Man, has he changed.
I'm going to invoke the cloak of anonymity granted by the internet here in telling his story. Nobody who reads this has any idea who he is, so to you his is just another one of the eight million stories from the naked city. (Yeah, I'm quoting old movies now, I'm running on four hours sleep. I require at least six to come up with an appropriate reference to a white dude who's been dead for a century or four. On four hours sleep you get 1948 film noir. You're lucky, a couple fewer hours and you'd get something from a Breckin Meyer flick.) The last time I saw him before yesterday was when we were both around 17. He had gotten kicked out of school for a fight he had with a kid on a city bus. From what he said back then it didn't sound like he was the instigator, but who knows. Anyway he came up to me in the market and I didn't even recognize him. He grew his hair out, and he'd lost a lot of weight. He was always on the solid side of a healthy weight, definitely not fat but probably a few shades south of being considered chunky. Last night he looked skinny, not unhealthily so but as if he had finally shed his baby fat. I didn't learn the truth for a couple of hours.
After we had chatted for a couple minutes he said that he had to go to dinner with his parents but that we should hang out afterwards. I headed home, made myself a nice dinner, and thought about all the years that had passed and how differently I turned out from what I expected. It's weird if you had told me 12 years ago that I would graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia with a double major in political science and psychology, I would have been surprised at the majors but relatively okay with the rest of it. Yet my vision of what my life was supposed to have been like up to that point was very different. Let's just say that it involved a lot fewer pounds, a lot more chicks, and a host of other differences I don't have room to elaborate on in this tangential paragraph.
Anyway, after he was done eating with his parents he gave me a ring and we went to a Starbucks for coffee and some catching up. I hate Starbucks, because I hate coffee and by association paying out my ass for coffee, but I must admit that as places to hang out go, you could do worse. We both just got $2 normal coffees and spent about an hour there, so I feel like we did alright. Over the course of our conversation I learned some very surprising things. Chief among them was that he had had meningitus when he was 18 and had developed epilepsy afterwards. He's back in school now, at Hunter college, which is an okay college, certainly not elite but definitely not a complete joke. Still, he's having problems. He loses weeks of memory at a time when he has his seizures, and the drugs that bring some control to the disease make him nauseous and depressive. He's also dealing with some personal stuff, like a depressive brother and a recent break up with a girlfriend who apparently turned out to be a schizophrenic and accused him of stealing from her. In other words, it's been a rough patch.
I don't say this to try and induce feelings of sympathy for him. He's been through and is going through a whole lot, that's certainly the case, but I don't really feel sorry for him. I think that a lot of this stuff has aged him in a really positive way, he has an aura of maturity and groundedness that I really respect. Do I think that it means that all the shit that happened to him was for the best? Hell no. If I had my way he'd have had an easier time and still be the somewhat brash but still basically goodhearted guy who first introduced me to Guns N Roses and had that icing filled condom throwing wild side. On the other hand I think he's doing an admirable job of playing the hand he was dealt, and life's what happens when you have other plans.
What was interesting to me was the level of insecurity he had and the idealization of myself that he seemed to have in his mind. I think he was always a little bit insecure, that is usually at least part of the explanation for the kind of brashness he used to have. On the other hand he doesn't have that much to be insecure about. I mean I understand the deep impact of the epilepsy on him. His mind is no longer completely under his control, and that has got to be one of the most horrible experiences a person can go through. When the body betrays you it's like a machine breaking down. Does it suck? Yes, very profoundly. It doesn't change who YOU are, though. It doesn't affect the seat of your persona. When your mind breaks down it's a different ballgame. How do you even contemplate that? You can escape physical pain or malfunction by retreating into the mental realm. How do you escape something like epilepsy, something that can wipe out weeks of memory and induce bizzare behavior that you don't remember initiating. It's something very much akin to posession by a supernatural force, and the best you can hope to do is ride it out.
But he has an intellectual inferiority complex that just isn't deserved. He's a bright guy, and I'm not one to bandy that about with wild abandon. He's cut off his cable, is focusing on his photography and reading, and in general just seems to have a lot going for him despite his disability. He also views me in a very idealized light. Numerous times during our conversation he made denigrating comments about his own intellectual capacity (he said he wanted to be a scientist but he 'didn't have it upstairs' to achieve that. I agree that it's probably a difficult road as long as he is suffering from seizures, but I think it's really more of a difference in where his interests lie and a discipline thing.) while just offhandedly commenting on how successful I've been academically and a few other things. I don't know if it was about me or about him, but it was unecessary and inaccurate. He also apologised for taking up my time and made a few other, similar, comments that were really silly. I think it's mostly because he's depressed.
He's also self-conscious about his smoking, and he is chimneylike in his cigarette use. On the other hand, he needs the nicotine to clear his mind and calm him. It's understandable. A lot of people are for medical marijuana but catagorically opposed to cigarettes. How is using Nicotine to manage the condition of your mind any worse?
During our discussion the issue of women came up. This is to be expected of course. Whenever guys get together to talk, women will come up, and rather quickly. It doesn't matter who the guys are, or even whether they speak the same language. If you gathered up the greatest male minds of all history in the same room, within an hour you'd have Aristotle turning to Jefferson and asking "So when you said the pursuit of happiness, you totally meant trim, didn't you, Tommy you dog." Ghandi would be asking Arthur Miller about Marilyn Monroe's cup size, and Einstein and Hawkins would be awkwardly trying to compare a black hole to a woman's special place, but would ultimately abandon the metaphor as unproductive and just make small-talk about whether Charlize Theron is REALLY all that hot.
Anyway, we were talking about women and he mentioned a girl that he thought I might be interested in, then dropped it promptly after I showed absolutely no reaction. My internal reaction was just to discard the idea out of hand because I figured even if she was my type she wouldn't be interested in me, so the topic was closed. That may not have been the most open-minded reaction. It's no big deal, but perhaps I ought to have at least expressed some kind of interest, even if there wasn't a chance of it going anywhere.
I'll probably catch a movie with him sometime, but it was definitely nice to see him again. It's interesting how often when you're thinking about something life will just drop an object lesson in your lap. There I was contemplating my future and the obstacles before me, and this guy just pops up, to remind me how good I have it and how many advantages I still have, even if I am becoming something of a greybeard. The funny thing is that I have faith in someone like him, but I can't find it for myself. Why is it so much easier to trust in the abilities of other people than in one's own?
Tomorrow, well now today, is another day, or the same day. I'm going to make some calls and try to find a summer job or internship in the field. It's not the roadblocks you've faced or the unexpected detours that matter, it's how you deal with the path ahead. Nothing can remind you of that quite as poignently as seeing an old friend again.