Earlier today I learned – in probably the worst way – that a friend of mine passed away.
They slip away from us so easily sometimes, when we’re not paying attention. “I’ll call you soon,” we say, “we’ll have a cup of coffee. Talk about the old days.” And we mean to, but then there’s this thing or that and a few days turns into a few weeks, then a few months. And one day, you wonder why good old so-and-so hasn’t called and it turns out they haven’t called because they fucking died.
Poof. And that good intention of having a nice chat soon about the good old days will sit down in the pit of your stomach and have a nice long gnaw at your soul.
I met David when we were about 12 and we spent a lot of time together over the next 8 or so years. Good times, bad times. Got in all kinds of trouble, had so much fun we laughed until we cried, had so much misery we cried until we laughed.
Around 20 or so, I thought I was getting my shit together. I was getting married and I was getting over all that teenage bullshit… drugs and partying and mayhem. And David was starting a descent into a pit of alcoholic hell that would take him 30 years to climb back out of. I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but he remembered. He was crashing at one of our drugged out loser acquaintances places, unwashed, spread out with all the other garbage on the apartment floor. I left him there like a piece of trash and I didn’t talk to him for another 30 years.
In the meantime I wrestled my own demons. Failed marriages, addictions of my own. And one day, with the internet at my disposal, I sought David out and found him. We emailed, we talked on the phone, we promised to get together soon. He was in rehab. He’d spent the whole 30 years building a life and destroying it with alcohol. But when we found each other again, he was sober. Not only had he gotten sober, but he’d decided to become a counselor himself.
We talked less and less frequently and then faded apart. Again.
Not long ago, the idea for The Second Novel came to me. The First Novel, like all first novels, is never going to be my finest work. It’s just the story that has gotten me ramped up and is preparing me to be The Next Great Novelist with my second and subsequent works. And my new protagonist is a character that David would love – and identify with. He’s a tortured soul, fighting his personal demons, conquering them slowly, and maintaining an amazing sense of humor throughout. And he helps other people find peace.
I knew David would love this guy, because we’d created some great characters together before and told some inspired stories about them. It was usually just to amuse ourselves, but we both had the same spark, and the new guy was poured out of the old mold. So I decided I’d seek David out again, share a laugh, get his counsel, collaborate a bit. This time, we’d have that cup of coffee. And today I found out he had a fucking heart attack last May and fucking died. So I can’t share my new character with him, have a chuckle over a joke only he and I would understand, or anything else because he’s gone.
And worse… so much worse… because this is the second time this has happened to me. The second old friend I called and said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get together soon,” and then blew off. The second friend I looked up on the internet and found out he was dead.
So maybe David, may his soul rest in peace, reached out to me and gave me my new character. Or maybe I just want to think he did. Looking at the new character now, I see he is David, at least in part. So… I can’t go have that cup of coffee anymore… but I can make the new character live. I can share the anguish in his/my soul. I can show an indomitable spirit, a crazy sense of humor, a love of life, a realization of what matters. And nobody else who meets my new character will know that, but maybe, because of who he is and how he lives, he can touch somebody.
I don’t what else to do for David or for me, but it’s something.