The obituary didn’t mention that he was drunk, riding his bike down the wrong side of the street, when the SUV knocked him to the concrete. Robert was killed instantly and pronounced dead on the scene.
Robert had issues, to say the least. I think he wasn’t even 17 when he tried heroin for the first time. I always forget when his birthday actually was. All I know is he went from being my best friend, to a distant memory, to now, just gone, nothing. That’s what you are when your dead, you’re just nothing for the rest of eternity.
I learned about his death from Facebook. I found my newsfeed bombarded by my old high school friends and acquaintances, all of them mourning the tragic and sudden end to Robert’s life. When you think about it, it’s not fun to live in an age where you can get that kind of the news when your just trying to kill a few minutes on the toilet.
I hadn’t seen Robert for 2 years when I had heard the news. Last time I had seen him was at a chance meeting at a party when I was visiting home from college. I had cut off contact with him a year earlier after his addiction had taken hold of him to the point he was a different person. The Robert who was my friend was a kind, intelligent, yet disturbed individual. The Robert who I left behind after high school was so out of his mind that one night he drank a whole bottle of whiskey to his dome then apparently gave his girlfriend the worst black eye possible.
Now he was a thief to. A junky, a thief, an abuser, and I hated him for all those reasons.
I wish I had helped. We all think of what we could have done or said when someone’s gone, I don’t know why we are so afraid to tell each other what we really think when we know we are right.
This is the story of Robert McKenna, my friend. My name is Will Martin, this is not my story. It was never my story, no matter how much I wanted it to be.
This story is about Robert, just like everything else, it’s always been about Robert.
I originally met Robert in the sixth grade. Not even twelve and he was an orphan living with his Aunt. I didn’t know this about him for the first two weeks I knew him, I only found out about it when I told him a yo’mama joke and he punched me as hard as he could in the stomach.
I apologized, of course, when he told me his parents were dead from heroin overdoses and the matter blew over in a few minutes, but I’ll never forget the anger in Robert’s eyes that day, and the bizarre joker like laughter he had not two seconds after the fact as he pointed and laughed at my cringing from the gut.
I don’t think he was ever really mad I made a joke about his dead mom, I think he was mad that I exposed his soft spot. Robert was very kind and giving person, but he viewed the world as a prisoner does, one instance of softness and they’ll all be out to get you. That was Robert’s way of thinking. Because he never grew up with a mother, she had died far away, caring more about heroin than her own son. In a way Robert was probably more like his parent’s than he ever knew in the end.
Robert and I were sort of meant to be friends. Out of a sixth grade class of 60 from a Bukoskieaque Middle School, Robert and I were the only ones who actually seemed to like reading and learning. Neither one of us like our teachers or our school, but the one thing that kept us interested in school was the reading. The only problem was that Robert hated the books the school offered for our required reading, I thought they were okay but Robert pointed out to me how they were patronizing and low brow and stupid, how we were capable of reading better. I took refuge in our school’s supply of Agatha Christie’s and indulged on Hercule poroit, my dad watched those shows, and I wanted to be like my dad.
Robert’s obsessions by age 12 were Brave New World and 1984, both of which I had never heard of yet nor would I read them until much later in life. That’s why I started hanging out with Robert, he was always so much farther ahead of the curve than I was, and all I ever wanted to do was just catch up with him.
It wasn’t long after middle school that Robert introduced me to pot and LSD. Ever the Huxley fan, “The Doors of perception have been opened to you” he said the morning I woke up and came to school with my first acid hangover. He then flicked me in my third eye and walked to class as I rubbed my forehead, annoyed with him yet again.
I was only fourteen at the time, and I had developed a new obsession. My identity became marijuana and drugs I thought it made me a badass. Unbeknownst to me Robert had already tried cocaine and had a frequent supplier, our pot dealer Andy.
Andy was a fat piece of shit. The 26 year old guy with an ugly goatee that your mother warns you about. The 26 year old man who makes his living by selling weed to teenagers. The 26 year old addict who is so desperate for customers and company he gives a free supply of heroin to a teenager.
Yet like a blind fool, I had no idea what was really going on, or if I did I pretended not to. I was so wasted most of the time it’s hard to remember what I felt and when sometimes.
Andy was the leading pot dealer to the druggie crew that hung out by the strip mall outside of school. This place became a hot bed for creepy drug dealers and malicious perverts harassing teenagers, and Robert and I were among the customers to frequent the place constantly. For most of the school it was just a place to score drugs then bounce, for the drug people like us, it was the place where you hung out.
Before long the place was a cop magnet, and everyday my friends and I found ourselves on the other side of the law.
One day the heat was on heavy, so Robert said, “My aunt’s not home lets go to my house.”
