Here's a (final?) serious one.
I've mentioned my former roommate "Jack" over and over in various Time-Traveling
Tuesdays and other stories, so finally he gets his own episode. The
format changed on this go round, but you get more bang for your buck here
since I have so much material to cover.
Jack (not his real name) was my roommate and best friend my sophomore year in college. He was a lot of extremes. Extremely funny, talkative, intelligent, creative, intense, troubled, gay (yeah, here we go again), and extremely in denial. You ever hear of borderline personality disorder? That was Jack. I have loads of stories about him, but I'll keep this brief(er than it could be). As intelligent as he was, he was also reckless emotionally and in many other ways.
Growing up, he had a step-father who was verbally abusive, calling him gay, a fag, etc. Well, he was gay and probably had some idea of that fact, but this asshole characteristically turned his orientation into a pejorative. The result: Denial, even though Jack's cd collection consisted of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and the Japanese-only remixes of Madonna that I think he special-ordered at obscene prices. He tried to pretend to himself to be someone he wasn't, and that led to a lot of conflict and self-loathing. Seeing what this did to an otherwise great friend left me with a lot of hatred for the types that would establish this pathology in a kid.
Largely as a result of the above, Jack just couldn't care less about a lot of things, and his reactions were always extreme. A perceived slight meant he wished you were dead, not just that you were off his xmas list. And if it looked like he could jump the railroad tracks in his car, then he would do it, even though he could hardly afford to repair (let alone replace) the thing. He lived in the moment, and while Jack wasn't overtly suicidal, I always worried that his risk-taking and short-sightedness might get him killed.
People say I'm intense, but by the end of my year of living with with Jack, he was so much that I could barely take him, as much as I really loved him. I was transferring to a different college anyway (unrelated to him, honestly), but I discouraged him from joining me, even though it was to a better school. We were best friends and regarded one another as brothers since we were so much alike in our mindsets. Had he transferred with me, we would have been dangerous together because we constantly did things on a whim, and we went wherever an impulse took us. Imagine driving with two gas pedals and no brakes. There you go.
I kept up with him for a while after I transferred, but he was demanding a lot of my time when I was already in a long-distance relationship with my then-girlfriend (future wife, now ex; what a resume, huh?) and I had more demanding classes than ever before, most of which I was struggling in. I told him I couldn't give him more time, but he kept pushing until I pushed him away. He was angry enough about it that he refused to speak to me for a while. He tried to resume contact a few weeks after a big blow-out between us, but I just kept my distance. As much as I regretted it from that time until the present, it probably was for the best.
About a year later I heard through the grapevine that Jack had moved out of the dorm and was living with a couple who I didn't know, but that he had gotten kicked out of their place. I could imagine why, although the specifics could have been just about anything, knowing him. That was the last I heard of him, and I had no luck in tracking him down while the internet was still in its relative infancy, so I eventually gave up.
It took until he got a MySpace page that I found out he not only finished his bachelor's and master's, but also earned a Ph.D. and is doing post-grad work in marine biology. He finally came out of the closet (most importantly, to himself) and has a partner with whom he has a house and a couple dogs up in New England.
This was all a bittersweet surprise. First of all, I was pleased to find out he survived. Over the years when I tried to track him down without any luck, my assumption was that he had killed himself either intentionally or out of recklessness (I'm not even going to go into all of the anecdotes of near-death experiences involving him, but there are many). The flip side of this is that I'm completely jealous of the fact that he got his act together on the professional level and stuck with the track he set himself upon.
With my own wedding coming up at the time I thought, what the hell. Let's try and reconnect. I'd love to have him there. So I moved past the hypothetical letters in my head and wrote him the following:Jack,That started us writing back and forth for a while, but right from the beginning it was really like I was talking to a different person. The witty and creative Jack who used to write me all the time in college was gone, and I'm not sure where he went. After I transferred years ago, he used to send me emails and letters that were insanely random and full of the characteristic energy he was transparently full of in person.
Here's the short version (because I sound like an idiot trying to elaborate on why I'm an idiot):
Sorry about a lot. Very happy for you.
Your long lost brother,
p.s. Incidentally, do you want to go time traveling?
When we were roommates, he used write really wild short stories that were all over the place, crazy mixes of genres (sci-fi and comedy come to mind). They were unpolished but were undeniably original and not derivative of anything that had come before. Out of curiosity, I asked him in one of our first emails if he still wrote anything these days other than journal articles. He glossed over the question, which I read to be a "no" with a long, awkward silence behind it.
This was all very much the opposite of my reconnection with Cathleen several months earlier. In her case, it was immediately evident that she had matured into the person I always hoped she'd become. By contrast, Jack seemed to have pruned away many of the very attributes that made him unique. While I envy his professional accomplishments, they seemed to come at the expense of his other talents and even his personality itself. And whereas Cathleen and I reminisced about our time together in college and played "catch-up" about old friends and acquaintances from that time, Jack virtually avoided anything about the past.
After a handful of emails exchanged over about a month, the conversation just sort of trailed off. My wedding was only a couple months away by this point, and I hadn't even asked him about coming to it yet. I sent him a copy of the invitation and extended the offer that he be my Best Man. In reality, I'd already planned to ask Cathleen to fill that role, but on the off chance Jack accepted, I hadn't asked her yet (although, oops, Dani let it slip well in advance and referenced her as my Best Woman in an email; she knew Jack though and got the situation). This token gesture was an effort to Jack to jump-start a closer relationship with him, but it pretty much backfired.
Jack emailed about a week later and said he was grateful to have been asked to be my Best Man, but that he couldn't do it. He said he was in love with me years ago "in all the ways one person can be in love with someone else," as he put it. He explained that one of the things that bothered him was that I had never explicitly acknowledged this fact. He explained that when we initially reconnected, he had wanted to move forward in a friendship with me, but he grew distant when I brought up anything about the past. He summed it up with this line: "I liken rekindling a friendship with someone whom I consider an “old flame” extinguished by a bad break-up, to dental surgery. I’d rather not go through the process, even if it leads to a better smile."
While it is astounding to me that Jack's idea of closure here is permanent avoidance, I didn't have any harsh words for him. I know he had a rough path getting to where he is in life, and he's done better than anyone I've known in similar circumstances. In my reply/goodbye, I explained to him that I loved him then and now, although in one way less than he did me, obviously. I realize he still has issues, but if he is ever able to work through the ones he has with me, I would be happy to have him in my life again.
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