I think we all have those friends who were really, really important to us at one point in time, but then we lose touch, our good intentions falling by the wayside. Maybe you think of them a lot, meaning to get back in touch, half-heartedly Googling their names, expecting to see great things popping up and puzzling over why there's nothing. I had a strange set of occurences over the past few days involving one of my friends like that. I met G. my senior year of college in a writing workshop -- and at a place in time -- that was full of inspiration and influence on me, as writer. He was older than most of us in the workshop -- meaning, he was 26 or 27 when we were all just 21. At that point in life, those extra few years were daunting. G. somehow made them seem even more so, having packed so much life and knowledge into that handful of years. Not only did he write like a fiend, but he read like one too, thought about writing, lived The Life. On top of it all, he was even married, his wife beautiful and lively. It was almost more than we could fathom.
G. was at the center of what became, for a few years, a very tight group of writers. In truth, as time wore on and people filtered in and out, we were really a more dedicated group of drinkers than just about anything else. We met on Tuesday nights at a pub called McClain's in St. Louis and G. treated us poor types generously, buying rounds and pitchers and shots -- and the occasional tray of nachos with which to line our stomachs -- out of the tips he made tending bar at an upscale hotel downtown.
When I first met him in that writing workshop, I was struck by his handsome face and his ebullient personality and cowed by his seeming endless knowledge about writing. He was also the first person to be unabashedly, outrageously supportive of my writing and even though I took a long, long break from writing fiction, I don't think I ever would have returned to it if I hadn't carried a bit of G's faith in me that entire time.
After college, in the early 90's, I moved for a year to Asheville, NC.Â While I was there, G. sent me letters, updates on his Life, his reading and his obsession with our status as "fin de siecle" writers, those responsible for summing up a century's experience with our words. It was all a bit more than I could take. By that point, all the thinking about writing was exhausting to me. It interfered with my drinking, which fast became a much more important element to me.
I want to get history and all the details right but so much of it is vague. I think I got together with G. a few times after I moved back to St. Louis. I'm certain we did far less talking about writing and more no-frills drinking. I know he was already starting to look pale and drained by the lifestyle. And I believe the last time I saw him, he was waiting tables at a restaurant in a St. Louis mall. He didn't have much time to chat, but I had the feeling he wouldn't have stopped long even if he did. I was a handful of years sober then, although I'm not sure he knew, and while I liked happening upon him, he was a reminder of a time in my life I was trying to put behind me.
I've still thought about G. a lot in the 8 or 9 years since. I find myself Googling his name every once in a while, or searching for it on Amazon, expecting to find a book or a collection of short stories. I did that on Monday and, as always, came up empty-handed. That same day, on Facebook, I connected with a mutual friend from those Tuesday night pub sessions. In his message to me, the friend mentioned that while it had been quite a while since he heard about G., he was still saddened greatly by it.
I knew right away that G. was dead and, in some part of me, I also knew right away that alcohol had played a part. I did some online research, found G.'s obituary from July 2006.Â I tracked down his wife -- his ex for most of the past decade --Â and she confirmed that it had indeed been a drinking-related death. She offered no specifics and I didn't really need them. Yesterday, St. Patrick's Day, would have been G's 43rd birthday.
I'm not sure I can explain to you the very specific type of sadness I felt, but I'm mourning on a lot of different levels. One, of course, is the all-too-familiar sadness we all feel for any bright and shining star, anyone whose promise is stunted by tragedy. I'm also so sad for G.'s family, especially the two young daughters he left behind. I don't know what the last years of G.'s life were, but I hope they grow up knowing that their dad was kind and warm and smart as hell and good and gregarious and lived life at breakneck speed.
Then there's also the specific loss and sadness of losing yet another friend to the battle with addiction. I'm never sure I need another reminder of how awful and cruel and undiscerning alcoholism is, how unfair it is (and how, in the end, that doesn't make any difference.) But they just keep coming anyway. It's a hazard of the business, so to speak.
I've missed G. in a very vague way over the years, in a very sporadic, superficial manner. Selfishly, I missed him as my cheerleader and as the first person to really root for my writing. Even now, when I write, I could use him egging me on, so generously spending hours and hours convincing me that something of value was flowing from my brain. In fact, I had thought that if I ever wrapped up this first draft of my novel, I'd try to seek him out and get his insight and guidance. Now that I know him gone, I miss him in 800 other ways. Ways that involve fear and anger and sadness and the certain knowledge that the Amazon searches for him will always come up empty.