I was a little surprised to realize that despite how long I had known Robert I’d never actually been to his house. I met his Aunt before, but for some reason Robert’s house was never our base of operations.
We got to Robert’s house, Robert and I with our friends Steve and Sam. Steve was sort of a living rally point. Everyone in the group had some kind of connection to Steve. He was that guy who might not be friends with everyone, but he was definitely cool with everyone. He wasn’t the most brilliant guy in the world either, a sort of simple mix of skater, punk, and metalhead. Don’t get me wrong he wasn’t stupid, just, simple.
Sam was kind of the opposite. No one outside of the strip mall drug circle really knew or cared who he was. He was the Ben Affleck in our Dazed and Confused, our Super Senior. He was the guy who could buy us pipes, papers, and cigarettes before anyone else. He always hung out with Steve, even when Steve got tired of Sam.
Sam clung to Steve like a helpless stray dog. Despite Sam’s extensive arrest record and dangerous profile, looking back on it I can’t help but feel that’s all he ever got to be in this life, a stray dog no one in his family or school wanted. But still, Steve welcomed him, that was just the sort of guy he was.
I had always known Robert’s house was within walking distance, but until now I had never thought it unusual that I hadn’t been there yet, despite how long we had been friends. When we got to the door, he unlocked to what seemed like the gateway to an episode of Hoarder’s decorated by a midwestern housewife. The shelves were clogged with figurines and grandma knick knacks. A TV hung in the middle of the room facing a box-crowded couch. Robert guided us around the corner to a room with a silk blue cloth drape hanging instead of a door.
Aside from the minimal privacy, Robert had a cool room. Tool, Fight Club, and Dr. Hunter S Thompson decorated the room. A copy of House of Leaves sat on his desk, opened and lying face down at the half way point of the novel. A couch faced his long desk complete with a TV and speakers. Despite everything clearly being taken from a thrift store or just picked up off the street, one had to admit it was a pretty awesome haven for a stoner.
Robert grabbed a bottle of Jack, something that was always in supply on his desk, and had us pass it around as he packed his weed into Steve’s pipe. He passed it to Steve who started the bowl and started passing it along with the Jack. Robert put some Tom Waits on the speakers, and our tedious teenage conversations carried on. Steve and Robert would vent about their on again off again girlfriends, and Sam would offer advice as if it was solicited.
I usually kept quite during these coversations, I was a virgin at this time. That was something I always tried to learn from Robert, he had none of the problems with women I had at the time, by the time I had slept with one girl, he had slept with twenty. Anytime I met a girl in the school I liked, Robert had no problem reminding me that I would be having his sloppy seconds. Needless to say, sex was an uncomfortable subject at the time.
As Steve was packing another bowl, Robert clapped his hands and gave a loud “Oh Shit!” and a smile as he looked at us wide eyed through his shaggy deep copper hair that was over its usual shave off. The sudden loud noise gave us a short instance of stunned paranoia that only stoners will understand. That half a second panic attack that stops your heart, then restarts it gently as you slowly exhale.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Now that you guys are here, I want to show you guys something.” Robert said as he stood up and walked over to the corner by his closet. He picked up a canvas that had been facing the wall and turned it to face us.
“Damn,” said Steve
“Oh Shit dude,” added Sam. That was all Steve and Sam could think of to say.
I was awestruck, I had seen Robert’s sketch books and doodles in class since middle school, but I had never seen him show me anything like this.
What Robert showed us almost didn’t even seem like a painting, but a photograph illuminated with psychedelic hues. Imagine seeing into your own soul, only to find strands of your DNA and it’s double helixes in a massive pool, so you look into a single helix, to see into your own make up, only to find space, and a dark blue cloud just floating in the corner. That is what I saw that day, a psychedelic portrait of the insides of our own construction, fixed with a dark blue cloud hanging in some distant horizon within.
“Rob,” I said trying to rack my stoned brain for something eloquent and complimentary to say. “That’s beautiful.”
He chuckled at my use of such flowery language and just said, “Thanks man.” Robert knew I had a tendency for such affectionate language, but Robert was not one to show such sentiment, he found it “gay.” Of course I think it was really because it was trying to protect himself from getting hurt again.
Steve and Sam took advantage of the opportunity and riffed me without mercy. I just shrugged and ignored them. “I have to remember to stop being so emotional around the guys,” I told myself.
Still though, I could tell Robert was pleased by the reaction he got out of me, he never stopped smiling whenever I talked to him the rest of the afternoon about my status on reading his copy of House of Leaves.
After that, Robert and I began to hang out more at his house after school. We would score our weed at the Strip mall then kick it in his room, doing the same thing we did at school. Get high and talk about literature. Ever since middle school, it felt like Robert and I were the only ones who actually read.
