Thursday, December 15, 2005

December 15, 2005: Death of an Old Friend

My best friend called us this weekend and another friend sent us an email, to tell us that our friend Randy died back in October. I want to feel sad, or feel something, but I am just so detached. Still, a death shouldn't go unnoticed, and this is a person I once considered my closest friend. In memory of many hours spent sharing our lives, I will remember Randy here.

I met Randy in college, within the first weekend. He had followed his ex-girlfriend, Karen, to college. They were both from the midwest, he from Illinois and she from Indiana. They had met at a church camp. I remember him in an argyle sweater and shiny jazz shoes. He always wore dressy clothes, often even a tie. (He would deny this later.) He was a youth ministry major, although in later years he would most certainly deny this. He went about trying to win Karen back in a most pitiful way (another fact he would later deny), but she wasn't interested. She must have seen into his heart.
Karen lived across the hall from me, and Randy latched on to me in hopes that I would be a link to Karen. It wasn't long before he lost interest in Karen, though, and Randy, Debby (Karen's roommate and my brother's ex-girlfriend), Adam, Susie, Rich, Jonathan and I became inseparable. We really did everything together. Being freshmen at a small private college, we were in classes together, ate together, spent evenings and weekends together. We all loved each other dearly in the unique way that happens at college. College is like summer camp that lasts for 4 years (or more).

We went through a lot together that first year, and much of it is a blur. Randy was always there, sometimes in a most unpleasant way but most often as my confidante. When my boyfriend from home came to visit, we hung out together and they became great friends. My brother, who went to the same college, despised him. I suspect it was because Randy was a poser. Still, I see Randy for his faults now and still think my brother had a superior attitude and was hateful to Randy. Maybe if my brother and his friends had been kinder to Randy, he wouldn't have tried so desperately to be cool.

Randy fell hopelessly in love with Debby before our freshman year was out. And no wonder. Debby was so beautiful and mysterious, an MK from Korea. And I met Mike. Randy was always telling me I shouldn't mess around with Mike, and he was always telling Mike that he shouldn't mess around with me. We kept our distance from Randy.

Sophomore year I first laid eyes on my future husband. Though Mike and I were still together, we were destined for heartbreak from the beginning. It's true what Randy said--we were from two different worlds, and we crossed over the tracks briefly, and not regrettably. Mike dropped out of school, and our long-distance relationship was short-lived. But, then again, I had spotted my future husband. Randy was always telling me I shouldn't mess around with my future husband, and, funny, he was always telling my future husband that I was bad news. Then it was the three of us and the old group, too, always together. So those years pass. I have few pictures in my mind until my senior year that don't include Randy, yet he became less and less of a personal friend as the years went by.

Randy was brilliant. He could write papers almost as well as I, and I was formidable competition. He was an excellent director. One year I was the lead in a play he was directing during our Festival of One-Act Plays. I completely respected his artistic vision and his intellect. But Randy was a chameleon. He was one person with me, another with Debby, another with his theater friends. When he gave up on Karen our freshman year, he gave up the youth ministry, the argyle sweaters, and the aftershave. He donned a hippy-look and read a lot of Richard Brautigan. He had knee-high moccasions and an old army jacket. He took up smoking and drank a lot. We all drank a lot back then. But he kept drinking, and drinking, and drinking.

By the time I graduated, he had moved on. I'm not sure if he actually ever graduated or not, but he was a year ahead of me. He'd gone to a community college before coming to our college. He was working for Barter Theatre, but his craft was losing its edge. He was getting blurry. We visited him once at Barter. He had become shifty eyed, always fixated on Debby and beer. He was dirty. Sometimes on weekends he would come to visit us. I remember him in those days, always passed out somewhere.

We moved on, my husband and I. We moved to Ohio for graduate school and then to Iowa for more graduate school. Randy would still call me every Christmas Day, as he had since our freshman year. I don't know how he even found us in Iowa, but one year when he called, we somehow decided it would be a good idea to all go to Tennessee together in the spring. By this time he was back in southern Illinois, where he was originally from. Why we hatched this plan, I don't know. I must have been feeling nostalgic. But as we got closer and closer to the date, I kept hoping the whole plan wouldn't materialize. But Randy was obsessed with the idea, and we arranged to meet him at his home in Marion, Illinois. By this time we had Jesse, who was probably about 3. We met Randy at the restaurant where he was waiting tables, and we drove to his apartment. It was one of those experiences that I don't even like to think about. His apartment was filthy. The only thing in the refrigerator was beer. Shelves and shelves of beer. I don't know how we ate. I must have brought food along for Jesse, because there was nothing to eat there. I remember hearing him at 4 a.m., walking to the kitchen and opening another beer. All I could think of was: a wasted life.

Once we got to Tennessee, we didn't see him much. We stayed with my best friend and he stayed, of course, with Debby. He was so far gone that it was shocking. He couldn't have a coherent conversation. He couldn't look anyone in the eyes. His sentences would end in mumbling. It was pitiful. I don't remember any more of that trip, and that was the last we saw or heard from Randy until his obituary in our college magazine.

Whatever happened to Randy, the real Randy? I have pondered that through the years. The Randy I once knew was kind, funny, and smart. People liked him. He was a good friend and a fun companion. He loved Debby from a distance for 20 years, but Debby never could love him. At his best, he was hilarious and brilliant. At his worst, he was a pitiful alcholic.

What could he have been had he risen above his familial pattern of alcoholism? What if he had refused to drink and go the way of his father? What if we--his friends-- had understood, then, the black hole into which he would be ultimately sucked? He could have been a first-class director, or a writer, or a teacher. He could have been a great dad. He could still call me on Christmas Day.

And so, I bid farewell to Randy. I am ashamed to say I haven't really thought about him in years, this man who was once my friend. Oh sure, we've talked about him every now and then. I even told Tracy not too long ago that I suspected he was probably dead. I am reminded of the line by Billy Joel's "Come Out, Virginia": "Oh, your mother never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me?" I am guilty of forgetting a person for whom I should have been praying, and at the end of this memoir, I find, finally, grief for a stunted life and an old friend.

Merry Christmas, Randy. I bid you adieu.

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