I buried my best friend today. I listened to the eulogies and watched as people cried for a life they thought was cut too short. Twenty-six years isn’t exactly a life fully lived and no one ever fully realizes their potential in that little time. Patrick was different though. I’m not denying he was talented. Through a lot of the eulogies, old friends and relatives reminisced about how well he could draw and how many hours he would spend huddled over a drafting table getting every line as precise as he could, obsessing over every detail. I don’t know if I was the only cynical prick thinking about how Patrick hadn’t picked up a pencil since he was eighteen. Funny how people omitted that little detail. They only want to remember the god things. It’s like how after a rock star dies, suddenly everyone remembers all of their best songs and talks about how important they were to this and that and everything else despite their horrible downward spiral and how they alienated everyone around them. People just try to remember the good things.
I remember first meeting Patrick in high school. It was the second or third week, I barely knew my class schedule and could never find any of the rooms I was supposed to be in. My social studies teacher was something of a Nazi, especially for tardiness. His oversized forehead had veins that constantly bulged out and one of his eyes had a permanent blood vessel popped. The second bell to start class just rung as I snuck in and found the last available seat in the classroom off to the far right (the aisle nearest the door) and smack dap in the middle of the row. Sitting beside me was a guy with short spiky hair and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. He bobbed his heads to the music playing through his headphones as he doodled all over his notebook. This was Patrick. And this is how I always remember Patrick. Listening to music and drawing on any surface that would stay still.
The teacher started his lecture through his two-packs-and-a-bottle-of-whisky-a-day voice and Patrick forgot to take out his headphones. Patrick hadn’t even raised his head from his drawing. The teacher noticed and came barrelling down the aisle, looking like he was ready to pummel Patrick. I kicked the bar that connected Patrick’s desk to his chair and his head shot up and spotted the teacher. With wide eyes and a grin that begged to let his life be spared, he said, “Sorry, I didn’t hear the second bell.” The teacher turned and continued his lecture and Patrick looked over to me and nodded his head. We met in the smoke pit after class where he formally thanked me. He bummed a cigarette from me and we talked about which junior highs we just came from and what our survival tactics were for getting through these next three years. Patrick could smell the geek off of me.
There are still a small handful of comics I can’t read without hearing Patrick’s voice as I read through the hero’s dialogue.
It starts raining as I keep standing over where Patrick is buried. It’s been a good thirty minutes since the ceremony ended and I have no idea what to do next. It feels like when you leave your house for work and you could swear you forgot something. You have no idea what but you definitely forgot something and you won’t remember what it was until three o’clock. That’s the only way I can describe how I’m feeling. Like I need to do something before I leave. But I don’t know what.
“What did you think of the service, Robbie?” I hear a voice from behind me ask. I turn to see Patrick’s younger sister, Mary. She’s about eighteen months younger than Patrick and even though they were in different grades growing up, they might as well have been twins. They talked the same, had all the same inside jokes, all they had to do was look at each other and they would start laughing and no one would have any idea what was so funny. They drifted though when Patrick was twenty. I was a little shocked that she was here.
“It was nice,” I reply, not having any clue how people talk at these things. This is the first funeral I have ever been to. I didn’t even go to my grandparents’ funerals. I’m clueless as to what’s socially acceptable. But then I think about high school again, and what Mary and Patrick were like then. “I’m happy everyone talked about all the good things. That’s what’s most important.”
She smiles and nods. “Yeah, I guess there’s no point in bringing anything else up at an event like this. Might be in bad taste or something.”
Mary started going to our school the year after Patrick and I had started. Physically, she was never anything like Patrick. She had long blonde hair and always wore light coloured track jackets. But the minute she opened her mouth, you knew right away the two were related. They had their own dialect that was so distinct there were times I couldn’t tell which of the two of them were speaking.
