We haven’t talked in a long time. Almost seven years, not since you asked what I knew about eBay scams and how your father had been taken in by one on a camper. We talked about that and Sophia Myles and how The Project was progressing, and then the conversation drew to a close.
And then you died.
Not immediately. It was a few days. I thought nothing of not hearing from you for a week. That was normal. We didn’t have to talk every day. We had jobs and lives and busy schedules.
I didn’t know how to react when I got the email from your dad. He didn’t know how else to get in touch with me. I had barely woken up. The coffee hadn’t kicked in. I needed to get ready for work. I wasn’t ready to process this. I wrote him back a terse “Thank you for letting me know.” I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I couldn’t make the funeral. I had publishing deadlines. My publications went to press the day of the funeral. I’m sorry.
I contacted old friends from the Richmond circle. You’d alienated most of them, but you all were close one, and I thought they should know. Some never responded. Kelly called me and we talked for two hours. Mohammed wrote back; he even sent me one of his mathematical papers, though I told him it would be well over my head. Allison? I haven’t spoken with her since then; she’s rebuffed even a brief hello. Stacey… never replied, and I was not surprised by that. And Katie…?
I’m sorry, Jason. I never found her. The Project failed. And, I don’t know that I want to find her any more. I promised you I would locate her because I was so good at finding stuff, in those months after your mother died when you were feeling your mortality and you wanted closure on some of life’s mistakes, but her trail goes cold and I never knew enough to figure out where to go. At this point, Jason, she’s in her early thirties, your relationship with her was half a lifetime ago, and I doubt she remembers the messenger — in other words, me — at all. I am going to leave it be.
Why did your girlfriends have to unburden your relationship problems on me? Maybe they thought I could get through to you where they couldn’t. And they would talk. Oh, would they talk. Katie did the tournament weekend in Richmond when I met Sandra. Stacey did, that snowy weekend in Annapolis when I got stoned with Joe before the Naval Academy banquet. They said the same things, maybe not word-for-word but certainly close enough — they were madly in love with you, they wanted to make you happy, but you were distant for no reason they could discern, and they knew they were going to lose you. Yes, hard as it is to believe, given how things went down in London two years later, Stacey said that to me.
Water under the bridge. Why dredge it up.
I was thinking recently of when we met, that party at Jake Weiner’s apartment in Fairfax with Mason’s debate team, the party where I was chaperoning Kelly for reasons that were never exactly clear to me. And I walked into the middle of conversation between you, Kelly, and Pete Krein about circumcised and uncircumcised penises. Not exactly the kind of thing you forget.
Pete died, too, come to think of it. I think about three years ago. But if there’s a heaven, which I don’t think there is, you would already know that and the two of you would be sitting on some hill somewhere bullshitting about something or another, because that’s how you were.
Three weeks ago, when I was driving back from DC, I had you on the mind. I love DC, it’s an awesome city and I have so much fun there, and sometimes I get a little depressed that you’re not there anymore. That I can’t drop by Arlington and pay you a visit. That we can’t sit around and talk about crap like we used to. I started doing the math in my head, and I quickly realized that you would have been hitting an anniversary year on your birthday.
You’d have been thirty-five today, and you’re not here. Why aren’t you here?
I’m not blaming you. It’s not your fault.
But I have been angry with you.
We were going to attend a game at Camden Yards or Nationals Park. When I bought my first ticket for a game in DC in 2008, I only bought one. We had plans, and you weren’t there.
When I met Cressida, I wanted to talk to you so badly. I wanted to tell you everything about her, you’d have told me that I was nuts, and you weren’t there.
When my grandmother died, you weren’t there.
Life went on. You weren’t there. And that made me angry.
But that’s not what I wanted to say to you on your birthday.
What I wanted to tell you was this. I’m sorry. I was a terrible friend.
You would disagree. But I was.
I enabled you that year in Richmond. You had an addiction and I didn’t realize it or I didn’t understand it. I thought I was helping. I think all of us thought that — Joe and Howard, even Kelly to some extent. We thought we were helping you grow and giving you a purpose, when all we were helping you do was to dig your hole deper. Maybe you would have been better off with a different group of friends that year, ones who knew you better, ones who wouldn’t have enabled you because they only thought they were being friendly.
When I left Richmond, I treated you badly. I kept you at a distance. Partly, I came to recognize that you were self-destructive and your self-destruction would catch anyone caught in its wake. Partly, as time passed and there was physical distance between us, I wasn’t sure what we had in common any more. And partly, as a function of the time and distance, I was pissed off with you.
Why was I pissed off? You reached a point where you were between schools — again — and you needed a job. I made a few phone calls, pulled a few strings, and got you an interview for a position with EB Games in NoVA. You blew off the interview. I went to bat for you, I recommended you, and I felt disrespected by you. I was pissed.
Then when I moved to Raleigh, I didn’t tell you anything. I didn’t tell you where I lived. I didn’t tell you which store I was managing. All you knew was that I had moved to North Carolina. I didn’t want you to know anything more than that, because I knew — I knew — what would have happened if I had said anything more, if I had given you any sort of clue. There would have come a day where, out of the blue, you showed up on my doorstep, wanting a couch to crash on for a night or three, and I’d have said “Yes” out of my natural sense of hospitality, only that “night or three” would have turned into months on end. I know you would have done that. You thought you still had a shot with Stacey, even though it was over, and if I had given you any sort of opening to a base in North Carolina where you could try to woo her back at Wake Forest, you would have taken it. And that’s why I kept you at a distance for a long time when I moved down there. I didn’t want that.
It wasn’t until my last year in Raleigh that I was again comfortable with you as a friend. You had to fall and hit bottom. You had to learn how to grow up. Once you started to figure it out and how to be an adult, only then did I think you were worth knowing again, and only then could we really talk again.
I treated you badly and kept you at a distance for a long time. I think that our friendship was due far more to your dogged determination over the years than any effort I made. I know I romanticize our friendship and sometimes imagine I was a better friend than I truly was, but the truth is that, for a long, long time, I was a terrible, terrible friend.
I’m sorry, Jason.
Today, for your birthday, I’ll dwell on the happy memories.
I’ll think about the sitcom we wanted to write. I still may have the pilot script I wrote somewhere. Spew! That’s what we called it. I doubt it was any good, neither of us had an agent, we wouldn’t have gotten in the door anywhere in Hollywood. But we were young, and we didn’t know any better.
I’ll think about seeing Shrek with you. And Varsity Blues, too, and how much you loved that film and the soundtrack. (Which, I’m sorry, I can’t listen to. The Collective Soul track is too painful, y’know?)
I’ll think about the Violent Femmes concert. Joe and the tequila. That’s all that needs to be said.
I’ll think about that game at Yankee Stadium in 2001. And your crazy plan for us to get an apartment in the Bronx and jobs in New York so we could work overnight and be Bleacher Bums by day.
I’ll think about hanging out on the National Mall, sitting on a park bench in front of the Smithsonian Castle and writing in a composition book.
I’ll think about the trip to Padonia Station and your crazy drunken friend Aaron.
I’ll think about the St. Patrick’s Day party and the green Guinness that stained us both green for days on end.
Those are the things I’ll think about.
Happy birthday, Jason. It’s been good talking to you. I miss it.