Another Friend Gone

Feeling good takes more strength than hurting yourself.

Oftentimes when falling, we have the tendency to allow ourselves to keep falling rather than stop to find the strength to rise back up again, an all too human condition. As the consequences worsen and become more damaging, it is then that we find even less strength to better ourselves. It’s like our minds and bodies work against themselves: the more you hurt, the more you want to be hurt; the more you hurt, the less you seek aid, and with addictions, the more you’re fucked up, the more you strive to remain fucked up.

Craig had his share of problems that he either wasn’t strong enough to overcome or just didn’t care to. The last time I saw him I was apprenticing at the tattoo shop. While cleaning up, I stepped outside to beat the wide broom on the sidewalk when he passed me. Dust filled the air as he walked towards me from Harper’s.

“Craig! Long time no see.”

“Dude! I just got kicked out of fucking Harper’s,” he simultaneously boasted and complained about using his loud, New England accent – somewhere in the space shuttle-range of a decibel chart and twice as loud when drunk.

“How come,” I asked him, shaking the broom in the air, a cloud of dust making its way past Craig, too drunk to notice.

“Fuckin’ shit, I don’t know. Starting a fight or whatever. Who gives a shit. Fuck them.” His thick New England accent had the authenticity to ignite a fight in any setting. Especially given that he was more interested in spewing curse words into the atmosphere rather than forming a sentence that could communicate information.

He said, “Fuck them” in the same way you say “fuck them” when you get fired from a job for doing something you deserve to get fired for. An admission of guilt in the tone in which he denies it.

That was Craig. Craig wasn’t fighting. Fighting was Craig. If you wanted to go out drinking with him, you had to be in the mood to fight otherwise you better stay home and play sick. He was drunk. Irish, Boston accent, angry, drunk. He was short with short dark hair and carried a belly that lay just over his belt. His level of energy always made you feel like you had to have your reflexes in prime condition at all times in order to keep up with what might ensue as a result of his presence and behavior. His attire was eternally jean shorts, t-shirts and steel toed boots. He told me about the ST tattoos he saw at the Suicidal Tendencies concerts he went to up north.

I met him in 2000 after he moved to Port Saint Lucie from Connecticut. He worked at a job site making trusses where he met John, and through John I met Craig. No one at that job site had any hope whatsoever and it was through that lack of hope and that feeling of being so close to death that my friends and I became close to Craig. You find a cause in a lack thereof, and hence our friendship, a friendship founded on a platform of perceived nothingness.

We were all so ill-equipped with wisdom that we didn’t know how we had made it as far as we had and there was a union to be found in that. We had a lot in common, in so far as we all smoked weed, drank liquor and listened to Suicidal Tendencies, but when you’re 18 as I was at the time, that’s enough to properly lay a cornerstone for a friendship. It’s not until you get older that you become a lot more pretentious.

Craig was the new guy in town, which means he could create any identity he wished for himself. Anytime the new guy walks in, he’s going to have his story and he’s going to tell us and we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to believe him. For example:

• Ted Stevens is a cowboy who just rolled in off his horse from Nebraska, but the horse ran away, so Ted’s in town for a few weeks in the Farrell Motel in Fort Pierce. His ranch just got bought out by some big company for millions, but Ted won’t ever stray from his cowboy roots. Really keepin’ it real. Truth? Well, Ted’s wearing a cowboy hat so I guess so.

• Diego Suarez was a doctor in Venezuela for thirty years until he moved to America to avoid persecution from anti-government factions (it’s hard to keep up with which governments are currently undergoing coup-de-tauts, so I believe him). Unfortunately, his medical license is not recognized in America so he’s been working at Winn-Dixie for the last decade until he can make enough money to pay for medical school in the States. Well, he’s got a Hispanic accent and diagnosed me with the common cold after hearing me sneeze, so I guess I’ll believe him.

Craig’s story was that he was best friends with Aaron Louis from Staind. Me and my friends weren’t Staind fans, but at 18, being best friends with the lead singer from a mainstream band was as impressive as owning a new car at 16 – and having sex in the back seat of it regularly. He proved it to us one early November day when he asked his mom if Aaron was coming to their house for Thanksgiving.

