Matthew and I hung out damn near every day in high school. There were about five or six of us on any given day. All philosophers, visionaries, poets- banding together to make sense of life in a small town and planning our imminent departures to the rest of the world. Skating. Smoking. Drinking. Listening to the music no one else knew about. We did it up. Matthew and i were especially close.
Most weekends we would all tell our parents and guardians that we were staying at one person's house and of course each parent got told a different place. We would skate until the sun went down and then roam the streets in altered states, ultimately winding up on a porch or playground or in a back doorway of a school to sleep it off til the sun came up. It was one of the best periods of my life i can remember. At least on those nights it was.
There was this older guy named James who rolled up one night on a mountain bike and kept pace with us for a while. He had these thick, coke-bottle glasses and an awkward way of telling stories that rarely had punchlines. We didn't dislike him at all but he would never become part of the crew and this had surely been a recurring theme in his life. He seemed pretty lonely and often sought us out over the next few months. One night we were staying at Justin's house and as we began to turn in, he desperately offered us a few packs if cigarettes if he could just sleep on the porch and avoid the long ride home. Don't remember if he did or not, but the words still echo and were often recalled by all of us. We would even refer to other people as James' when they just didn't seem to fit anywhere. It seems mean now that i type it but we were just kids.
Years passed and some of us rose, fell, left, returned, lost it all and found ourselves in no particular order. Some are still doing the same thing they did then. A few of us are happy and maybe even usefully whole. Matthew was always pretty quiet but he had a grace about him. He gradually disconnected from everyone and threw himself into work and home and his whole being seemed to retreat within for whatever reason. Hesitant, overly self aware and he looked over my shoulder at the horizon a lot. We spoke here and there and work and a few new cds and his small cacti garden was the bulk of what he was usually up to. He would still come around occasionally but it became less and less. Now, no one sees him at all.
Winter before last, i drove out to the country to check on him. My turbulence and it's tendency to affect and estrange others had died off years ago and i was pretty sure his silence wasn't due to something i said. It worried me though and stung a little to imagine him so comfortable with not connecting with anyone else for so long so i had to go and see what it was all about. I passed his parent's house and found his trailer way at the back of the pasture.
He invited me in and you could tell he hadn't had a visitor outside of family in a while. The house was empty in a few ways. I can't say with certainty it was missing anything but it was just so different than the life i know. He told me he had become a Jehovah's Witness and was really deep off in the bible. We talked about the value of seeking something higher and living the examined life and i got the feeling he didn't feel like we were talking about the same thing. I don't think he even thought he and i were the same anymore. When i left i asked him to come see me next time he was in Dallas and i said all i could to let him know that our friendship was one that was worth continuing and participating in. He looked at the horizon, nodded weakly and I haven't heard from him since.
I would bet it all that he is sitting out there right now in solitude. Just him, his bible, music and small garden for one. Maybe it is heaven on earth for him and i should be happy my friend is happy. I would be if i thought he truly were. It all just feels like James again, or worse. At least James would get on his bike and try.