Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Twenty-Seven Years

Twenty-seven years.  Twenty-seven years ago I woke up to the news that you were gone.  I know I’m not the only one who remembers, but I know that I only remember my version.  I know that others heard differently, maybe through a phone call, or a police visit.  I heard about it on the radio and when I yelled no, that it couldn’t be you, my family told me I was dreaming.  If only I had been.  Maybe the memories of you are made sweeter because you left us so young with everything ahead of you.  I know that we would have drifted apart, that we already had started to in some ways.  We were just kids then, as you will always be. 

I wonder who you would be today.  I have a feeling you would have stayed here and not moved on.  I can see you hanging out at the garage with the guys and running into you every once in a while at the river.  Would we even talk?  I know there are others that played, that stayed, and we never talk.  They don’t seem to have grown at all, and that would be my worry.  Would I even like you now had you never died?  Would you still be the jock living your high school glory, over and over and over?  Would you still believe that every girl wanted you?  Because they wouldn’t.  I still remember how I felt about 40-something guys when I was seventeen.  They were gross.  But guys of a certain age don’t think that way.  They still think that they are God’s gift and look at those girls like they are giving them a compliment, not the heebie jeebies. 

I say these things because I don’t want you to be a saint.  I also say them because this is the first time I realized that I might know who you would be and it almost makes me glad you are gone.

You were an alcoholic; you just didn’t realize it yet.  We all had an idea of it, but you were so much fun, up to that point where you wanted to fight.  And it was such a hairpin point too.  You never knew when it would happen but knew immediately when it did and it didn’t seem to bother you that you took everyone along for the ride.  I remember sitting in the backseat wondering if we would survive to see the morning.  Then, one day, you didn’t.

I took the lesson to heart.  For a couple years I refused to ride with anyone drunk, tried to pry keys out of their hands, talked to them about you so they wouldn’t do the same thing.  I didn’t stop partying.  I was just more careful, for a while, anyway. 

Then there were the nights I drove home holding one hand over an eye, trying to see straight.  Seeing shooting stars and believing they were deceased friends and family guiding me home.  Maybe they were – who knows?  I like to think so, because I saw more shooting stars at 2:30 in the morning than I have at any other time in my life.  I took on the attitude that you only live once, “Only the Good Die Young” became my song, I felt a connection to James Dean, and my life became one fast and crazy and sad place to be.  Sleeping with anyone I felt a strong connection to was my way to keep them alive, since I had refused to sleep with you. 

The ghost of you was always there in those years right after you died, influencing my decisions.  I hadn’t realized it until now.  Eventually you have faded from our minds.  We remember you fondly as a good guy, the ladies’ man, the good son, brother, friend.  Your name comes up at your family member’s funerals, maybe at the milestone of a niece or nephew, looking at school pictures, or just sitting around reminiscing.  It’s not awkward anymore, although it is still sad.  When I hear ACDC or George Thorogood I still smile and think that you’re the subject to “Bad to the Bone”.  I will always remember our secret late nights by the river, parked in your car and making out, never going any farther than kisses.  Our dream of a little house with a white picket fence became a reality without you.
Needless to say, I still miss you.