“He said he was going to make it,” she said from the kitchen, her body and attention focused on the food she was cooking at the stove. She responded so quick we had no reason not to believe him. She didn’t even ask, “Aaron who?” It was either well rehearsed or truth.
A couple weeks later Craig tells me, “He’s not coming. He’s going to be on tour.”

“What’s it like seeing your best friend on TV all the time,” I’d ask him, sitting on his couch watching TV.

“Oh, you know, you just see him up there; you get used to it, it’s kind of weird I guess.”

But Aaron never came to town. Never drove through. Never stopped in to take a leak. Never mentioned Craig in an album cover Thank You list. And sooner or later, no one talked about Aaron. After years of no mention and no sight of Aaron, the case was later closed and stamped in big, bold, red, uppercase letters reading “MYTH.”

Shortly into our friendship Craig got arrested while working at his construction site. He was selling weed at the time when a Haitian man he had suspicions about asked him for some product, he told him to fuck off. The Haitian guy responded impolitely, so Craig responded by busting a hammer into his temple earning him the moniker “Thor.” He spent three months in the county jail with an attempted battery charge. Why that’s considered “attempted” baffles me since it seems like he well accomplished what he set out to do and sent the guy to the hospital.

The times my friends and I spent with Craig were gambled away by drinking, smoking cigarettes, and talking about music. We also spent a lot of time talking about how hard life was and how stupid everyone is. Years later I realized that life is only hard because you complain about how hard it is and the people who complain about everyone else being stupid are usually equally stupid. Well, such epiphanies separate friends, but not intentionally. And I’m sure those of us left still think a lot of people are stupid. And damn it, rightfully so. Some things from youth we will never let go.

When Craig’s mom and stepdad moved out of the house he was living in he took in two roommates: a friendly, gay, pill addict, Joey, and his sometimes friendly girlfriend, Nancy, also addicted to pills. And hence was born a trifecta of pill abusers all living in the same house off Midway Road all awaiting the same fate. They never knew themselves let alone each other. Their lives were constantly run on the brink of ending, both literally and legally and sobriety was something they only felt when waking up in the early afternoons.

I don’t know where Joey came from, but a guy like Joey just shows up on a doorstep and is let in for a hot dinner. People felt bad for him. I don’t know why. He was nice, but I never felt compelled to feel sorry for him.

I show up one day and it’s “Hey, this is Joey. He stays in the other room.” The only thing I remember is that he’d always come home around 2am from a night of pilling and drinking from the only local gay bar almost nightly. Despite my inability to match clothes, he swore I had the gene, the chromosome, the limp hand. Whether it was my long eyelashes or my hesitancy to call my friends bros and high five while watching the game, he thought there was some possibility and hope that I’d one day be gay – just like him. Just a couple of gay guys trying to make it in this crazy world. Gay people often suspect non-gays they want to bang of being gay in order to support their hope of banging them and I had the fortunate luck of receiving this suspicion.

“Phil,” he’d say with an optimistic lisp, “I’m going to take you under my wing.” And he’d wrap his arm around my shoulder and pull me in close like a brother.

At the time, I thought he wanted to teach me his wisdom, being that he was roughly six or eight years older than me. I always wondered when I’d start learning something being that I was under his wing and all. I later realized he probably just wanted to have sex with me. I would have made a great, naive altar boy. Phil Grech: Easy for the taking.

Joey ended up getting kicked out by Craig for being a slob. A few years later, Craig told me that Joey died of an overdose: pills and booze. Someone found his cold body in bed in a cheap motel room in Fort Pierce one morning. Two out of three left.

Nancy had the energy level of Terry Schiavo. No matter what you said to her, she always replied to you in a voice like she just woke up. Slow, drawn out, hesitant to answer, and with all the time she took to tell you something, you’d expect the meaning of life to fall upon your waiting ears. Unfortunately, you’d only end up with something that either left you more confused than you were before you asked the question, or you’d be reaffirmed that although she was friendly, she could probably take it easy on the drugs a bit.

Craig met Nancy this easily: Mike, John, Craig, and I all stopped at a gas station in south Stuart one weekday night. For whatever reason, we were there for an extended period of time. John was going to kill time by impressing us all with his famous, infallible, and always successful line of hitting on women:

“Yo, girl. When you gonna let me play in yo panties?”