We had a pretty small but tight clique: the three of us and a few other friends who would join us for video games or table top RPGs during the weekend. We would take turns finding people to boot alcohol and cigarettes for us. I was the only one with a license so Friday nights I would head home, borrow my parents’ van, then I would meet everyone at a small convenience store connected to a liquor store just a few blocks from our school. We’d fill the back of the van with booze, cover the bottles with blankets, stuff the cigarettes under the middle seat, and drive over to Patrick and Mary’s house. Their mom worked all weekend and most evenings. She juggled two jobs so that neither Patrick nor Mary would have to have jobs while they were in school. Their mom had a lot of hope in both of them and was really banking on scholarships for the both of them. That would be the only way either of them could get into college. God knows single parent working-class families struggle to keep up on the rent and utilities, there was never any space for a college fund. She knew how smart her kids were though, they both had a lot of opportunity waiting for them.
Mary was able to keep her grades up. She got the scholarships that her mom knew she could get. Mary finished her first degree by twenty-one, finished her Master’s by twenty-three.
“So, are you going to be going the PhD route now?” I ask Mary, not sure of what exactly to talk about. I haven’t seen Mary in a few years, just heard through the small town grape vine about all her achievements.
“I don’t think so,” she replies. “Not yet at least. I had a few big firms headhunt me. I want to bank some money for now. I mean, mom’s never going to retire working her shit jobs and someone had to pay for the service today. There’s always time for more school later.” She looks down at her brother’s grave. “At least I hope there is.”
We didn’t go right into college once high school ended. Patrick and I instead spent our summer working for a landscaping company, saving every dollar that didn’t go to booze or smokes. Once September rolled around, we were on the first plane to England with no return flight planned.
We stayed in whatever hostel would give us a cheap room for the night, lived out of our backpacks stopping at Laundromats occasionally, explored the cities, the bars, and the women not just in London, and not just in England. That was only our first week or so. We hopped on trains and travelled through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and in Holland. Our last few days in Europe saw us in Amsterdam, running through the red light districts drunk with joints behind our ears. We landed back in our hostel out of breath and not waiting to catch it before we pressed the mickeys in our pockets against our lips for another sip to keep us drunk.
Patrick dug through his backpack and pulled out his cellphone. He got really quiet. He wasn’t laughing anymore and he just kept staring at his cellphone. I finally asked him what was wrong.
“My dad just called,” was all that he said.
We were on the next flight back home.
Mary hangs up her phone and walks back toward me. She looks at me while I try to find something to talk about next. She beats me to it.
“That was just my mom,” she says. “She’s back at home and just wondering when I’m going to head over. I’ve been staying with her the past while. Just keeping an eye on things.”
I nod my head and ask if her mom is still in the same apartment that we would all hang out in when we were young. Mary tells me that the only thing that has changed in that apartment since then was the cost of rent. She’s a creature of habit and doesn’t take well to change. I think about how you can keep some things the same, trying to hold onto those good feelings that you never want to leave. And sometimes, things change whether you want them to or not. It’s not your choice and those good feelings are gone forever, no matter how hard you try to remember them. Sometimes they just die and all you have to do is bury them and move on. Being obsessed with a feeling can kill you.
Patrick and Mary didn’t have the same dad. Patrick’s dad left before Patrick was even born. His mom met Mary’s dad shortly after Patrick was born. They had Mary together, and then Mary’s dad died before either of the kids was in kindergarten. Their mom didn’t even bother trying to date after that, figuring she was cursed. She decided the only people who really mattered were Patrick and Mary. The sign of a true, strong mother.
Patrick had met his dad a few times over the years. He would kind of just pop up every once in a while without any warning. There was one time when Patrick and I were sitting in our eleventh grade math class and his dad came busting into the class and pulled out Patrick telling him it was an emergency. Patrick called me later that and told me that the only emergency there was was that his dad didn’t have enough vodka for the both of them so they had to stop at a liquor store before going to the park together. From what I understood, this was fairly normal for Patrick’s dad: show up, expect everyone to drop everything, he and Patrick would leave for the whole day with no clue as to where they were, and then Patrick would just show up back at home with no sign of his dad again until the next time he randomly popped-up.