Robert was always the one to introduce me to my favorite authors, he always knew about things before I did. He was the one who turned me on to Tom Waits and Tool, he introduced me Hunter S Thompson and my life long love affair with Gonzo, everything from Danielewski or Palanuik was a part of his library, and would eventually become part of mine.
Today we were taking bong rips as Robert regaled tails to me of how he made out with Elise at the party a few times. Elise was yet another girl I had a crush on and he knew it, but of course he didn’t care. I was eager to get us off of the topic.
“I had a thought Rob,” I told him.
“Lay it on me dude.” He replied. I knew this would succeed. He was always eager to engage me in conversations. I think he enjoyed the break from our groups usual conversations of drugs, other drugs, and sex.
“Language.” I said. “I want your thoughts on language.”
He look somewhat confused by this statement. I enjoyed that. I always enjoyed the moments I felt smarter than him. “Like, what do you mean?”
Perfect the ball was in my court. I took my professorial lead. “Well, I was thinking the other day Everything, and I mean everything, that we have come to know, started when we created language. Like I think as long as we’ve been conscious we’ve had ideas but it wasn’t until we had labels that we could attach to these labels and communicate them that anything meant anything.”
“So language kind of created the illusion?”
“Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t call reality an illusion but..”
“Why not…” He interrupted me, I always hated it when he interrupted me but I was usually too stoned to react on time. So off he would go on some other tangent and there I would sit listening, like a meager college freshman listening to a pretentious tenured hack who wasn’t any smarter than me, just more well read. “you just said it your self, nothing meant anything until we had labels fixed to them, and if that’s true that mean’s these labels are fluid, subjective in truth and only as objective as we see fit to make it.”
I would always want to find a way to refute whatever Robert would say, even when I had no choice but to agree with him. I just got tired of him always sounding like the smarter one, but I couldn’t find anything to refute. He was right, reality is in a sense an illusion.
We had lots of conversations like this before, but this one is sort of my awakening. This was when my third eye was starting to get “pried open and scrubbed clean,” as Robert would figuratively put it.
“I’ll agree the labels and reality are subjective, but we need some way to communicate with each other right?”
“Oh yeah absolutely,” he agreed, I always felt validated when I got him to agree with something I say first hand.
“So in the end where do these illusions come from, and does it really matter what we make up to explain our reality?” We both liked to provoke each other with questions like this.
“Hmm,” Robert pondered for a moment, “I guess not, because I think these illusions come from a number of places, the two main things being the void, and physics.”
The latter of the two had caught me off guard. “Physics?”
Robert nodded with the excited smile he got when he prepared for a new tangent. “Check this out man,” he said with the empathic hand gestures we both used when we got professorial, ” Everything, and I mean everything on the planet is built on both duality and singularity both existing at the same time. Both are the same thing and one that lead into each other, they are two sides of the same coin. Real and not real are both the same thing because each depends on the existence of another, up cannot exist without down because then up would just always be up, and because there is no converse to it we wouldn’t acknowledge its existence, it would just be. So everything, good evil, up down, relative concrete, all these things are not opposites, not separate things but the same thing existing at the same time within the same place much like, a coin, two sides, opposites, making one whole. Duality and singularity existing at once. That is the core of everything in existence, everything is structured around this because the same holds true in our atomic structure.”
He took a moment to catch his breath, by which I mean to take a bong hit, he held his hit in for five seconds then slowly exhaled as he talked, “What we were talking about was the void, and this is where the physics enters into it, this duality and simultaneous singularity exists within our own atoms, all of which make up all forms of matter, making them inescapable from this make up. An atom, is made of particles made up of a positive and negative and neutral charge, all of which come together as a whole, this singular whole bonds with others to create massive interconnectivity, that is what I mean.”
I feel we always got a little all over the place when we talked about these things when smoking weed, but for some reason no matter how off topic and tangental we got, we both always understood each other. It was like we were always on the same wavelength. Something Robert would go on a tangent about later on I’m sure.
I had enjoyed our conversation, but we adjourned from the brainy stuff, and moved on to our girl problems, and by ours I mean mine, I had only had sex once so far and had zero confidence at the time, Robert had two girlfriends at this point, one at our school and one our “rival” school. At the time I thought that was the coolest, now I feel sorry for how badly those girls got used, each never knowing about the other one.
We scored a huge chunk of kief from his aunt and got so baked we could lift our heads off the couch at one point. This was usually the point I would say my goodbyes and march onto the bus home.
It was after I left for home that Andy would show up with a stash and fresh needle for Robert.
