radio for a while longer but eventually I was drawn home by depression, loneliness and having been fired suddenly by an asshole who I still hate more than Osama hates me.
Home was at least a comfort of a sort. I had parents and siblings, a few of which who liked me at least a little, so they’d suffer my endless whining about how sad I was. And I had John and Mary, again, at last. There was a minor complication though. Mary and Anita were still best friends. If I were to see Mary, the first thing I’d want to do is ask her about Anita; like if she had come to her senses yet, or if she had been run over by a truck… those kinds of things.
John was steadfast from day one. “She’s a stupid bitch” he’d say; “Forget about her for god’s sake and move on!” Of course, I should have listened to John. He was only echoing what I was telling myself in the tiny remnants of time in which I was lucid and capable of seeing anything but misery.
Mary on the other hand spoke my language. She humored me, understood my sorrow, felt my pain. She too would say Anita was a stupid bitch, but at the same time she’d admit she knew it didn’t matter and that love was a hurtin’ thang. Now, everything changes.
I didn’t drink much, even then; but I had trouble sleeping due to obsession and booze was a cheaper sedative than drugs. Once in a while, when the pain was unbearable, I’d imbibe until I could hardly stand. And this time, I got a wild hair that said “Let’s go to Anita’s apartment and see if she’ll give up her quest to kill me by indifference. Perhaps she’ll see that I’m quite a guy after all, in spite of the fact that I can’t hold my liquor!”
How I got there I’m not so sure. How I got in is another question as it was a security building and I had no key. But there I was, at her door, banging my need into the grains of her faux wood entry gate when suddenly the beast of my burden opened wide and told me to fuck off because she had a visitor and they were enjoying themselves just fine without me. Needless to say, I was crushed, mortified, humiliated, angry and incapable of responding.
It just so happened that John and Mary lived in the very same building, and before I’d made it to the street where I could cry in peace, I had the bright idea of burdening them with my extraordinary, supercharged moroseness. I could cry in their apartment instead, and save myself the embarrassment of having total strangers ask me if I’m alright.
John was elsewhere. Mary was just watching television so of course she invited me in for a grief cleansing. She had beer. We drank. I cried, she supported. She had beer. We drank. I sobbed, she offered a shoulder. We had sex.
Yea. It was that simple.
I could blame it on lots of things, the least of which was alcohol. I was probably certifiable at the time, and she, as it turned out, had wanted out of her marriage for some time, unbeknownst to me. There were a dozen things that contributed, and nothing. I have run that gamut. I have made it the most deadly sin of all time, and another piece of proof that shit happens, and every conceivable level of mistake in between.
It was a few days before she told him. She said it was guilt that drove her to confess. In hindsight I think she wanted to get her own divorce ball rolling, but it’s no matter really.
My best friend showed up at my work, luckily in a recording studio that was soundproofed by a double layer of concrete block filled with sand, and gave me his terms. We settled a debt I owed him by walking across the street to the credit union and withdrawing every penny I had, and then he explained to me that we’d never again so much as be in the same room if he had anything to say about it. I couldn’t blame him. I told him that much. He told me to shut the fuck up. And that was pretty much the last word I heard from him.
It was amazing, thinking about what had taken place in a week’s time. I had, through my inability to control my animal, destroyed what little was left of a life I had so carefully created, and had so wretchedly failed at maintaining.
It was the first time I considered simply tossing it in. I was obviously nothing of what I believed; I had no morals, no ethics. I couldn’t be trusted, even by myself. It’s not at if I wasn’t already at hell’s door; I didn’t have much to add to make myself an absolute pariah rather than a moderately contemptible creature. Work became my only friend, and exhaustion my only salvation. If any of our mutual friends ever knew of my indiscretion, they never let on; yet I could barely enjoy a moment’s entertainment with them without grimacing inside to the point of pain. I was a piece of shit, and nothing more.
Life went on as it always does. We’d run into each other now and then, and he’d quickly glare before turning away as I would immediately head for the exit so as to let him have the space without my intrusion being an issue. I felt badly for myself, sure. But I felt even worse for him. He’d been clawed by both his best friends, and as much as he was trying to act as if he could simply ride through that fire, it was consuming him. So I deferred to him as often as I knew he was likely to be present, given that all our friends were mutual, our hangouts the same, our patterns nearly identical. It was the least I could do. I would have been happier had I had the guts to hang myself, but as I didn’t, seemingly, I backed away as quickly as I could.
Then, a few months after our unfortunate incident, he had a serious stroke.
His father had died in his early forties from the same type aneurysm; John’s was genetic, it just came early. He was luckier than his dad in that he made it to the hospital in time enough that surgeons were able to get his head opened moments before the vein burst. Had it not happened that way I’ve little doubt I’d have assumed a role in his death and forever have carried that boulder on my back.
There was still a boulder; it was simply a different rock. I had been his best friend, and I knew that I was the one guy that would actually show up when promised, would tote furniture and repair motors and pick up his stranded ass at 4am in a blizzard no matter how far away he might have been. Within our cadre of friends, I was pretty much the one that might have been there day after day, that might have read to him while he slept or fed him when he couldn’t. But that was all moot. He had demanded that I never step into his shadow again and I had promised to stay far from his life forever more.
I don’t think I could even begin to explain how the news of his stroke and the realization of the consequences as they concerned me affected my ability to breathe. Whether I might have been his perfect nurse/therapist or not, I could have at least offered him the comfort and companionship that my entire life’s meaning had revolved around since the age of reason (or unreason if you prefer). Yet, I could do nothing and be remotely true to my word, true to the memory of our friendship, true to his rightful request that I cease to be.
I spent months in anguish. My screw up had taken on an entirely new dimension, one that I could never get past. I scraped my soul from my chest and offered it back to its maker. I had no use for it anymore. In fact I needn’t commit suicide by that point, as I was dead already, just waiting for physical reality to meet up with what I knew as fact.
I asked about him often, I kept up as best I could. It only made my heart all the harder, but I couldn’t help but want to know.
Eventually we did meet up again. His wife Mary had waited until he had reacquainted himself with simple speech and spoon usage before she told him she’d be on her way. He was oblivious as to why. That was all the better for her I imagine, he had misplaced a huge part of his past so there was no reason to discuss grievances. He simply reacted as he nearly always had. In the end he shrugged and accepted what he could not change.
During their split, perhaps partially because of, John remembered me and wondered why I hadn’t been around at all. Apparently he didn’t recall the offense, nor the demand and promise. He wanted to see me and Mary called me with the news. It took some time before I could simply face him. I couldn’t believe how badly he’d been hurt. I watched as he dumped a soda on himself, forgetting to open his mouth as he poured.
There’s little reason to chronicle the next 25 years save the fact that we became friends again and have been best friends on and off since then. He has remembered and forgiven, and I have let go of what I could; but I have to admit, “what I could” isn’t much. I doubt I will ever forgive myself for being such a boorish clod, and I can never forget the feeling of my chest being crushed by an elephant of guilt as I thought of this poor man I loved, laying in a hospital near death, while I could do nothing to make his life a shred more bearable.
It’s not something I think about every day, in fact quite the opposite; it comes up very seldom. But I do ponder it any time I’m thinking of myself as an honorable person, a trustworthy man; one who makes reasoned decisions and treads lightly so as to not crush anyone else underfoot as he makes his way through life. I think I had my chance, and gave it up long ago, much as I did with my baby brother; another black mark on my miserable soul. When I’m lucky, I forget it all and do what needs to be done with as much interest and happiness as my melancholy self can muster. When I’m less than lucky, I write.