Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Cold Grey Light of Dawn

So I went to my 20 year high school reunion two weekends ago. I have no problem with reunions, for the most part--thanks to my ridiculously poor memory, I don't really carry a lot of grudges for anything that happened during high school. There's no one likely to show up at our reunions who would make me go all cold with dread. Mind you, I had plenty of intense and damaging experiences in high school, just like everyone else; but time takes the edge off, plus most of them involved people I didn't end up graduating with anyway.

When I was in middle school, I had a couple of best friends. By high school, I had a completely different set of friends, because the first set had discovered the joys of substance abuse. Now, I'm the first to admit to being a bit of a straight-edger about drugs... but it's a chicken-and-egg thing, did I stop being friends with these people because I was so put off by their drug use, or was I so put off by seeing the effects of drug use on my friends that it cemented my opinion that it wasn't a place I wanted to go in my life? Drugs (and we're talking here about the gamut from pot to shrooms to acid to heroin) universally seemed to bring out the worst in my friends--if they were already depressed, lazy, uncommunicative, bad-tempered, forgetful or spacey, it just made them more so. They may have felt better on the inside, mind you, but for me on the outside looking in, it was annoying at best and completely maddening at worst. I had to fight down constant strong urges to punch them in the collective face. So, not surprisingly, those friendships died off. New ones took their place--and Mara, just so you know, thank you thank you thank you for being my pal for the past 25 years. :)

Now, the interesting thing about all of this is that I bopped along quite happily without those people for some time. When I went to college, NONE of my friends were into the drug scene in any substantial way. We didn't even drink that often. I'd occasionally run up against one of my old homies in one context or another, but it was obvious we were still not remotely on the same path. And I don't think I worried about it too much, other than still being annoyed that they'd changed so radically from the people I remembered.

Sometime in the late 1990's, one of those people--my best friend from Kindergarten through 6th grade or so--started contacting me again. She'd been through a lot of shit, come out the other side, and while I never got too many details about those intervening years, she wanted me to know she was sorry she'd been a jerk back then. And so we made up, and we visit now and then, and things are--while not the same as they might have been--are really very nice. About 6 months ago, the miracle of MySpace led to a reconnection with my first boyfriend/close friend from grades 7-9. He emailed me out of the blue to say he was sorry he'd been a jerk back in high school, and would I like to be friends again? Again I said, sure! He's married now, expecting a kid, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with him when I'm out in California sometime in the coming year.

The other most important person in my Lost Friend triumverate was a guy named Paul. When he dropped out of school, he almost completely dropped out of my life. He got into the indie music scene, and spent the subsequent decades doing the two things he loved--heroin, and playing the drums. Not necessarily in that order. In 2003, I heard from him via Friendster--he wanted to say he was sorry he'd been a jerk (you sense a theme here? apparently your 30's are all about the nostalgia and regret.) He told me he had seen me at the State Fair that year, but he'd been tripping at the time and hadn't wanted to try to talk to me. He seemed embarassed--and in the few subsequent email exchanges we had, he talked about trying to kick the drug habit, but it was apparent that things weren't going well in that area. So we didn't email much; we still didn't have a lot in common or a good frame of reference for each other's lives. We didn't really reconnect... but I always sort of assumed we would when he was ready and able.

So when Paul died of a heroin overdose last week, it was affecting on a lot of levels. On one hand, I mourned the loss of a guy who obviously meant so much to so many people in the here and now--there were about 200 people at his memorial service, mostly his pals from the music scene and from his years of wandering aimlessly around Broad Ripple, getting high, and having those endless conversations with friends and strangers that you have when you're young, or high, or both. I mourned the loss of a very talented musician; though his music in recent years wasn't to my tastes, I know that he devoted his life to creating sound in new and amazing ways, and I don't even pretend to understand what he achieved in his 25 years of making music. But mostly, I mourned the loss of my friend, who remains frozen for me at the age of 14...never aging, never going on to achieve the things he might have done if he'd made different choices way back then. I had forgotten how much I liked that guy, and it's like I lost him all over again--only now it's permanent.