One day at the Strip mall, the heat was especially on. It was one of those days where a particularly large group of us had adjourned to loitering in front of the store fronts that day because of a recent dry spell, but Andy had reupped and Josh, another older person on the scene, had gotten into dealing, and his stuff was much more fairly priced and was pre-bagged. Josh was a flat rate, $10 a gram, $35 eighths, $60 quarters, almost no one bought quarters so that was a cut rate. I bought them, I was the only one in the group who had a consistent, non drug related job at the time.
After 2 cop cars had coasted by 3 separate times each, everyone was starting to get a little paranoid, Andy had already driven away with his crew, Robert being among them today. Soon after a cop came up and parked in the lot. Several of us dispersed while some us brave ones, or rather stupid ones, stayed behind.
Josh did not hesitate to find his way out and soon it was just Sam, Steve, me, Steve’s sort of step brother Ben, and Nick, another one of Steve’s lacky friends. When I first started smoking weed, he had tricked me into buying what turned out to just be grass, literally. My face was red but I did nothing. It wasn’t long before he basically disappeared and I was around more than he was. Year’s later I’d find out he was in and out of jail, still proud of the fact he conned me when we were 15. Besides, after that we were always civil, we’d share weed and smoke together and he’d let us use his pipe. But I digress, as stoners do.
It was just us and the cop, who did nothing but sit in his car. He had pulled around in a weird semi circle, turning the back of the car to us when he parked. He just sat there, with the window rolled down, staring at us from his mirror, pretending to be typing into his keyboard and talking into his radio with needless replies and checkins.
We had smoked behind the mall earlier, and were plenty dazed, it seemed I was the only one concerned about the cop, I was the only one with a clean record and I intended to keep it that way.
“What the fuck is he doing?” I asked in my stoned tenor. My voice got very deep at 16, but whenever anything that remotely looked like police came by it would rift with paranoid up-tones.
“Chill dude,” Steve said, “Until he tells us to move we’re cool.”
“Exactly,” Nick confirmed, “The worst we are doing is loitering and he has no probable cause.” He finished with a mildly annoyed inflection in his voice, Nick was always friendly with me but I think my paranoia got on his nerves. What could I say, I was fairly new at this stuff, they all had years of experience by this point.
Everyone seemed to agree so I attempted to appear at ease, but on the inside a thousand butterflies tore me apart, all of them drugged and angry.
Eventually we were harassed and asked to leave. Nothing more than a police strong arm, so we adjourned to Steve’s house with a bong on his back porch.
Steve and myself packed the weed, looking back on it I think that’s the main reason why the others tolerated me, I always had weed. Steve and Ben we’re always cool with me, the rest tolerated me, it was harder to do when Robert wasn’t there, for some reason his presence vouched for me.
We smoked as Steve indulged us in a tale of having sex with his on again off again girlfriend Rose, when speak of the devil, Rose showed up with her friend Tammy.
Rose was the kind of girl who matured faster than anyone in our entire class. She was dating older boys in middle school, and before she was 18 she already had 2 tattoos, “That my friends did.”
Tammy, there was no other way to describe Tammy other than raw. She put on some make up, but never too much, she never looked unnatural. She had dark skin and hair, both flawless, soft, and sheen. I was always very attracted to Rose, but Tammy, she just took it to another level for me.
There were times were I thought she liked me to, she often gave me a certain look that both drive me wild, and furious. I just didn’t know how to read it, at the time. But I never really had anyone to teach me that kind of stuff besides Robert, who was more interested in beating me to the punch than giving me a leg up. So I never made the move.
Steve immediately changed the subject when he saw them enter the front door and approach the sliding glass door to the balcony.
Nick gave me a “friendly” tap on the shoulder, “Hey Will, it’s your girlfriend Tammy.” He said half way jokingly, everyone knew I liked her, my crushes were never subtle.
“Fuck you,” I said through a smile. A common teenage boy smile that always says “I know your just ribbing me, but salt in the wound, and FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!”
They came out onto the porch, Rose pulled up a chair next to Steve and Tammy by Rose, completing what was before a gaped, lopsided circle.
Rose looked to us. “So,” she said as she put her hand on Steve’s thigh, “what were you guys talking about?” She had a certain nature to her smile, weathered yet beautiful at the same time. It was a smile that had lived and seen more of the world than it had wanted, a 16 year old girl who might as well be 21, a smile that was beautiful but wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.
Steve, “Oh, you know, bullshit.” He said with that same aged smile of experience that ages youth, as if he knew Rose was well aware of what they were talking about. It was always like they were both in on some joke that I and the rest were totally oblivious to.
