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Memories of a Friend

August 6, 2014

About a week ago was the one year anniversary of a friend’s death. The following is something I wrote in the days following his death.

“I picked up my phone today to see that my friend had died. He blew his brains out. He was an artist. An artist like me – to relate it back to me, of course. An artist “like me” meaning his work hung on every inch of his four walls. Piled up against one another against those same four walls. He also was not an artist “like me” in that he actually was an artist. He was a great artist. And musician. He had an amazing record collection. Wish I come have some of those records.

He blew his brains out. He was sick. I thought he’d gotten better. With the radiation. Maybe it wasn’t the cancer. Maybe it didn’t come back. Maybe it was his Lymes. Or PTSD. Or…what was the other thing? I can’t recall now. Now it is late. Now is no time for these memories. Now is the time for these memories:

We had spoken on the phone. A mutual friend told him he was giving me his number. I lived one hour away. I rang him. We instantly connected. I drove out to him. I knew of his sons. I had liked the older one, but he was now dead. Too much heroin was the official word. I wonder what the preceding factors to the heroin were. Genetics. That was certainly a part of the equation. The other son. I had my eye on him. I’d be lying if I said no part of my hour drive into the abyss of Virginia had to do with befriending his dad to get to him. When I pulled up, my friend was on the phone with his son. His jaw dropped and he apologized to his son. “Sorry son. Daddy’s gotta go. A beautiful woman just entered my path. Hellllllo, Whitney!”

He called me beautiful and said my name into the phone that held his sons’ attention on the other end. Gasp!

But it was him I ended up growing fond of. We walked the property he lived on – an old farm Jack and Jackie used to escape to. The stables had been converted into apartments. Here the man whose ex-wife’s family had gazillions and whose kids – living and dead – were all rich and famous – here he hung his tattered hat. He was too poor to buy vegetables to use as still life – so he took pictures of them at the food store. To add humor to keep the depression of such a fall at bay, he’d tell employees inquiring about his picture taking that he worked for their local competitor.

He had a dog. One of those tiny, ugly kind of dogs that are so ugly they’re cute. It was a birthday present from his daughter.

He had a rock collection among his outside decorations. He showed me the rocks. He picked one up and starred at it. He was no longer there with me. He was with someone else. Lost in a memory I had no part of. After a while he came back to me. He looked up, right into my eyes. So much soul in those glossy brown eyes. A life lived hard. A body paying for it.

“Dash gave me this one.” He held up a rock that had an erotic look to it. We both laughed. While I did not know his eldest son, I knew of him. And that rock confirmed everything I’d ever heard about his son. It also confirmed how my friend felt about me. He rarely spoke of his late son.

His home consisted of a kitchen and a main room where his art supplies were set up at one end and his record player and hundreds of records at the other. In between was a futon bed. Upstairs was a bathroom and two other rooms. One was filled of his art – piled up and left to gather dust.

The other room had been his bedroom until recently when his strength had given out. I went upstairs to use the bathroom and snoop around. There were a few black and white photos sitting in his room. They were of days long gone. When his children were still children. There was one of Dash and my friend. Dash is around eight. He confronts the camera with doe eyes and a devilish grin. A mix of childhood awe and the spirit of reckless abandonment.

I am drawn into the picture. For a moment I consider stealing it. Just as quickly as the thought arises, my conscience shoots it down. I realize I need to get back downstairs. I turn around the room taking it in. There is something about the room…it’s spirit…I can’t articulate it. Not then. Not now. I still feel that room.

When I first arrived at my friends, within thirty seconds he had launched into conspiracy theories and spoke with an unsettling level of paranoia. As a social worker I am trained to decipher mental illness. As a human I am bias and with judgement. I minimized the paranoia so evident in my friend. I minimized it every single time I saw him.

When I got back downstairs he started launching back in to conspiracy theory. I engaged him but started to feel uncomfortable. I soon turned the conversation to his beautiful pastel work. At this point he was still working with pastel’s. Toward the end, he released the beast through ink on scrap cartoon’s. Many were about his interactions with his doctors. Toward the very end I know not.

He showed me the collection of old photos he used to create his works. Some were personal, others he found. Apparently people selling boxes of old photos at yard sales is fairly common, knowingly or not is unbeknownst to me. I picked out a mountainous scene and asked my friend to provide me with an art lesson. I watched him work. His right hand was crippled – the last two fingers mangled stubs resulting from a car accident pre AA. Now it was post AA. I never drank with him, but his cabinets were always stocked with wine and it was rarely the same wine. Another common thread between my friend and myself. In and out of AA. In an out of sobriety. In and out of spiritual yearnings.

The ability to adapt to your craft following the loss of limbs has always fascinated me. I watched my friend work. Transfixed on his mangled hand. We conversed but I know not of what we spoke. I shut my eyes now and see every blended color. But I do not see the whole. As I age I realize how interesting the memory is. What we hold on to. All we loose. How much living we do disappears. I guess it can be said to exist in our wrinkles and scars. The great map of our journey. Perhaps in our soul. But it is lost to our knowing.

Time ticket away. I had a softball game to play in. A life to get back to. My friend asked me to stay for the weekend. I wanted this. But not enough to actually stay. I desired the invite. We are lonely beings. We crave the feeling of belonging. Of others wanting our company. My friend and I are extroverted isolationists. We so crave human interaction, but we spend our lives closing deeper and deeper into ourselves.

I told my friend I would be back with my art. And my cat. We would create art together. We would take walks. Pick huckleberries. Listen to records. Drink tea. I told my friend I could come spend a few weeks. Take over his old bedroom. I meant all of this. In that moment. There are few people you connect with instantly and deeply. I wanted to exist in that connection forever. It did not happen. I did go back a handful of times. Mostly to make sure my friend was still alive. Too many drives spent envisioning walking in to find my friend’s rotting body. Over and over. And over. It was just a matter of time.

I have lived too long; too hard to judge or condemn suicide. I have known many a broken person. I am broken. I guess all I can say or know about my friend is he lived a talented and tragic life. And that he was beautiful.” – 3 August 2013 & Willie

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