Divided In Half

downloadHalfway through the run of UNZIPPED and today I missed my friend Roger Kachel.  Roger was my best friend in high school.  He was a dancer and one hell of a nice man.  He fulfilled his dreams.  He danced on Broadway.  He triumphed when he danced the role of Mungojerrie in Cats.  His obit ran in Playbill magazine.

While in college I acted in a production of The Bald Soprano at The O’Shaughnessy at St Kates.  Roger flew in to see it.  I felt stunned.  What a kind act. But that’s the way he was – a gentle and kind man.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to share this new experience with him?

I wrote about him.  I include it here:

Whenever I travel, I calculate how far I am from home and I approximate how long it will take me to get back again. I’ve done that most of my life. I enjoy traveling. I do. I like meeting new people. I like seeing new things. But I’m quite fond of my familiars.

My friends and I play a game while we’re out and about. We compete to see which of us recognizes the most people. I find I play that game even while I travel alone. I look for familiar faces at fairs. I scan for a semblable soul at the sites. I canvass the crowds in the cities. I’m ardent in the airports. And eventually I encounter friends.

Last week I traveled to Chicago. Now you’re probably thinking I’m going to write about some encounter I had with a classmate or a neighbor. But I’m not. I had to catch my flight at Midway Airport so I arrived a couple of hours early and found the security precautions didn’t consume a lot of time.

So I walked around the concourse to forge for food. As I turned down the “A” corridor I looked the length of the hall. I saw the pastel painted rocking chairs and I thought how terrific they’d be for toddler tranquility. I spied the businessmen with their laptops and the airport staff in their uniforms. I contemplated a new briefcase and I noticed my shoes needed a polish. I’m terrified to fly. I hate it. So I spent my time with scattered staccatoed streams of thoughts. I prayed. I cringed. I swore. I trembled. I fortified. I vowed. To distract myself from my impending horror, I started to play the game. And then my heart broke.

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My best buddy from high school died last year. We hadn’t kept up over the years. Parts of his personality conflicted with parts of mine and geography made it easier to part ways. 

Years later I stumbled over his email address. I started to write but couldn’t think how to begin. I closed the screen. Yet I read his obituary and sat stunned. We’re young. I wasn’t anticipating it. And honest to Christ, although I hadn’t considered him in years, I was emotionally unprepared for his death.

I don’t know why I thought of him in Chicago. I looked down the hall as far as I could see and I realized I wouldn’t see him. The horizon held a completely different perspective. I realized at that moment that it didn’t matter which corridor I traveled or which hall I traversed because he wouldn’t be there. I thought of people I might possibly see. And I thought of the people it was impossible to see.

We were best friends. There was a time in my life when I considered him hourly. There was a time I considered him daily. And there came a time I didn’t consider him at all. We split our first bottle of vodka together. I hung my head out the passenger door of his 1978 two-toned tan Dodge Duster at the Vali-Hi Drive-In.  He hung his head out the passenger door of my 1970 two-toned blue and white AMC Hornet. I smoked my first cigarette from his pack. He was the last man to punch me. And I deserved it. He was so right that I didn’t even retaliate; I just apologized.

My God do you remember when we were young enough to tell our best buddy everything? It was the last time we were allowed to speak of insecurities and intimidations aloud. We talked school. We talked women. We talked ambitions. We talked interests. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. We spent hours on album covers and minutes on things that should have mattered. But it all mattered. It was just in the proportion of youth.

The last time I saw him (in 1982) we met at an all-night diner in Minneapolis. We sat for hours and talked. We both sat with our backs against the wall, our feet up on the seats, and our cigarettes dangling from our mouths. I think he smoked two packs. I know I did. I knew we wouldn’t be friends anymore. He knew it too. We walked away. And then I drove home. And we weren’t friends anymore. But I still have years and memories of great moments that somehow include him.

Isn’t it astounding that memories are nearly as memorable as the moments we now make? And as I traveled the moving walkway at Midway, I thought how amazed I was that someone who mattered so very much to me for so long, so soon didn’t matter to me at all. And I was saddened by his death, but I was devastated that I didn’t care more.

It seems apropos that the airport corridor is lined with the rocking chairs. You hold the ones you love so closely while they’re little. You rock and you sing and you soothe. And you sit and you remember and you try to hold on to their memories when you’ve aged. The rhythm of the rock is like the tick of time. Time passes. We pass our pasts. I won’t see my friend in any corridor anymore. But I’ll see him when I remember.