“Yeah,” she said with her wry smile. “Just bullshit, and stuff,” her voice had taken on the playful mimic of a deep “man’s” voice, “like cars, and pussy and stuff.” Tammy and her laughed while the rest gave a brief stony grunt and smile of a laugh.
“Hey, where’s Robert?” asked Tammy, she asked in my direction but it seemed anyone in the group was allowed to reply. Tammy had a crush on Robert. I had a crush on Tammy. Tammy intimidated the hell out of me to be honest, sexually that is, but in a good way.
“He left with Andy and those guys,” I said.
“Fucking Andy.” Steve said shaking his head.
“You don’t like Andy?” I replied, in that socially obligatory way one must to a comment like that.
“No, I don’t really like any of those fools.” He said, referring to Andy and Josh and of the other 18 and over gnats that either graduated or dropped out, yet still they hung around. “They’re just fucking losers, I mean I’ll be cool with them to their face.”
“You’re cool with everyone to their face,” said Ben. Ben was Steve’s might as well be step brother, they had known each other for years and Ben’s mom was dating Steve’s dad for years, so like I said they might as well be step brothers. He was right though, that was Steve’s style, no one had anything bad to say about him, at least to his face.
“Yeah, but I like have to stay cool with them if I want to have weed,” he said through a laugh as he hit Rose’s pipe that she had just freshly packed.
“I mean I think he’s cool,” said Sam, demonstrating his usual lack of good judgement, that lack of judgement that made him our super senior.
“You think everyone at the strip mall is cool,” said Steve. “Nah, its not even just that its just that, for one I don’t like Andy just because…”
“You get a bad vibe off of him?” I said.
“Yeah,” Steve exclaimed, “yeah exactly its like he’s really shitty and inconsistent with his weed prices, he picks and chooses who gets more in a sac for their money, Josh is at least consistent, but we all know the reason I don’t like Josh either,” he said looking to Rose as he put his arm around her. Years ago, Josh and Rose had dated, he was in high school at the time and she was still in 7th grade.
“Yeah but for real about Andy, I just think he’s a fucking idiot, Josh to, but Andy, holy shit.” everyone nodded in agreement, with the exception of Tammy, she was one of those hot girls who had other means of gettting weed, usually for free or at highly discounted prices, free and far away from the riff raff like us. But she paid attention to the conversation, both of us occasionally catching each other’s eye sight then looking away awkwardly.
The conversation peetered out into gibberish and stoner nothings and epiphanies until all of us were too tired and Rose’s hand was to high up on Steve’s thigh for us to take, so we all parted ways. I marched up to the bus stop for the long trek home, stupidly and nervously refusing a ride home from Tammy.
I could here the guys laughing behind me as she drove away and as I walked away from the front porch, Ben never laughed at me though he would just shake his head, and Steve couldn’t because he was in his bedroom fucking Rose. But Sam and Nick, I could always feel their laughter, but I took it, and just walked to the bus stop.
While all this went on Robert was in the backseat of Andy’s car, junked out getting a blowjob from god.
Two weeks later we got the news that Andy had killed a man.
Robert and I were enjoying ourselves at his house, smoking weed and crushing and snorting Vicodin. Andy’s friend Ian had gotten into selling, and he not only had top shelf weed at $10 a gram, but he had Vicodin, ecstasy, and every once in a while my favorite, psychedelics.
One Saturday Robert and I were enjoying a good bender with the stash we had scored on Friday, while washing it down with Robert’s usual supply of Jack.
As our buzzes took us to other levels, our conversations drifted around the contexts, purposes and meanings of the works of Danielweski and other avant-garde writers.
“Dude, I’m telling you you gotta read more Vonnegut,” I said, after a bump of painkiller.
“yeah?” he replied, before he took his next line.
“Yeah, I mean danielwski is great because he really manages to use his layout of the text to make you feel whats happening in the novel, and palanhuick has the graphic gore and horror thing working for him, but Vonnegut keeps,” I paused rattling my high brain for an eloquent way to word this,” a tone that’s bizarrely casual about all these parts of our society which are dark, human, real, but we don’t really talk about them. Kinda like porn.”
That was when i had one of those self-aggrandized moments of stoner genius. “Dude!” I said, giving him a smack on the shoulder as he took another bong rip. his reply was to make a fish face as he exhaled, pretended to look pissed at me, then stuck his tongue out at me before collapsing and smiling, laughing together.
“But seriously,” I continued, “I think thats why this character of his, Kilgore Trout, writes in porn mags.”
“why?” replied Robert.
I paused for a moment, terrified by the reality of the situation, before the pot kicked back in and I stopped taking the situation so seriously.
“I don’t know, I forgot,” we laughed again and did more lines of pain killer.