He was confident this was going to work. He wanted us to wait in the parking lot by the car while we watched him through the large windows putting his class to use. That line is so unsuccessful, so predictably unsuccessful, that it has stained itself as an immortal joke. A good way to start a conversation when someone answers the phone.

John asked Nancy if he could play in her panties, to which she respectfully declined, but whatever approach Craig used worked. That night he was introduced to a girl that he would spend the last years of his life with.

As his final years passed, Craig and I saw less of each other. It was a long time until I saw Craig at a party thrown at Mike’s house. I showed up at 2am sober and level-headed. It was a house full of shirtless men – drunk, shirtless men – completely wasted, drunk enough to encapsulate five St. Patrick’s Day parties into one hour, shirtless men. When I arrived Mike told me he was going to throw me into the pool.

“No, that’s ok.”

“Nah, c’mon, you’re going in,” he urged.

“I’m not going in the pool.”

“No. We all went in. Now it’s your turn.”

Clearly, whatever happened before I arrived was a real drunken, bonding moment for all men present, but sober and tired, I wasn’t interested.

“I don’t care who went into that pool. I’m not going in there,” I told Mike defiantly, looking him in his eyes.
When he grabbed my sober and fully clothed body to throw me into the pool, we started fighting. Within seconds, I had my knife to his throat.

“Don’t put me into that fucking pool.”

We fell onto the ground. Well, we fell onto my left knee (the reason for a later diagnosed case of post-traumatic arthritis in that knee) until the fight was broken up. At this point, half the party, drunk as the Confederacy on a day off, was ready to drown me in the pool less throw me in. I ran around the house, hopped the fence, and jumped into a waiting car. Nancy was out front as I jumped in.

“Fuck you, you fucking asshole!”

“Shut up, cunt!”

“You’re a fucking pussy! You never stand up for yourself!”

“You’re a fucking drug addict, you bitch!”

“Whatever. That’s why your friends always stand up for you and you never do anything yourself!”

“In case you didn’t notice, I just pulled a knife on my friend, you fucking drug addict!”

I didn’t see Nancy much after that, but from what I understand, the only thing new with her afterwards was her track marks. That’s not to make a joke. It was the last thing I ever heard about her. It’s always sad seeing someone you know in that position. There’s usually little you can do. Talking is futile in almost all cases. No one saw her or talked to her in her last years, the heroin making it too hard to answer the phone, a phone that probably stopped ringing months earlier anyway.

One evening, I got a phone call that Craig died while living in North Carolina. Last time we spoke on the phone, he was in Connecticut. We all speculated and assumed the cause but for our own reasons, didn’t say them aloud. When I asked about Nancy, I was told she probably died before him. It’s easy enough to believe so that if I saw her tomorrow, I wouldn’t believe I was looking at anything but her ghost. At one time they were all tenants of a single house, never a home, just a place to pay rent; their lives lived like winter without coats, a home without heat.

There is no anger involved. No hatred, no fragmented happiness. No despise, no discord, no distaste. We just went our separate ways as friends often do. Drift apart. When one remains stagnant, the other journeys on and looks for more. One finds his place in rebellion with drugs; the other doesn’t. I wish I could have saved someone, but although I can say other people helped me with my problems, ultimately it was me who saved me. The person saves the self, often with another’s influence, but it’s always the person who saves the self. The same goes for anyone who escapes. There is no “better than the other” mentality here. I am merely explaining the events, telling the story, explaining the circumstances.

2 thoughts on “Another Friend Gone

  1. I’m pretty sure you posted this elsewhere, either as-is or in a different form…glad you posted it again. It’s a really good read, a sad story, and ultimately damned true. As someone who has been an addict in his life, I fear what happened in this.

  2. Hey Phil, Craig has been on my mind a bit this winter, or dark part of the year. He’ll always recieve a salute from me on St. Patrick’s Day, while we share a moment of Pogues, The Chieftans, Black 47 and some good Irish working class reverie.

    On a stickier note I just spit out my morning coffee all over the monitor as I read the metaphor “drunk as the Confederacy”. That was entirely an involuntary spit, and the result of your plucky words.

    Mise le meas,
    M

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