Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Found an old friend, and lost him.

Some time back, trying desperately to keep in touch with some folks who were talking about giving up blogging, I opened up a Facebook account. I'd seen it there before but knew nothing about it. All I did know was that, with as little time as I have now to sit in front of a computer, reading as few Blogs as I have time to do now, the last thing I needed was to sign up to yet another time pit like Facebook.

It turns out though, signing up to Facebook has been a great thing. It's not that I've spent much time there. I think I check it and post stuff there less than I do on this Blog. And it's not that I've met a lot of new people there. Hell, most of the people whose Blogs I've been reading for years were already there and we're all signed up to one another now. But it has recently proven to be a good move, joining up to Facebook, for one reason. Through finding a site that lists people from my high school graduating class I found an old friend there that I hadn't seen in about 28 years. Sadly though, in finding him, I learned I'd lost him.

I was sitting in front of the computer last Friday afternoon when I noticed that another friend had connected with her graduating class through Facebook. A light went off in my head, so I tried it. Low and behold, there are several Facebook sites dedicated to the school alumni, with one that's organizing a reunion in September. There are about 85 people signed up to that site, none of whom I recognized. Our graduating class of Seniors supposedly numbered something like 750 people, so it's easy to look over 85 or so names and find you don't remember anyone. I found the same to be true through most of high school, lost as I was in that crowd.

As the years have gone by, I've wondered more and more about the few friends i did have back then. I've wondered what they'd done wit their lives. I'd tried for a while, realizing that this is the 30th anniversary of our graduation, to search on the net for information about my class and see if there was a reunion scheduled, but it hadn't produced many results. I found one site on the computer, but there was only one other guy signed up to it from my graduating class. The site didn't organize reunions, but only acted as a gathering place for people who would then organize their own. I figured if he and I wanted to have a reunion it'd be real cheap and easy. So, I might never have learned about this upcoming reunion had I not glanced down and seen that other friend had connected with her class on Facebook.

When I got there I looked over all the comments other folks had left, and I looked over all the names and faces. Some of the names sounded a bit familiar, but none of them jumped out at me. When I commented, I asked the others if anyone had heard anything recently about ether David Cavanaugh or Keith Stevens. Those were two of my runnin' buddies in school, from the 8th grade, when we moved to Ft. Worth, through the time we all went our separate ways after graduating from school.

David had gone into the Air Force briefly, but he hadn't stayed in long and we lost touch with him after that. Keith had tried to fulfill a family tradition, going down to Texas A&M and signing up with the Corps of Cadets. I think his father and grandfather had done it before him.

Everyone who knew him saw that this was gonna be a huge shock to his system. Like me, he'd been raised to be pretty soft. That's the reason why I didn't join the service after high school. I figured they'd eat me up. I had no confidence in myself. Keith acted tough. He was basically an asshole lots of the time, but I knew at heart that he was as big a pussy as I was.

Sure enough, a few months into his first semester he was quitting the corps, cutting classes and living in his friggin' Pinto, when he couldn't crash in a friends dorm room. His dad had to go down and get him. Before we all knew it he was back working at the theatre at the mall where he'd worked through high school. Then we found out he had a girlfriend. he'd never had one of those before. Nether had I, so it was a pretty big deal. Then we found out that she was pregnant and they were gonna get married!

Of course, all of this came as a huge shock to those of us who'd known Keith. If there was one thing we were all certain about, it was that Keith was really smart. You know, book smart, and that he'd probably end up with a PhD in something and make a lot of money. He was one of the leaders of a little group of smart kids that I hung out around who were always making As and always on the honor roll.

Hell, I just barely made Cs, and that was when I studied. I managed to flunk Wood Shop my first semester in high school, preferring to sit and read books about tanks and WW2, rather than work on any projects. I look back on that time now and want to hit myself in the head with a handy blunt object, but what can you do. I've made LOTS of stupid decisions in my life.

Anyway, everyone took it for granted back then that Keith would go far. That assumption was just about the opposite of what most folks thought about me. The conventional wisdom, even with my folks, was that I'd maybe go to a community college, get some sort of job and maybe get my BA in about twenty years, if I worked at it. My dad told me this years later after watching me walk up onto the stage at UTA and get my diploma, having earned my Masters in History.

By that time, the late 1980s, I had long since lost touch with Keith. I guess, as I moved from the local community college to UTA, I left him in a past that really no longer held anything for me. At the same time, the drama of his life was always something I wanted to avoid. I've never had much tolerance for that, probably from growing up in a household where drama was just not allowed.

By drama, I mean loud yelling fights and bullying. I'm also referring to Keith's growing use of drugs, which began while we were still in high school. I think we were seniors when he showed up at my house with a bag of weed for the first time. later on it grew into a regular thing with pills and all sorts of weird inhalants that he picked up at a local Head Shop. We were walkin' into a local mall one afternoon when I saw him take something. I asked him "What the hell was that?" "A Quaalude," he said, smiling. I was shocked. "Are you fucking kidding?" He was always pullin' that sort of thing, always wanting me to join him in it all.

This is how fucking stupid we were. He had some sort of machine that was designed to roll cigarettes. He'd stolen it out of his dad's closet or something. He showed up at my house one night and we went for a drive. He ended up parking behind a local store and proceeded to feed some of his weed into this thing and tried to get it to roll a joint. He did this while we were both parked in his friggin' Pinto behind a dumpster at the local drug store. I was sitting there thinking the cops were gonna roll up on us at any moment. How the hell was I gonna explain this to my dad?