Apparently as this went on, Andy was on the opposite side of town, drunk, with some other guys, wasting time in a parking lot. Blunts and bottles of jack were passed around for hours, when Andy, decided apparently to show off his new toy.
After forgetting the glock was loaded, it went off. Andy had shot Ian, our new dealer, who was a recently graduated senior at my school, and a prominent eagle scout to. Andy had waved the gun around, until it went off and caught the poor guy in the chest. He had a bright future ahead, just a few bad decisions and community college classes to work through.
His brother was a sophomore who used to smoke weed with us sometimes. We never saw him again after this.
I didn’t hear about any of this until Monday. But apparently andy had made a stop at Robert’s house after the party was ruined by his butter finger. He had to dump his entire supply. Robert accepted eagerly.
Andy was picked up the next day. He got manslaughter, 15 years. Robert got the heroine.
I wouldn’t see much of Robert for a while after this.
One night, a few days before Andy last visited Robert, Robert actually came over to my house.
I never liked having people over, my parents were never rich but we did have more money than my friends, most of whom came from single parent homes and lived in crowded apartments. Robert didn’t seem to care though, in fact he seemed to enjoy being in a more stable environment.
We engaged in our usual activities, literature talks incorporated with a barrage of strong pot and stolen alcohol. We even stole a couple of my father’s vicodins and snorted them. Because of the constant narcotic haze of the evening, the only thing that I truly remember clearly was the last thing before i went to bed.
Robert was to faded to go home and his aunt wouldn’t pick him up anyway. So he crashed at my place.
As he walked out of my room to stay in our guest room, I said “Goodnight,”, as was the custom in my house, with my family, and I assumed was the normal custom everywhere.
Robert did not respond with the fond “goodnight” as I thought was customary, he merely laughed once, smiled to himself and said, “Okay.”
Then he closed the door.
I couldn’t tell if he did that because what i said was unexpected, sentimental, or both. Robert was never one for sentiment, our other moronic guy friends probably helped see to that.
But I never could understand why saying goodnight, was something weird to him.
Soon after Robert got all of andy’s heroine. No one saw Robert for a while. When he resurfaced he was never the same, and he always had bruises all over his arms and legs.
Junior year I didn’t see much of Robert, I still hung out with Steve and the guys but Robert was rarely around, he had some girl friend junior year, Vicky, and he still had the heroine.
I still didn’t know about the heroine yet, but every time I did see Robert, his arms and legs were bruised. I would later realize these were track marks. Either I was in denial or really ignorant of the reality of the situation, or maybe I was too fucked up, in any case I just had no idea Robert really needed help.
Some of the time, on days we’d actually see him, he’d be light hearted and warm, and I just thought he was super stoned.
On other days he would just be out right vicious. It was as if he had to either fight someone or break something, he just lashed out at everyone like he had to destroy for the sake of destroying.
And he started to bully his friends, especially me.
That would be his days going through withdrawal.
And while all that went on;
I was high and drunk most of the year.
I almost failed physics.
I got into a fight with a fat racist kid who was obsessed with Glenn Beck.
I almost dated a blonde republican girl who tried to get me clean. I didn’t get clean. She went back to her boyfriend. He looked very smug at me as he walked to her car one day.
That’s all I can remember from junior year.
Senior year, that was when it all came to a head. Senior year, the year of Tammy’s legendary parties, the year we all graduated, the year Robert and I joined the school newspaper, Senior year.
I was seeing more of Robert, he had seemed almost like his old self, smart, mindful, and brilliant, but he still wasn’t present.
When we started hanging out again, he started telling me the whole story, slowly giving me the details of what had been going on.
Nobody even talked about andy any more.
I wasn’t happy with Robert, to say the least, but i took his word for it that he was clean and I believed him. I was excited to be on the school newspaper, in a place where i could write and be published consistently, then that became the year I learned journalism is bullshit because editors will make you change everything you write to make it tame for their vapid cowardly demographics. The good part of the class was there was plenty of time for “research” which consisted mostly of my friends and I talking shit in between articles.
Tammy was on newspaper, she was there house photographer. Rose joined that year to. Our editor in chief was a friend of ours, a girl who was obsessed with ayn rand, Ally, she was a kind soul, but if she was pissed you didn’t want to receive her wrath. I’ve seen the buffest of football players shit themselves when she gave them her evil eye. I didn’t always agree with her, but I was glad she was the person we had to answer to. She wasn’t afraid to push the papers boundaries, it was our teacher who kept things cowardly.
All I’m going to say about our teacher was that he was a fairly young man, but he always seemed mad at something. He seemed to like the newspaper class though, or at least he tolerated us. He always just sat at his desk, talking to us with his arms clenched across his chest.
