The Chill

I spent much of the following week in bed shaking and sweating, alternately, with flu. My routine for my first week of work was as follows: Wake up. Take a shower. Ache. Moan. Work on a diet of cough drops and ibuprofen. Go home. Watch TV and drink tea. Pass out and sleep for 10-11 hours.

I hadn’t been this sick in years. Not just the intensity, but the lifespan, were singular. I was pretty much running on sheer will and drugs all week. Tuesday night, I was at a happy hour (it was a welcome happy hour for me, I couldn’t really miss it) and I got a call from Joe. It’s funny how since the past year, whenever an unexpected phone call comes, I assume death or disease. When dad calls after 9:30, or someone I haven’t heard from in a while, it’s never good news anymore. Joe called earlier while I was at work, so the second call I knew something was wrong. My mind scanned through friends’ parents, anyone who’s had health problems.

It was another old friend, my age. We used to live across the street from each other. He might have been my first friend, certainly my best friend for my younger childhood. Then we grew up together and stayed friends, if not super close, all through college and after. He died over the weekend, alone in his apartment. We hadn’t spoken in years. I knew little about his life, except that he was a partner in a law firm and had a different group of friends lately. No one has an official cause of death, and I’m sure we’ll never have one. We all new he’d had problems as long as we’ve known him. But he was successful by all accounts. Wealthy. Incredibly smart. I guess we all just sort of figured he was alright.

The funeral was scheduled for the next week. There was no way I could go. I just moved across country. I just started a new job. I couldn’t do it. I’d send flowers. I worked all week, him at back of my mind. Then Friday the flu got tired of fucking around, and took my ass down. I went to work for two hours, and went home delirious. I slept all day long. Woke up for a few hours then passed out again. I had that super-intense delirium that’s strangely vivid and insightful, like a drug trip. Saturday morning I drifted out of sleep and realized I had to call my family and tell them. I told my mom he died, and hung up and started crying. Sick, angry crying with a lot of snot. I figure it had just then become real. I really needed to fly to Phoenix for the funeral. In a recent post, Mary saved my ass. I mentioned the next time a friend needed me I would drop everything and rush to his aid.

I landed in Phoenix around 9 Tuesday night. Jared picked me up at the airport. I hadn’t seen him since his wedding two years ago. He was wearing a suit. It’s always strange seeing old friends in adult contexts. It seems like they stole a car and some guy’s clothes, or are house-sitting for their parents. We drove all the way across the sprawling Valley to Jake’s house, where I was going to stay. All of my friends bought houses in the big real estate boom a few years ago. They all have 2 and 3 bedroom places, brand new and super nice way out in the suburbs. Kind of a strange feeling to be in them. It helped to know that before Jake’s live-in girlfriend got a hold of it, the house had white, empty walls and a couple of Bowhunter magazines. That’s the Jake I know and love. Joe was there, Jerry showed up. It may have been the first time in five-plus years this group of kids had been in the same city. We were drinking beer and watching the Simpsons, and I think Joe said something along the lines of “This feels awfully familiar.” It’s an extremely trite notion, but so many things change without really changing.

We were all laughing, drinking. It was so easy to forget why were all there, and it felt so good to be together again that it didn’t feel guilty. Then every once in a while you’d remember and start asking questions. Where was he living? How is his brother? When did you see him last? What was he doing that weekend? And the big question. Never really voiced aloud or verbatim, but asked many times in many ways: Was there something we could have done?

Jake and I pulled up to the funeral home. Me in a borrowed tie from Jake. All of my ties are wedding ties. Too happy. We walked in and I looked at the picture display. I didn’t recognize anyone in them besides his family. I looked up, toward the head of the hall, and saw him. In his coffin. My heart started to pound and I darted for the bathroom. I pulled it together and went to the foyer. One by one old friends started trickling in. Some looked beautiful. Some not so much. Others pregnant. On the ride from the airport, I asked Jared how one of our friends was doing. “Just like everyone else. Exactly the same, but swollen.”

His little brother spoke. There was milling around outside after. I made my way to his family but didn’t make it. I started talking to an old friend’s parents. I could have broken away, but I didn’t. I regret it a lot that I didn’t talk to them. I should have said something.

Some of us met up at a nearby bar in Scottsdale. At least two of my friends don’t drink anymore and can’t really be around the rest of us and stay dry. We had a couple beers and a few close friends decided to go get lunch. My friend Anthony told me a story about how before his wedding, he tried to track down our friend Craig to invite him. Craig’s mother reluctantly invited him in and refused to give out his new address in California. She didn’t want him talking to us. It had me thinking a lot about old times when, for a bunch of spoiled suburban kids, we found a decent amount of trouble. How much everyone has changed, each in different directions, for better or worse.

A lot of hugs, and a lot of promises to get together outside of weddings and funerals. It used to be just weddings included in that promise. I flew back home. Drank beer in the airport, whiskey on the plane. Strangely, I desperately wanted to have sex with someone. I guess it makes sense though, after a funeral. Took the bus home in pitch dark, packed with late night commuters. I treated myself to some more whiskey at home and slept.

It’s not a coincidence that I left the subject of this story completely out of it. I didn’t want to eulogize him. It seems silly on a blog of all stupid places. I’m apprehensive writing this even, but I sat on it a while and had to get something down about it. I will say this, he was an extremely kind person, and a very loyal friend to me for decades. And he shouldn’t be gone. I said next time a friend needed it, I’d drop everything and rush to his aid. But I have this feeling I can’t shake, that I got there way too late.