I'm not really sure why I resisted the peer pressure then. A big part of me wishes now that I hadn't. But I'd taken in all the anti-drug propaganda that was around then, particularly from my mother. beyond that, it seemed to me that all of the people I knew who did drugs had screwed up lives. That sort of notion was confirmed as I watched Keith's bright future slide down the tubes in a flash. He started doing drugs, got a girlfriend, got her pregnant and then flunked out of college, all in the space of about a year.

Then there's my sister and the drama she was going through. I won't say anything about that. Suffice to say, if I'd had ANY examples around me of people who could have a good time and not have their lives go up in smoke around them, maybe i would have tried a puff. It just didn't seem wise at the time. Combine that with the fact that I'm a stubborn mother fucker... and that the more they pushed it on me the more I resisted... you have me missing out on some really cool times in the late '70s. Like I said, where's that blunt object?

Last thing I heard he'd married his pregnant girlfriend, but he didn't invite me to the wedding. I was glad then that he hadn't. I was done with Keith. I was movin' on. There were a few times since then when I though I'd seen him. Our paths crossed a few times, but by the early '90s I was gone, teaching on the ships with the Navy and had left Fort Worth behind me.

So, last Saturday night I clicked on Facebook and there was a message from one of the people over at that school site. He told me that there was another Facebook site dedicated to Fallen Rebels (our football mascot, the Rebels). There, someone had posted a listing showing that Keith Stevens had died in November of 2007. It didn't list a cause.

Looking at it, I think I was in shock. How could someone I knew, someone I was a kid with, be dead already? It haunted me all through that night and into the morning. Sunday, before we got ready to go eat chicken and ice cream with Mom and sis, I went on the computer to try to search for Keith and find out if he was really dead.

I finally got hold of his old phone number from one site. I recognized it as soon as I saw it. Of course, it was his parents number. I wish I had a dollar for every time I'd called it between the 8th grade and the time we parted as friends. I sat there, looking at it for a while, hesitant to call, but then I did.

There was a woman's voice on the other end. I told her I was looking for a guy named Keith Stevens. "Oh, Keith passed away a few years ago." It was his mother. "Well, this is Jeff Wilson," but before I could say anything else she'd asked "You mean big Jeff?" "I laughed nervously and said "Yes. It's Big Jeff, from thirty years ago." She laughed and went on to tell me Keith's story.

She told me that Keith had never managed to make anything of his life. He'd never gone to school or found a way to make it. His mom said he'd been a bad husband and a bad father. He'd lived there with his family in his parents garage, which they'd turned into an apartment. He'd been diagnosed as Bipolar, and had been on medication and seeing a therapist. They'd tried to get him to go to school, but nothing worked. Finally, they'd all gone to dinner on Thanksgiving night in 2007.

She said he'd been mean and abusive to everyone, and that later that evening they'd broken up a fight between he and his wife. He'd had her around the neck, choking her. The wife drove off and his mother tried to talk him down from his rage. She said in the end he'd told her he was tired and wanted to rest. The next morning they found him in bed. He'd taken an overdose of pills. The pills had been horded away from his fathers medication, his father having died a little while earlier. I can't help but think that may have had something to do with his decision, but who knows.

In the end, after we both cried a little on the phone, I told Keith's mom that I was very sorry about everything, and that i wanted to come by and see her the next time I came up to Ft. Worth. She said that would be wonderful, and that they'd often wondered what happened to me. She sounded like she was very happy to hear from me.

I started to sob as soon as I hung up the phone. I couldn't believe the sadness of it all, and I couldn't help but think that maybe, if I'd stayed in touch with him, maybe I could have done something. Maybe if I'd tried to get hold of him earlier, maybe I could have shown him that he could move himself forward. I don't know. It's all too sad.

Anyway, we're going up to Ft. Worth Saturday. I'll try to see Keith's mom, and then we'll go to a pre-reunion dinner with some of my old classmates at a nice Mexican Food place there in town. Then we're going to Dallas to attend a Food Show. It should be fun.

I'll tell you all how it all goes down later. In the meantime, have a great week, and try to have a great weekend. Cheers.


Sarge Charlie said...

Wow, What a powerful story, I know lots of people like Keith, so much potential and screwed it up big time. I could have been Keith but thank god I had someone there at the right time, when I was beaten up and ready to change my life. Too bad Keith did not have help when he needed it, instead he becomes another poor loser who paid the big price for his choices.

Becky said...

Oh wow! Who'd have thought facebook had positive effects for people...

Grandpa-Old Soldier said...

I have been located by a lot of my old classmates through Facebook. Thought I could stay hidden, but not so. I am getting to like it a lot more now that I am learning my way around. Excellent post.

Mushy said...

Yes...a great post my brother.

I too am enjoying Facebook...instead of making friends out of strangers, I'm again making contact with old friends. It's a great experience and I wish more of our blogger brothers and sisters would join us. There is a lot more sharing there...I think, and I like it.

The drawback of making friends is the heartbreak we feel when we lose them. That's the reason soldiers don't like to make friends outside of their original group...too hard to lose them in battle.

However, the measure of a person is in the friendships they build and the loss builds character. We can't shy away from people because we are afraid to lose them. Their friendship is too valuable to us, and their memory sustains us.

BRUNO said...

Know exactly the kind of cigarette roller you refer to. They "roll one" in a way not different---just on a much smaller scale!---from the mechanics used in these big round-balers you see in hay-fields.

And MUSHY done went and saved me a lot of re-typing, with his comment. Of course, it ain't the FIRST time he's beaten me to the draw...

PRH....... said...

Life is strange.....and so is death at times.

FHB said...

Thanks guys. I was pressed for time on this one. Wanted to say a few more things, but then the sadness of it started to get to me again and the time ran out at the friggin' library in San Saba.

Thanks for your comments. I cherish the friendships I've found out here. You guys always manage to shine a light when I need it... And burst my bubbles when I need that too. Thanks.