When we were in Europe, Patrick hadn’t seen his dad since that emergency in eleventh grade. His dad wasn’t even at our high school graduation. Patrick was sure that his dad finally forgot about him and he would never see him again. The minute he found that call on his phone, it was like finding out Santa was real again. The whole flight home, Patrick told me about everything the two already had planned for when Patrick arrived. I wasn’t even sure of his dad was going to be there when we landed, god knows something else to grab his attention could pop up at any minute. But there he was, beige cap with a cod embroidered, dull leather jacket, black tank top, gold chain, and track pants, standing in the middle of the airport. The black stubble around his smile made his smile look like a clown in a black and white movie. He stretched out his arms, ready for a hug from his son.
“Hey kiddo!” he yelled as Patrick dove in for the hug. “Good to see you. And you too there… there little buddy.”
I outstretched my arm to shake his hand, “Good to see you too, Gus.”
Patrick turned to me. “We’re going to get going, Robbie. Are you good to find your own way back home?”
“Yeah totally,” I stupidly replied knowing that as Patrick got older, Gus got him doing dumber things. Gus gave him his first bag of weed, his first porn movie, I even remember him telling me he had to tell his dad he didn’t want an OxyContin for a headache he had. Gus always had oxycontin on him. He got a prescription for a back injury he had back while he was still roofing. From what I understood, Gus was able to steal one of his doctor’s prescription pads and worked diligently to copy his doctor’s signature. He would hop from pharmacy to pharmacy, making sure none of the pharmacists were any the wiser of his building habit. None of us were interested in drugs like that. At least, at the time.
After I left that airport, I didn’t hear from Patrick for weeks. No one did. Mary and I would call each other regularly hoping Patrick had called the other. No one wanted to report Patrick as missing, we didn’t want him to get into trouble because he was doing god knows what with Gus. It was six weeks before Patrick was standing on my parents’ front doorstep. He looked and smelled like he hadn’t showered, changed, or stopped running for the past six weeks. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot and the black circles under his eyes reminded me of the rings around a tree’s trunk. I swore I counted to his age and all the years he aged from the past six weeks.
Patrick walked into the house and started pacing and rambling. I couldn’t tell is he was trying to explain all the trouble he was in or how much fun he had with his dad. He would smile, then his eyes would bulge like he was panicking, then he’s retell conversations playing the voices of all the people he met. Then Patrick capped off with what was his final turn for the worse and the start of his uncontrollable spiral.
“I really feel like I’ve finally connected with him,” Patrick said smiling and laughing like he just found a bag of money. “We talked so much, and I met everyone he spends all his time with, and did you know he has a whole other family? I have two sisters and a brother. Can you fucking believe it?”
I tried pointing out Mary, saying he already has a sister, he already has a family. Patrick tried rationalizing that they were different and trailed off mid-sentence like he couldn’t justify his own bullshit anymore. He then looked around the room and asked if my parents were home. I should have said yes, but I told the truth.
“I need you to do something then,” Patrick said, pulling out the doctor’s prescription pad from his pocket. “All the pharmacies up have my dad’s picture, he’s banned from all of them. I tried picking up his pills for him but they saw me walk in with him. I obviously look too much like him to try and pick up his pills. I need you to do it. I can write your name on them and everything. You’re still on your dad’s insurance, you won’t even have to pay for them. You gotta do me this solid.”
Sadly enough, I considered it for a minute. I thought then about the pills showing up on my dad’s file. I thought about my dad talking to me about the pills and having to explain all of this to him. I read stories about people who did things like this for their friends. Their friends would always say that this would be the only time they’d need to help, but it’s never just one time. Even when you say no, they’ll keep coming back, like a parasite that’s found your blood to be a delicacy, doing anything they can to latch on even for a second. I didn’t need any parasites. He left me alone at the airport. Running off with his junky dad was so damn important. I told him to fuck off and pushed him out of my parents’ house. He was wiry and weak, trying to swing at me and push back. There was nothing in his system and pushing him out felt like pushing an empty box. Just hollow and easily bent.
