I see him through the veil of memory, his features undefined, his mannerisms forgotten. Yet he has always been a part of me, always there influencing me in ways so subtle that I scarcely recognize them. He seemed to come into my life like that, not as an individual but as a different part of me in flesh and blood. So when he died, a little part of me died also.
I met him at one of those drive-in ice cream stops on the way to the Cape. He was ahead of me in line and when he turned around to head back to his car with the ice cream , the ice cream landed on the toe of my sneaker.
"Sorry about that, carrot top," he said, "with a wash in club soda and vinegar, it will come right out"
"No problem," I replied, at a loss for words, and then he took off.
This was not the last time I would see him though. It turned out that he had rented a house down the street from us. I found this out when my parents called the police one night because he was having a big party and the noise was waking up my little brothers and sisters. I watched from the porch as he emerged from the house to talk to the cops. After everyone had left and I was about to go back to bed, he noticed me on the stoop.
"Hey, carrot top," he called from his lawn, "how are your sneakers?"
"They look great but tend to reek of vinegar," I admitted.
He laughed and came bounding over and offered me his arm to take a walk.
From this point on we were close friends. The friendship seemed to come naturally because we complemented each other so well. He was so uninhibited and wild and I so reserved and calm. In those months, we laughed together, playing in the waves like children and prank calling "singles" lines. And once we cried together, as he told me about his alcoholic father and showed me the needle marks from three years of heroin abuse (he had been clean for four months when I met him). To him I was someone stable to hold onto, the only one to be there. To me he was someone who needed me. Growing up in a big family I sometimes felt overlooked and taken for granted. He made me feel that I was special and doing something important being his friend.
Then one day he was gone. I went to his house to find his car and all his things were gone, no forwarding address, no good-bye. I looked around town for him and called his friends but no one knew where he was.
Two months later I saw him for the last time. I was with a group of friends in Boston when I saw him on a nearby street corner waiting to cross the street.
"Hey, wait up," I called as I ran to catch him. He turned to give me a smile and say hello when I noticed that he had changed. His eyes were lined and bloodshot; his body, when I gave him a hug, seemed frail and unresponsive, and I knew without looking that his arms would be riddled with fresh needle marks. Looking up into his eyes as tears filled my own, he said his silent apology, as I said my silent good-bye. Then I turned and walked back to my friends, because in my mind he had just died. n
Although this short story is fictional, like much of my creative work, it stems from personal experiences. I am close friends with a child of an alcoholic, and have seen firsthand what it has done to his life. Each day I pray that he will not turn to drugs or alcohol to dull his pain. Drugs and alcohol do not solve problems; they only create them.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.