Another girl was in the class, Jan, I had a crush on her to. Jan was lead editor of the entertainment section of the school paper.
I did everything I could to impress them, I wanted the whole school to be in awe of my writing.
Half of my stories would be cut from the paper at the last minute, but never when I wrote for Jan’s section.
And everyone always seemed to like Robert’s material more.
The best part of the class though was the fact we had these special id badges, we could
basically wonder around the entire school unsupervised for a whole period, so me and a few of the other reporters would often cut class and go hot box Rose’s car.
Rose, I was always jealous of her, she had better stories than me, she was a better writer than me, and so was Robert. People liked my work but were never in awe of my stories the way I had wanted, but always with Rose’s or Robert’s.
Another editor, Luann, she and I became fast friends. She had the Feature section and I always got good stories from her, she would cut them sometimes but she always gave me great pieces to write on. She would also smoke with me, Robert, Rose, Tammy and Ally.
Senior year. The year I decided to become a writer.
Senior year, the year of Tammy’s party.
Tammy had 2 parties senior year that were of epic proportions. One at the start of the first semester and one at the end.
They were the first parties I went to that were bigger than kickbacks.
The first one is the only one I cam remember clearly, I went with Robert, he took a few hits of what he said later was bad ecstasy and he stayed on the back porch all night, glued to his seat and trying to smoke himself back to normal with whatever was passed to him or whatever was put into the bong he brought. Robert had a really cool bong at this time and was showing it off whenever he could.
As he carried on with that I went around smoking joints I brought with everyone I could at the party, while bumming a shot of tequila or a cigarette here and there, all the while assuming I was way cooler than I actually was.
Within an hour I was beyond cross faded. I came back to the back porch were Robert still was, about to smoke a joint with him and the rest of whoever was out there in that massive beyond capacity of the house over flow crowd. Yet I immediately pulled a terrible blunder, or a “party foul, ” as you’re more likely to understand.
I moved my chair to sit down when suddenly there was a loud clunk, and then immediately after, “CRASH!”
Using my flip phone as a flashlight, I saw what were the remains of Robert’s bong, that I had knocked over with my chair and shattered.
Of course I became the center of some rather unwanted attention at the party, but the matter was solved almost immediately.
Robert didn’t seem mad at all. He didn’t even seem to care because he didn’t even bother to get out of his chair.
After repeated drunken pleas pf “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry dude, I broke your bong man,” all of which Robert just laughed at, I eventually paid him for the bong, $60, and the matter was settled.
It was I think 2 hours after the party had started that the cops arrived.
soon we were dispersed from the premisses, I was relatively sober so i drove Robert and i home.
I don’t know what it was, but after I had dropped him off at his house and left, as I was leaving, he said something that was beyond out of character. He said, “I love you man.”
And I just grunted and said, “yeah, sure,” and sort of sighed as he smiled, still somewhat high on the ecstasy. That was the most sentiment he had ever shown me, and my only response was, “yeah” before I turned around and left.
A few weeks after this our friendship would basically be over, and a few years after that Robert would be dead.
Robert had been using on and off again throughout Senior year. A few weeks after tammy’s party was when it all happened. The sort of official beginning of the end.
One day, during Robert’s on again off again usage, Robert, myself, Steve and the rest of the boys were hanging out outside the strip mall. Robert was clearly coming down off of some kind of random narcotic, and we all had just finished smoking a joint behind the subway. We were hanging out up front, Steve on his bike and me leaning on the hood of my car, drinking Arizona in order to combat the cottonmouth. We were talking about random this and that’s as we usually did, and then for some reason Robert got into one of his moods where he enjoyed humiliating me.
I don’t remember what caused it but for some reason he decided to start pushing me down onto my car. He just kept shoving me with this brutal force, making me drop my drink and making me look weak and pathetic in front of everyone.
“Robert, back the fuck up.” The more I said it, the harder he pushed back, and the more he laughed.
“Robert, back the fuck up! ”
He laughed harder.
“Robert, back the fuck up!! ”
He’d push harder.
“Robert, back the fuck up!!!”
And then, all I remember happening next was instinct taking over, and the loud “THUD!” that was skin of my fist against the skin of Robert’s cheek.
Suddenly it stopped, he wasn’t pushing anymore and we were both just standing, and he was just motionless, in shock, as if he was still processing what had just happened.
“You just punched me in the face,” Robert declared, still in disbelief.
“yeah,” I confirmed, still in a karate stance waiting for his next move.
He then mocked a sudden lunge of his chest, assuring I would flinch into another karate stance.
He then chuckled to himself, said “I love you man.” and again, I replied, “yeah, sure.” but this time, with nothing but sincere anger and humiliation behind it.