My mother believes the earth should pause for a moment each time someone dies. She taught me to see the majesty of God and His idiosyncratic creations. She taught me of the splendor of the encounters of humanity.

I know I’m supposed to end this essay with some comment about how I’ll see my friend “on the other side” or some bullshit about how “we know he’s happier now.” I can’t judge where he is now. And I can’t know how he feels now. But I know how I feel. I’m sorry that I didn’t keep in contact with him and I’m sorry that I’ll never see him in the halls. I liked him. He mattered to me.

Rest in Peace Mr. Kachel.

 

Autumnal Leavings

autumn_leaves_PNG3601Tonight: dress rehearsal for UNZIPPED. And yet, it’s not. I don’t have dress rehearsals anymore. I’m too sick. Now everything is a performance. I’m pushing all my powers to perform my necessary tasks.

Yesterday I had lunch with a buddy. As I walked down the hall to the restaurant I grew afraid. I’d never felt so ill. I slid onto the stool and I steadied myself. I considered what I should do. I knew I should go to the hospital. But – I have a play this week. Too many people are counting on me. Too much money is at stake. Coupled with medical bills? Too much debt to incur. I excused myself and walked to the restroom. I balanced each palm on the porcelain and I looked at myself in the mirror. I prayed aloud, “Please don’t let me die.”

An aside about side effects: now I have short term memory loss and sweats so thick it’s like goo. An actor who’s having trouble with his memory on the eves of his performances. And the script isn’t even  horror. An understudy? I’ve overstudied. I’ll perform. I’ve learned how to endure. I’ve endured the last year of heart aches.

At the sink I splashed the coldest water to cool my clammed skin, and I steadied my feet. I walked back to the restaurant and I resat on the stool.

I’m living with a pulse that hovers in the 40s. I can’t lose weight and my body is weighted with the physical weary until I must pace to advance. Chair to chair. Step to step. Task to task.

I’m pushing myself until October 18. Please God – a successful procedure.

Please God a successful play.

I remind myself of O’Henry. I hope this isn’t my last of my leaves. I’ve always wanted to leave my Mark. I just never thought of it all so literally.

Remains of Ours Days

I’m in the mood to write but I’m not in the mood to edit. So read or not. It’s all good. I feel like a celibate man who just discovered porn. I’m full and it’s time for the release. So. Blurt.

I had a wonderful weekend. I love a road trip. I haven’t done a let’s-get-in-the-car trip since, well since my brother and I took a week and traveled middle America in 1992. As I straddled the suspicious spill/leak in a men’s room at a truck stop in Stuart Iowa, I realized I’d forgotten rural America. I’d forgotten the cds of Merle Haggard on the gas station counters. I’d forgotten the abandoned farms. I’d forgotten the carcasses of cars left on the weed-filled yards.

He walked into the bar at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha Nebraska and I hadn’t seen him since 1992. He was my best friend for a year. And then I was the first to quit our pursuit. I left the seminary in December and he left at the end of the year and like combat casualties, we avoided the battlefields: we left the friendship and we left The Church.

One awkward reunion in 1992. A supper shared of trivial conversations and avoided topics and all buffered by our dinner companion: my brother. And then silence.

But I missed him and finding out my heart was broken made it necessary to see him and say a hello and a goodbye. And so he walked into the bar at the Magnolia Hotel and I stopped the tears from skiing down my cheeks and I stood and met him. I smelled the cigarette as soon as my arms reached around him for a hug. I pulled back and said, “You sonofabitch! You started me on Camels!” I remembered. We laughed. And then I said, “I’m tempted to lick your face. I so miss nicotine!” He laughed as we walked to the stools. “Jesus Christ Trost, you haven’t changed a bit!” The ice was broken; we could be our us.

Drinks. Foods. Banter. Caught up with catching up. And then substance. “So are you still Catholic?” Real. Raw. “With a capital R,” I said. “Are you?” “A small c,” he replied. And then the kind of conversation I crave. All about honor and manhood and goodness and careless and sins and souls and God and failures. And I sat back in the chair and I started to cry. No one but God knew I cried. But, I cried.

I’ve wasted so many of my last moments having conversations about nothings and lesses and commons and chatter. Why have I become so content living without content? Why have I allowed myself to skim?

