I was lookin' in the rear view mirror earlier today. Not the best way to drive, but sometimes informative.
He is Dead ©Solomon 2011
I felt dreadful as I smiled when I heard the news. It was a nervous smile, but there it was on my blushing face. Craig had killed himself. He was dead and gone. My best friend had killed himself, and taken his broken heart to the grave. It was 1975. I was twenty years old. He had been twenty-one.
He loved me. I was too young, naive and self-absorbed to realize that truth. We’d been hanging out for four years, all through my high school days and that first year of college. I knew he was gay. I enjoyed hanging out with him and his several boyfriends. I liked the clubs, and the attention that I got from the handsome guys and the exotic trannies and transvestites. I used to join him on these jaunts to that weirdly happy world, sometimes with my girlfriend in tow. She was a big hit with those boys. Apparently she was as much a novelty to them, as they were to me.
I was so stupid. I was the one taking him into a dangerous space. I was safe and loved in his world. Yeah, he loved me, but I never picked up on that reality. I invited him and his then current boyfriend to join me for a New Year’s celebration at my college. There were just half a dozen of us in an otherwise empty fraternity house. We had plenty of pot, several hits of strong, speedy LSD, and buckets of whiskey and beer.
I didn’t know about his previous suicide attempts. I didn’t put the pieces together about his history of what I now know must have been abuse by his “uncle” abetted by his own mother. I handed him a tab of acid, and he accepted it with no apparent trepidation. In truth, he was scared but game to prove something to me. He wanted to be included in my new world. He was willing to dare his fragile ego to not be left behind. I was unaware until years of reflection made it clear to me how brave he was that night. We drank with my friends, shared our dope, and had a fine old time for hours, and I had not a clue as to what was roiling in his heart and mind.
Somewhere around dawn, a mighty blizzard was raging. It was a beautiful, crystalline sunrise above the sheet metal clouds. I was staring out the window, saucer-eyed. My ears were full of the quicksilver notes of a certain cowboy song, then playing on the stereo. “Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down, he dug for him a shallow grave, and laid his body down…” A very apt line, as what was about to happen would demonstrate. Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had goose bumps on my arms. I detected the odor of rotting meat.
Craig’s hand gripped my own as he approached me from behind. I sensed that things were going to take a turn toward the deeply weird. We were all so psychedelically gacked that telepathy was business as usual at this point. I knew he knew that a bridge had been crossed and broken and there was no way back. He said, “I need to make love to you. Let’s go upstairs.”
Somehow, I pulled my jellified wits together to answer. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, right now. We’re very high. How about going for a walk. It’s beautiful outside. We can talk.”
“I’ll kill myself if you don’t come with me.” He was utterly unglued. His boyfriend was overhearing this from across the room, and he fled back into the maelstrom of the party. We both could tell that Craig was serious, and seriously broken. “Come upstairs with me, or I’ll hang myself.”
“Um, no. I’m not going to do that, and you’re not going to kill yourself. When we’re not all twisted, we can talk about this, but you are not going to threaten me into having sex with you. Please, let’s take a walk and talk a bit.”
At that, he let go of my hand and marched up the stairs in silence. I was tempted to follow him, but didn’t think I should be alone in that endeavor. The boyfriend clearly wanted no part of this mess, and my other buddies were just as smashed as I was. I stared out the window and prayed that he really wouldn’t hurt himself. I was frozen with fear even as I understood that indulging him might make things worse.
He did not kill himself that morning. We rode back home in uncomfortable silence. He dropped me off at my folks’ house and drove away with his friend. I didn’t hear from him again for several months. Attempts to call him went unreturned. He just fell away from my new world as I, too, drifted off.
It was the following autumn when I got the news from our common friend, Mark. It appeared that Craig’s suicide was a sort of “accident”. I’d learned that he’d previously tried stunts like woofing down a fistful of downers and calling friends from the phone booth on the corner of State and Main until he passed out and got rescued. He’d once gotten real drunk and drugged, laid down in the middle of Rt 20, waiting to get run over or taken to the hospital. Of course, the latter reliably happened. This time, however, his plea for help was left unanswered. At 6AM he pulled into the garage where he worked, closed the door while the motor was still running, and just died. Apparently, in his confusion and stupor, he had forgotten that it was Columbus Day, a state holiday, and nobody would be coming to work that morning. His cold corpse was found the next morning.
I’ve spent the last few decades morning my friend. I’ve gone through all the phases of guilt, anger at both he and I, sadness, regret, and just plain missing that sweet man. His heart was good even burdened with the damage it incurred. I have wondered if I just should have walked up those stairs with him and made love. Was there really any harm to be found in that? I’ll never know.
Hic Finis Est