When I stare long enough at the letters in a sentence, if I look long at enough at the notes on a bar of music, if I read enough philomathy the letters and words and notes stop carrying meaning. I think this is where I find a true objectivity, and everything loses its denotation – it becomes all unfamiliar. It’s like staring at an object, and eventually my eyes stop focusing. Like my memories, which I have dwelled on for so long they no longer mean anything. I just want to feel something; I want what should be sad memories to matter again. So I’m gonna go over them one more time, and see if I can find where I’ve gone wrong, I’m gonna retrace the root system and see if I can find the source of it all. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
I’ve known Paul Surrette my whole life, or at least the parts that I remember. Not sure why I had some special connection with him, but yet there it was. I remember when we were both 12, sitting through long church services in big tents set up on the Lynn Common. I have no idea what the preacher was talking about that day, even if I had been paying attention I’m pretty sure that I would have forgotten by now. But I remember what me and Paul were doing: drawing comic books. Our idea was that the crimes of the world could best be solved by breakfast foods and eating utensils: The Breakfast Heroes.
I remember playing videogames into the wee hours of the morning. I remember insulting his little brother with the talking dictionary on Paul’s computer. I remember the one fight we got into, not even sure what it was over but I remember what it felt like.
I remember a video we made at two in the morning at his house. Him and me and a couple of friends filmed a documentary about a violent street gang who rode around on scooters. I played the wisened veteran who was slow to speak but quick on the uptake; he played the firebrand of the group who shot his mouth off at every opportunity. I remember every time Paul got a new idea for the video his eyes would light up, and he’d wave his pale translucent arms in the air as he expounded upon his vision while his bright red hair stuck out in every direction like an angry ocean. A police officer drove up to us while we were wandering the park, it being two in the morning and we being troubled teens up to no good, and asked to see the video. After viewing our masterpiece, his only reply: “You guys are fucking soft.”
Paul moved around a lot, almost as much as I did. The difference is that while I have moved around Danvers, he has moved all over the North Shore, and sometimes his family hasn’t even confined their wanderings to Massachussetts – once they moved out to Vermont so that his father could pastor a church way up there in the snow. So with the exception of the one time he and his family moved into our house for three months, he has always been at least a few hours away.
This is important to my story because distance seemed to define our relationship. It sometimes even made me feel distant from him, especially during middle school when I was distant from everyone. It seemed sometimes like he had his own group of friends, and I didn’t matter. That’s pure BS of course, just middle school insecurities. But now that I look back I think he sometimes had the same doubts I did.
About a year ago Paul moved to Swampscott. His parents had split up – as if they were ever together in the first place. Through all the time that I knew Paul, his parents’ relationship was on the brink of collapse, though I of course hadn’t realized that when I was younger. His father held on to it for the sake of appearances – he was all about appearances. He kept it together for that long through sleight of hand and half promises, through forced smiles and swift movements. His mother held on to it because she was a fragile human being, and she needed a host to latch on to and feed off of.
A moving target’s difficult to hit
So his mother was now his primary caregiver. She may have been a small wiry little women, the kind who had been wizened and wrinkled by cigarettes too early in life, but she could also be a demon, screaming and screeching like a banshee – summoning forth all sorts of rage and hell to do her bidding. She wasn’t prepared to take care of three kids and an infant baby girl – conceived in a moment of passion, a souvenir. So she forced a lot of the responsibility on Paul. He could of course have just shirked the responsibility and told her to go screw herself, but that’s the irony: his own nobility killed him. Or perhaps it was his lack of willpower; he spent less and less time at his house, and more and more time with his friends. It’s a clichéd story, he turned to drugs and rock and roll music (sadly, there was no sex involved, the cliché is incomplete). He tried to commit suicide too – some sort of pill overdose.
My parents had become suspicious of him; he was never home anyways, so I could rarely contact him. Time passed.
Then one day while I was surfing the web, I saw something that peaked my interest. Our favorite band was playing in New York. Wasn’t my mom going to New York to visit my brother in college? I asked her. It was the same weekend. My mind raced...only one person to invite to this: Paul. I asked my parents. They accepted. I called Paul. He was home. I told him. He accepted. The long wait.
His mother dropped him off at our house. I was very excited when I saw the car pull into the driveway, so I got up to let him in.
He seemed really out of it, though he greeted me at least. I assumed it was a lack of sleep – ya, I was that naïve. I found out later he had smoked a lot of pot the night before, and as a result he was out of it the whole weekend. Later my brother suggested the possibility that Paul had been popping pills in the bathroom in our hotel room. It was possible; it never occurred to me to pat down my friend when he arrived at our house.
I tried to coax him into conversation. He had burned so bright before, he had been so energetic; so much creativity and unconventionality. But he wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t reach him. It was like talking to a sack of vegetables. I gave up, and accepted. We left for New York that afternoon.
New York City was very exciting and with that much distraction, with that many lights and sounds and people going twentyfourseven you can just walk around in a daze and not notice anything even at two in the morning crowds of people would be bustling through the streets! New York was made for rock music; both at their core are purely energy.
The concert itself was fantastic too. Listening to a CD may give a better audio experience, but nothing touches the vitality or the connection to each and every audience member or the power of a live performance. My experience was almost ruined by a tall man and his girlfriend standing in front of me, but I outlasted the girl – who knows how long the guy would have lasted - he heard her complaining, and moved and I loved it because music is a passion for me and I sang the words to every song confident that nobody heard me but myself.
Paul was about ten feet in front of me; I’m not sure what he was doing. I remember remarking on it.
“Paul, you’re so much fun!”, I pointed out sarcastically.
He didn’t respond; just lit up another cigarette.
We both agreed it was an excellent concert, and babbled about it the whole way home from New York. Or maybe it was just me, so self-absorbed and excited I didn’t really notice anything else.
That was the last time I saw Paul face to face. He’s never home when I call, nobody ever gives my messages to him, and he has stopped calling me. I think he believes that I don’t like him anymore, that I have tossed him to the wayside. But I sometimes lie awake at night thinking of him. Wondering, pondering, groping blindly in the dark trying to find that connection between me and him, between logic and emotion, between my thoughts and myself.
BTW, if you wanna see an old school rap Paul and I wrote, check my home node. I couldn’t really fit it into the piece, but it’s worth a few laffs.