He then, without looking at anyone or saying anything, wandered off, stoned and smiling.
For a second I thought I was the one humiliated, but then the boys started wooping it up.
“That was a sweet punch,” said nick. after three years of hanging out, he gave me a genuine compliment.
“You really hit em,” Steve said, hoping to move on. Steve was never one for drama, unless his pipe broke or coke got mooched.
“yeah, yeah.” I just kept repeating that. It was a shock, it was as if the punch had earned me their honest respect for once and not just their impatient tolerance. from that moment in their eyes I was an equal, a man, and all it took was humiliating my drug-addled friend.
I accept the praise with a smile and the temporary confidence that comes from validation. Of course, I then went home feeling nothing but guilt and wondered what it would be like to talk to Robert in newspaper the next day.
He didn’t show up for class the next day, or the next day, or even the third day. But on the third day I did see him at the end of school as we both walked to the parking lot.
“Robert, hey robert, man listen…” I said when I caught up to him.
He turned to me with a look of anger, not rage, just dead anger. I knew he was junking out again. Before I could even a finish my apology or even say the words I’m sorry, he spat on my shirt, and walked away.
And he left me there, humiliated and alone with a mucus stain on my shirt that wasn’t mine.
A few days later he was back in newspaper class, clear headed and saying he loved me as if we would always be friends.
On the surface the matter was settled, but we stopped hanging out after that, and I stopped hanging out at the strip mall altogether. I decided to get my weed else where and to find new friends. I didn’t like the validation I thought I was looking for.
Robert eventually had to leave newspaper at the end of the semester because he was failing all his other classes. He had to either take everything over or not graduate on time.
I was busy with my new AP classes and started taking my time in newspaper more seriously than ever.
Robert started hooking up with another girl and they just started doing heroine together and fucking. It became a rarity for me to even see Robert around it the hallways at school at all.
Robert did graduate on time, with a D average. I was off to college, and Robert was off to nowhere.
I remember the last time we hung out, our last hoorah just before graduation. We ran into each other at school on one of the rare occasions he was there and clear headed. Resolved to start fresh and put any nasty business behind us, we decided to smoke some weed at Robert’s place. A sort of for old time’s sake kind of deal.
And there we caught up on what we each were thinking about philosophically these days and where our Tool or Tom Waits obsessions had led us. It was as if nothing was different, as if nothing was changed or had ever happened for this one afternoon. But something about it all just felt like it would be our last time together. as if it were plato watching socrate’s trial, you could guess who would drink the he lock. Deep down I think we both knew it, but didn’t want to admit it.
when i left we resolved to hang out again, that it had been too long, but we both knew it wasnt going to happen. He would get high and hang out with his girl as soon as I would be home, and I would be in my studies taking a puff or two in my back yard to ease the stress of finals.
My college life was a stoned drunk and psychedelic journey through narcotics and the English and Film departments of a Northern California state university.
I fucked, fucked up, and got fucked up. I hung out with local bands and met new and fascinating people every day. I even came into my own as an artist and started painting.
All I knew about Robert was from second hand info from the few other friends I kept in touch with after high school. according to them Robert was on a downward spiral of addiction, crime, and domestic abuse.
One night, after drinking a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s to his dome, he left his girlfriend with a black eye and a patch of bruises on all four corners of her body. Then later in an attempt to get drug money he was caught breaking and entering, and got three months.
Then one day on my 3rd year of college, I was taking a shit and scrolling through my Facebook feed.
I saw the posts, everyone from high school was in morning, talking about how smart and gifted he was and how it was such a waste.
Robert was hit by a car, dead at 23, riding his bike down the wrong side of the street, drunk, without any helmets or lights. I learned every detail about the death of my best friend while sitting on a toilet.
So that was it, that was how it all ended. An alter was set up in memoriam by our friends from highschool, leaving flowers in empty forty ounce bottles like vases on the corner where he was killed. They used melting candles at the memoriam to spell phis name on the pavement, and the word “Robert” glowed on the ground in red glistening wax for a few weeks before it chipped off the sidewalk, leaving nothing behind.
I miss Robert, I would not be the person I am without him. And I let his life serve as a lesson to my own. The choices we make will always follow is for the rest of our lives, they can make us, or destroy us. Robert let his choices destroy him, and yet, in a way I envy him. I don’t think anyone can argue that Robert lived more in his short life than most people do even if they live to be a ripe old age.
the boys all dispersed into various labor jobs and dui arrests as my education continued. I lost touch with all of them of course. To this day I still think of Robert and the effect he had on my life. And no matter what he has done or how much we hurt each other, I am glad I knew him, and my only regret is deciding to turn my back on him instead of reaching out my hand.