And I’m not talking about “fellowship.” I hate shit like that. People sitting around congratulating themselves on accepting their failures. “I’ve realized I’m flawed but I’ve offered it up to Jesus!” Oh Christ. Bullshit. Challenge to change & amend or shut up. Theology is not about acceptance; it’s about ascension. Baptismal water is for cleansing not floating.

I loved seeing him. He didn’t disappoint me. He reminded me. He reminded me of my theological passion. He reminded me of my uncompromising values. He reminded me that the man I was remains and the memory of who I became will be my legacy. A good weekend.

I have no ending here. Maybe there isn’t an ending. I’m seeing everything so finite now. Maybe life isn’t a noun. Maybe death is a verb. I’ll think about it and ask my friend for his opinion.

A Lush Life

The oddest aspect of a friendship / relationship with a drunk is that you find yourself hoping he’ll/she’ll fail.  You hope she’ll hit rock bottom faster so she’ll get help and you’ll get her bullshit off your back. It’s so soul sucking waiting for someone’s destruction.  So you can wait or you can walk away.  I’ve never loved anyone enough to wait or be the martyr.

A Pointed View

I sat on the grass and watched her enter through the gate.  We used to be friends.  Since childhood.  Before puberty.  She’s been in my life for most of my life.  And then she wasn’t.  Her actions toward me were untoward and I walked away.  Well, no.  I’ve stood staid; I’ve just remained silent. But when I see her I say hello.  I acknowledge her without warmth.  Out of spiritual obligation and not nostalgia. No longer affectionate. Once in awhile I’d look away from my group and see her across the patio.  Am I angry?  No.  I’m not an angry man.  And although I am an Irishman, I do forgive and often forget.  So I’m not angry.  Am I saddened?  No.  I don’t think of the loss; I think of the less.  She’s less than what I assumed.  I assumed loyalty.  I assumed fidelity.  I didn’t hope; I believed.

We live in an angry and bitter world.  We’ve become the Divided States of America.  And so I guard myself from a deep seep.  I refuse to allow myself to wallow or to stew.  So I sat on the grass and examined my conscience.  I’m not angry.  I’m not saddened.  But I am disquieted. No.  I’m disappointed.  Yes.  That’s the adjective.

It’s bigger than the less of a friendship.  It’s bigger than the loss of a believed.  It’s a reflection of my soul. I’ve held a human to an expectation.  I took her probity as granted.  I’ve considered the word. Disappointed.  Not properly appointed. I appoint people to positions in my life: loyal friend.  Sage adviser.  Amusing clown. Disappointed is a reaction.  Disappointed is mine.  I’m responsible for disappointed.  So now I guard myself.  I must avoid my bitter.  I refuse to embrace my hateful.  I repudiate a sarcastic.  I will not have a pointed personality.

Endings

The thing about age is that you don’t need to take your finger and poke the corpse. You know it’s dead. You mourn the apathy, not the loss. And you walk through the door; you don’t slam it. You don’t turn around. You just don’t love them anymore.

Walking Wounded

I just had a conversation with the nurse who’s taking care of me. I’m very open in my life so people share with me. She’s very sick. I won’t reveal her illness. But it’s severe. We talked about two things. We talked about having an illness that isn’t noticeable. The wound nurse treated my foot ulcer last night. It’s an open bleeding sore. It’s obvious. But when you have an illness someone can’t see, it’s dismissed. We talked about not wanting sympathy – merely wanting acknowledgement. I told her that I’ve lost most of my friends since I’ve been sick. I didn’t know why. And then she told me. I love she had my answer. “People don’t want the emotional responsibility of you.” I love that. So true.

And then we talked about hatred. I’ve noticed there’s an undercurrent of snide and snippy in conversations. I feel like people are ready to pounce. I had a conversation with a buddy the other day. As I spoke I felt like he snatched the words from my air. It was nearly violent. And the nurse and I talked about it. She feels it too.

Lately I feel sad and bitter and hopeless and full of hate. That’s not like me. That’s not who I am. I need to change that. I won’t let my soul become wounded. And I can’t inflict my sadness and hopelessness on others. So. Hopefully the docs will be able to adjust my meds to a reasonable and livable baseline. I’m going to concentrate on my play. And I’m going to tuck my writing aside and not gush until I’m certain I can control the flow.