On Letting Go
I met John just days after Trey and I stopped being friends, in June of 2009. Being a year younger than I am, John had a massive graduation party at his parent’s house. There must’ve been over a hundred people there that night. Since he knew Trey and Brad from painting, occasionally, John treated me with immediate respect, as if my affiliation to them was an endorsement in itself.
But he was an easily likable guy, in general. It made sense why he made a strong impression, because that was just who he was.
John was classically soft-spoken, and stood with a slight frame, close to 6’0″ with long arms and skinny legs. He had caramel-colored skin; his mother was Mexican and his dad black, though he was now living with his stepdad, who had two boys of his own with John’s mother.
Over the next several months, John would come around to the get togethers I had with Ben, Brad, and Isaiah, playing beer pong and smoking weed. Many weeks we had kickbacks at his parents house on Friday or Saturday night, and Sunday it was always at my parents. We were living the burnout life as 19 year-olds.
After Ben, Kyle, Isaiah and I went our separate ways, John was the person I hung out with the most. We eventually realized, through all the blunts and beer, that we really enjoyed getting fucked up and talking about bigger ideas. So that’s exactly what we did. He was a sad person by nature, seemed to never think he was good enough or capable enough, so he was generally always down for a good time.
Our reasons for being unhappy were very different, but the fact that we both were, to begin with, was what ultimately bonded us.
So, as it happened, John and I channeled our unhappiness the best way we knew how: We smoked. We drank. We occasionally went to parties, smoke and drank there, too. John bought me my first sack of weed, was the person I did coke with the first time, was the person I dropped mushrooms with the first time. We may not have been accomplishing much, but it sure as fuck felt like we were.
I enrolled at a local community college in the spring of 2010, took a couple writing courses to help pass the time. John and I were regularly hanging out by then; we began making rap songs on GarageBand from YouTube instrumentals. With work, school, and making music with John, I had finally regenerated my supply of useful distractions. It was going on a year since I had been broken up with, and lost my best friend. Only now was I beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It was during the summer when I finally had my epiphany. One hot afternoon, John and I thought it would be a good idea to smoke a joint while we walked up a hill near his sister’s apartment. Everything seems to develop casually slow while I’m high. That ten minute walk felt like it took an hour. I was sweating and sucking for air.
When we got to the top, we found an abandoned house, torn apart from at least a decade’s worth of weather and neglect. There was a makeshift wooden garage with no roof, a bench carved out of a fallen tree stump, and every piece of standing wood was marked up with spray paint. The only thing that was still functioning, at least in any practical way, was a wooden swing connected by a thick rope to a large tree.
Near the abandoned house was a gorgeous backyard setup. Er, I imagine it was once gorgeous. It wasn’t much to look at anymore. There was a large fire-pit encased by bricks, an enormous pool that had since become a dump. It smelled like shit, and the deep end was littered with collected rain and all sorts of discarded junk. I was walking in the shallow end when I saw some sticker outside where one of the jets was supposed to be. I don’t remember what symbol or writing crew the sticker represented.
But it was in that moment that it hit me. I didn’t feel the pain in the pit of my stomach anymore. I wasn’t upset anymore. I was finally okay with myself.
I was also pretty high.
* * * * *
By the summer of 2010, John and I were hanging out almost every day. I was still working at the auto auction company and going to school. I’d even started seeing a couple women, one I met in a writing class and another from a party John and I went to. If an outsider who knew nothing about me was walking in my shoes, he or she would think I was doing pretty well for myself.
On the inside, I wasn’t any more over my ex. I wasn’t any more over the circumstances that led to Trey and I falling out in that bowling alley parking lot.
Rather, I was getting better at dealing with it. I began viewing pain as a constant, as something I would need to shape myself around. The only alternative was to wait for it to leave, and I just got tired of waiting.
That summer I reached the peak of my drug use, but I’d fallen so far off the face of the earth that nothing really mattered. I ran into all kinds of people I knew from high school, and many shared a similar reaction. They never thought I’d be the type of person to do such and such drug, or whatever. It was only a phase. Everyone was mostly right about me.
John quit smoking at the end of the summer. He was getting sober for a new job. I was still working at the auto auction place and living with my parents, so I was making more money than I needed. John and I were talking about moving out, splitting an apartment together. I was ready to go.
