This guy sends me a friend request on Facebook. Usually, I don’t make friends with just anyone. Most of my so-called Facebook “friends” are people I actually know and like. Those who are not friends, per se, are close acquaintances. I looked the dude over. He seemed vaguely familiar to me. I wanted to see what friends we shared. I suppose I wanted to see what crowd he hung around with.
I noticed that his friends, which weren’t many, included some guys I used to run with in high school. He was also friends with my brother. I think I remember this guy. I’ll call him Greg. Greg, as far as I know, was the first guy after high school to go to prison. His profile picture showed a little man with a flannel shirt posed against the big skies of Montana. He wore sunglasses and moustache. He had no teeth to hold up his smile.
In the background of the picture behind the little man looked to be a couple of singlewides. Beyond lay a horse pasture. In the far distance, mountains rose up from the plain.
So, yeah, I figured, this guy can be my friend. I don’t know him, which is fine since he doesn’t know me. The beautiful thing about Facebook is that I can “unfriend” anyone I want to at any time.
Over the next few days, Greg’s posts start showing up in my timeline, inspirational quotes, mostly. Like a lot of former Kansas Citians, he’s a freak about the hometown sports teams. When Greg posts something like “Gooooo Royals!!” I know there’s a baseball game on.
So, I don’t mind him. But he stays on my mind and makes me think. He’s comes out of a time of my life that I don’t remember well. It was just after high school and before I moved out of my parents’ house. I drank every day, much to the consternation of my parents. But they were drunk, too. As a matter of fact, one of the things I remember is that we used to all get together at my parents’ house and my parents drank with us. Other than that, I recall events, moments, scenes. None of it connects. I can follow one thread or another but can’t tie the two together.
I hung around with a clan of brothers and their friends—mostly because I didn’t have friends of my own. We spent a lot of time hanging around drinking, or drinking and driving. Since the brothers were close knit, we spent a lot of time at their cousins’ houses. I was sweet on one of the cousins, Brenda. But everyone, including the brothers had a thing for Brenda. There was another woman, a big girl who had kids. I kind of thought she was something, too. Of course, I was young and had no idea. I had never slept with a woman before.
The summer after high school I worked pumping gas 56 hours a week. It was good money for me. I was living at home. I came out of the summer a whole different person. Breathing gas fumes and working in the heat, I lost 60 pounds in three months.
I went off to college that fall. With the study of philosophy and literature, the world got bigger. Suddenly, the loose circle of friends I ran with grew distant. We kept up for the next year and a half. We worked in pizza and fast food restaurants. I pumped gas after school and on weekends. Nights and weekends, we drank, drove, and went to parties where we drank.
I don’t remember a lot of it, either because I was intoxicated or the rounds of late-night meets with heaps of fried food and pizza we all brought from our jobs resembled one another. One night stands out. I was on the patio behind the brothers’ childhood home. Words flew. Tempers were short. Some shoving and pushing started. I fell backwards and landed on a flower pot.
My friends argued over who was going to drive me to the hospital. Blood was everywhere. It drained down my back into my pants, making them soppy. Finally, someone fetched a bath towel. My best friend laughed all the way to the emergency room—between complaining about the blood on his car seat.
We were both really drunk and had a hell of a time convincing the nurses and security people that the gash in my back wasn’t the result of a stabbing. They actually had the cops on the phone. Someone said they believed us. The story was too fantastic. It had to be true. Twenty-three stitches later, we went back to the party. At some point, I blacked out. I came to the next morning at my parents’ house and had to call around to find out what happened to me, why I had a rather large bandage on my shoulder blade.
I began to make friends at school. I went to the campus bar on Fridays and drank. I often passed out in the back of the place, coming to later and taking up where I left off.
Somewhere in there, I quit the gas station job. Where we had a tight crew, the station manager was forced, over time, to hire just any I also worked at the guy who came along. We handled a lot of cash, and a couple of these guys found it in their best interests to share the losses at the end of the shift. If they filched $50, we had to split the loss two ways. They came out $25 ahead. I gave up five hours of an eight-hour shift. It just wasn’t paying anymore.
I took up at the school paper. The group of people there introduced me to a world much larger and more urbane than the one I experienced with the brothers and our mutual friends. Periods between our drinking bouts lengthened. I still drank as much as ever, but I was running with a different crowd. A woman did the favor of sleeping with me one night in the foyer of the college newspaper office.
I talked to a friend of mine about this time in my life, trying to divine why Greg bothers me and why I’ve thought of him three days running. In the end, he troubles me because I divorced them, all of them, the brothers, Brenda, Greg and his friends, just about everyone I knew at the time.
It happened when I moved out of my parents’ house. It was the start of a whole new life, independent of anything (except alcohol) that came before. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t talk to my family anymore. They, like the brothers, were holding me back. Their goals, their racism, and their conventional thinking just wouldn’t work for me anymore. I turned my back on them and didn’t look back.
Greg comes out of that past. I didn’t unfriend him. He’s a guy who lives a long way away. He posts kitschy spiritual sayings with airbrushed pictures of Indians in the background. I think he knows I’ve been sober for a long time. He sent me a short note telling me he’s been sober for eight years and that he’s writing a book about spirituality.
Good for him, I say.