I’ve seen this madness before. A guy in front of Starbucks has asked me for money for coffee, first a dollar, then fifty cents. He’s in a blue shirt, a gut out in front of him and right above his collar, a scar that rings his neck. He keeps walking past me, sits for a second at one of the nearby tables, walks past again, this time commenting on the weather.
“Cold out,” he says on one of the warmest days this year.
“It’s not bad,” I say.
“Not bad,” he murmurs as he shuffles past again.
I’m just not sure what he wants as I’ve said to him I have no cash on me. But when I look up to his eyes, I see the hints of a friend of mine whom I’ve lost track of…
Last time I saw my friend he was slowly passing out against his bed, his eyes drooping as he tried to say something like, “don’t leave,” but it came out more like a slushy moan. There were empty Old English cans around his bed, he didn’t have a shirt on and just a towel wrapped around his waist because earlier he had jumped naked into the pool behind his house while I stood holding my elbows in the cool foggy night. He kept asking me if I wanted to swim too. When I refused he said, “Okay, okay, well I need to jump in to wake me up a bit.” He then proceeded to strip down and slid into the black water like a big white eel, an amazingly quiet entrance considering the girth he had added to himself since the last time I saw him about 6 months earlier.
Then, six months before, he was a thin and intelligent guy with whom I had conversations about philosophy and art. He smiled a lot, but even then I noticed he drank more than most people. I knew he was on an anti-depressant, but it seemed to be working because he seemed happy and I liked him. He was a nice guy. Even when he drank, we was still considerate. Somewhere along my life I decided that was the most important quality to have in a friend, I want my friends to be nice people. I’d looked back at relationships I’ve had throughout my life and regretted wasting my time on mean people and decided it was nice people from there on out. Maybe I was overlooking things because he was nice. I mean, he was obviously a drunk, but I wasn’t really seeing that.
We’d been hanging out for probably 2 months before I thought to myself, this guy drinks every night. It wasn’t too long after that realization that I started backing away, not calling him to hang out and being busy anytime he called me. I felt bad and finally told him why. Even then he didn’t get mad. He just said, “Yeah, okay…”
So when he texted me six months later I thought oh cool, maybe he’s got everything together now. And I missed hanging out with him, our good conversations, going to museums. You need friends who feed all your different sides. I think I have a lot of sides. He filled the role of scholar friend, reminded me of the conversations I’d had with my poet buddies in dingy coffee shops and shitty/awesome bars in the South; Tuscaloosa; Oxford, Mississippi; Atlanta.
As I rode up to him on my motorcycle, I didn’t recognize him. He was waiting for me outside his house and I thought it was just a person standing around, but when he started to walk up to me I saw his much rounder face and then his deep-set, dark eyes, watery, a little bit of pleading in them. He was too smart for his own good. He knew what he did and was doing to himself, but I guess he couldn’t stop.
I don’t pretend to understand what goes on in anyone’s head. I’m sure I’m one traumatic experience away from the looney bin. And I don’t think he had some awful thing that had happened to him that messed him up (though I never asked and he never said), I just think he would over-think things. People do this. For some it leads to them saying, “Aw, fuck it,” under their breath, “I’ll have the chocolate donut, not the blueberry.” For others it paralyzes them from ever creating the things they can thinking their work is never good enough. And for still others, it just paralyzes them. I think he was paralyzed, stuck in a rut, drinking, gaining weight, taking pills, trying to get “balanced” so he could function among other humans.
When this guy kept walking past me the other day, asking for change, trying to start a conversation, maybe he was trying to un-paralyze. Should I have been more receptive to his scar, did I just slam the door to humans (as if I’m human) in his face by looking back down at my phone after he passed for the last time? When I snuck out of my friend’s house, as he slid slowly to the floor, his towel unwrapping until he lay naked and fat on the floor, did I do damage? Should I be helping him out of his own head?