For whatever reason, John wasn’t as interesting when we weren’t high. He talked about things he heard from someone, and presented them like they were facts. When I knew something was blatantly untrue, I would reply with the actual truth. He seemed to always take that personally, like I was attacking him instead of the untruths.
It wasn’t only that — John was on Final Boss Level laid-back-ness. I genuinely liked spending time with him. We just didn’t have anything real in common. When we were high on god knows what, we spoke of theory and nonsense. It seemed really interesting at the time, because it was really interesting at the time. There were no wrong answers.
However, those were merely escapes for confused young people. Reality wasn’t going anywhere. Once the curtain fell, and we didn’t smoke anymore when we hung out, I realized there wasn’t a lot of substance to our friendship.
* * * * *
Around the middle of November, 2010, my mom was late coming home from work one night. She’s the executive assistant at the auto auction place, but her and I left around the same time each night. It was a little odd that she wasn’t home already, or at least right behind me when I pulled in the driveway.
She eventually walked through the front door, around 15 minutes later. She told me she had stopped at the Mexican food place down the street, just to say hi to Trey and tell him she missed him. My mom hadn’t seen or spoken to him in almost a year and a half, and I wouldn’t have been okay with her doing that if she had told me beforehand. I didn’t want to make it seem like she was speaking on my behalf, because I was fully prepared to hold onto my pride and never speak to him again. Just like he was.
But when she told me, I wasn’t mad or upset with her. I was glad she said something.
The following day was a Friday. After getting home from work I did whatever the hell I normally do, probably ate dinner or something. At night I sat in the garage smoking cigarettes while I read Paint it Black, a book I borrowed from a girl I went to community college with. The story was about a woman whose boyfriend died in the past, and how she was handling it in the present. Half the book was flashbacks.
Without giving it much thought, I picked up my Blackberry and texted my ex-girlfriend to ask her if she had ever heard of Paint it Black. We had few communications over the last year-plus; I texted her several times and she texted me a few times. Once was to tell me I had been using caveat out of context.
Surprisingly, she responded to me right away, asked what are you doing and put an exclamation point at the end. It seemed awfully upbeat of her. I was suddenly rushed with adrenaline, because when you expect nothing it doesn’t take a lot to get you going.
As it were, she was staying with her dad at her parent’s house, presumably visiting over Thanksgiving. And 20 minutes later, just as I had done a hundred times before, I stepped into her living room and we hugged. I hadn’t seen her since July of 2009. Her best friend was also there, as was her best friend’s boyfriend. Her best friend’s boyfriend was Trey. They are now married.
This was a surreal environment to be in. It had been forever since I’d seen her, but Trey was there, too! I had not seen Trey since the bowling alley parking lot night. Immediately he and I went out back and I smoked a cigarette, and caught up on whatever there was to catch up on. That may have been the most obscure part of the night, that Trey and I went from nothing to virtually becoming best friends again.
We didn’t mention the past, or the fact that a shitload of time had gone by (relatively speaking). It was like we got out of one cab, and into another. A seamless transition.
Inside, the four of us played Pictionary. It was girls versus boys. Trey and I won.
During a lull, my ex called me over to the kitchen and got out a bottle of scotch from the cupboard. Come ‘ere, she said, gesturing for me to join her on the tile floor. She took a snap from the bottle, handed it to me and I took a snap. I felt uncomfortable whispering conversation to her with Trey and his girlfriend there, thinking they would be dropping eaves. But that got drowned out by the fact that I might not get this opportunity with her again, and that I should appreciate the time I had.
That could have been the scotch, too.
I left that night with renewed optimism, like all was not completely dead quite yet. Trey and I had plans to make a rap song on Wednesday night, an occasion that would turn into our weekly hangout.
And there was also this: For the last year-plus, I dedicated myself to being a better person. Through days and miserable nights of thinking, writing, crying, and asking myself the hard questions, I was finally at a point where I could deal with my emotions in a productive way. My stupid pain arrived all at once, all in a month-long wrinkle in time just before the summer of 2009. In the time leading up to when Trey and I, and her, met again, all of my efforts were directed at coming out of it a smarter, nicer, more accepting human being than when I started.
But I never put much thought into what I would do once they came back to my life.