“You know, she doesn’t blame you,” Mary says. “You should come by the apartment and talk with my mom, she would love to see you.”
I often think about visiting Patrick’s mom. Even when he was still alive, I thought about it, just to reassure her that Patrick’s spiral wasn’t her fault. I was scared, though. I was scared she would want me to find Patrick, to talk with him and try to help him. Get him into a program, clean him up, even try to get him back into school. Patrick didn’t want help. And you can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves.
“Yeah, I might try to stop by soon,” I reply.
Mary still thinks that the last time I saw Patrick was when I threw him out of the house. And, as far she knows, it was. She doesn’t need to know that I saw him when I was walking through downtown one day. We talked for a bit and he seemed like he was cleaning up. I gave him my phone number, told him to call me if he wanted to grab a coffee. He called me a couple of days later. He was crying, said he was in a lot of trouble. He robbed a pharmacy, said he beat up a pharmacist pretty bad and didn’t bother to check if the pharmacist was breathing or not before he ran out. He told me where he was hiding out and asked me to give him a ride to a hospital so he could start getting treatment.
I drove over to the house he was staying at. I don’t know whose house it was, but the doors were left open and I walked straight in. I found the room Patrick was in. He was shivering and had a bucket filled with vomit and shit. I thought he was trying to get the junk out of his system. He looked at me and smiled. Then I realized why the door was open. From behind me came another guy. He didn’t say a word. Just handed Patrick two bags of white powder. Patrick handed him the bottle of pills. Patrick wasn’t even smiling at me.
“I didn’t think this would ever come. You don’t want to know how long I’ve been low for,” he smiled and reached for a syringe he left on the floor next to his bed. “Man, I still can’t believe how much I get for just a few pills. This will keep me going for a long time.”
“I thought you were trying to get clean!” I yelled.
Patrick scrambled telling me to shush. “You would have never shown up if I told you otherwise,” he whispered. “I need you still, though. I needed you here in case my guy still wanted some cash, I’m strapped. And I need you to pick me up some food. Just enough until all of this dies down.” He didn’t wait for my response before he had his lighter in one hand and a spoon in the other.
“I’m not picking up anything for you!” I yelled again. “You can fuck rot in here!”
He filled the syringe like I wasn’t even in the room. I kept yelling but he just continued sticking the needle in his arm. He pushed in the plunger and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He fell back on his bed and started shaking. First just his arms, then his legs, then his whole body, convulsed violently. He started throwing up and the vomit just shot up and fell back into his face. His mouth was full and I would hear him choking. If it were anyone else or any other time I may have turned him over and let the vomit drop from his mouth and let his airways open again. But I didn’t. I just watched. I watched until he stopped thrashing around. And I watched his still body for another ten minutes. Then I left. I got the call a couple of days later. Apparently the neighbours thought there was a dead animal somewhere in the house. They were right.
I hug Mary and tell her that I’ll call her soon to check up on how she and the family are doing. She tells me she looks forward to my call and just to call her mom’s house. I leave the funeral knowing that not telling Mary is the right thing to do. She doesn’t need to know how far gone her brother was. She doesn’t need to know that I was there for the last minutes of his life, whatever was left of his life. She would cry. Say that there was some glimmer of hope. That her brother was still in there, screaming to get out. She would have still believed there was something to be saved. Leaving it in the dark is easier for her. She doesn’t have to live carrying the weight I carry now. That’s my burden alone.
I do wonder what would have happened if I turned Patrick over. Let his airwaves open up again and given him the second chance he needed to clean up and be something. I wonder what would have happened if I felt this remorse and questioned my apathy just a little bit earlier, early enough that I didn’t have to bury my friend and lie to his family and live the rest of my days with the vision of his eyes rolling to the back of his dead carved into my eyes.
I live with the fact that I could have helped him. But I watched him die instead.