My name is John. I like to write. I have forced pen and parchment to endure fruitless relations since I was around twelve or thirteen years old. Usually, an idea would come to me, and stick with me most of the day, buzzing around in my head, until it was exorcized through the pen.
Quite a few times sleep refused to greet me without my having written down somewhere the lines that unceremoniously barged in all my thoughts. At some point in life, carrying two pens and a notebook at all times became not only a habit, but a defining characteristic, a feature that I became recognized by.
By the time my sixteenth birthday arrived, one whole dresser drawer was necessary for containing the copious notebooks of stories and plotlines that had spilled from my mental wellspring. Even when the right words and rhymes would not find their way onto paper, I was unable to put down my pen before the complete thought process had been completely purged. This was not a friendly muse who would visit and tickle my fancy; this was a fiendish, feverish, sometimes possessive spirit that took over my faculties with a determination to be satiated before relinquishing lordship. It was an uninvited freeloader who arrived disguised as a long lost love, only to transform into a cadre of drunken motorcyclists bent on destroying the house, if not the entire neighborhood, should it be denied its wishes.
Exercising control was futile. Myriad thoughts and passages arrived as if harmless butterflies, dancing ever so slightly in the periphery, pleasantly humming in the background of thought. Eventually, the soothing rhythms became undeniable battering rams on my forethought’s doorway, demanding entry. Countless times I tried to drown the urgency of the uninvited guests with excessive tobacco, alcohol and stereo volume. Not once was I successful. At least, that is, until I discovered marijuana.
After one particularly draining day in May, unwinding from the regular bout of after school activities that accompanied junior year, I walked home with one of my fellow drama students, Jack Darns. It never crossed our minds that twelve miles was quite an undertaking at seven o’clock in the evening. We were enthusiastic about being victorious in originating Suitland Senior High’s first Drama 3 class. Drama was an elective, and since it was a three year high school, the pool of students entering with any electives in their sophomore year was almost unheard of. We were among the first, and about as giddy as anyone could ever be. The miles flew by as we chatted endlessly about what an accomplishment we had achieved.
Somewhere between discussing our vision for the upcoming year in our new class and seeing our houses on the horizon, we sat down at an old tree fort that once was our summer playground. Jack lit up a cigarette, breathing out jagged puffs of unfamiliar smells, and I basked in the glory of freedom from my daily mental struggle, utterly clueless. And he passed me this strange ‘joint’ he had put together with the strange materials that rested somewhere in his olive drab army jacket.
I cannot honestly say what happened next, because, like most of the summer that followed, and most of my senior year, it’s all a blur. A blur of embarrassing, uninhibited and irrational scenes that played out before me, and only recently have I come to realize that the lead actor in each scene that shocked me, was me.
I also cannot tell you what ever happened to Jack, although, I do recall seeing him at a party, where we all somehow happened to be. That’s it, we were just there. Not officially invited, no RSVP, no guest list, it just happened, this end of year party in someone’s backyard. Bodies were strewn about as if some great holocaust had bloodlessly slaughtered an entire classroom and splayed the semi clothed bodies on someone’s lawn. Some were dressed, while most were nearly naked, yet none were alone. Somewhere in that night, Kathy Lanata (my dream girl), Doreen Deaton (my first crush) and Cochise (who, to this day, I cannot remember ever seeing sober), all just appeared. In the midst of this parade of personalities, was Flash.
Perhaps it was an alter ego, the mask he wore to hide behind, or perhaps it was a moniker he achieved due to great prowess in running track, or even the once popular practice of streaking. I kept hearing his name chanted, as if he would be entering the doorway soon, so I quickly stepped aside. Along with some laughter and louder chants, I realized that Doreen, Cochise and Kathy were all raising their beers to toast Flash, and walking towards the door I had just entered. They stopped short of passing me, warmly embraced me, and kissed my cheeks. Well, Cochise didn’t; he simply shook my hand and spoke almost soberly, “Flash, dude, what’s up?”
Fear glazed all my ability to control a response, as the severity of what the past months had been came into painful focus. If a spear richly coated with curare were to pierce the back of my neck, I probably would have been thankful. I had to live up to something that I didn’t want to, didn’t know how to, and then it happened.
Dancing slightly on the outskirts of sight, those friendly butterflies asked permission to come in again. Unable to know what I, or that is, ‘Flash’ should or would say, I opened the door, and asked to be excused from myself.
Somewhere in the night, I decided to thank Jack properly for introducing me to his occasional pal, “Sweet Leaf”. In some fashion or another, excusing myself from the majority of partygoers, I approached him on wobbly legs. Slightly slurred, but still intelligible, a voice came out of me, “Jack, what have you been up to?”
Either he was stoned out of this planet or contemplating some distant galaxy; it was clearly impossible to get a reaction from him. His gaze was so far off that I remember fearing he could be dead. So, instead of giving way to panic, I started a conversation, half assured that he would not respond. Occasionally, I’d nudge him with my elbow or chuckle at an obscene joke, and then look over to see the pose had not changed.
Then I noticed that the overall timbre of the party’s music had softened. Most everyone was gone except for my three main associates. They were now seated at a round picnic table some yards away at the bottom of the hill, their eyes shaded by its umbrella. It was easy to tell they were looking in our direction, though.
“Hey guys, come on up and join me.” Still it’s not clear why that didn’t come out as ‘us’ instead of ‘me’, but there it is. And after a few moments of silent debate between the three, they obliged. Kathy sat to my left, a beer in her left hand, never far from her lips, and my left knee in her right. “Great gal, that Kathy,” my perverted mind said to my overactive glands. Doreen laid comfortably near my feet, studying me, quietly driving her eyes over the roadmap of my unstable frame.
Cochise stood to my right, hands akimbo, looking every bit the parental figure, and adopting the authoritative tone as he addressed me. “Flash!” He paused more to search for the right words, not for any effect. “You’re a freaky dude, you know that?”
Before a witty comeback could be mustered, he continued. “I got almost everyone here to do some grass, have some fun, get blasted, y’know, and what the hell do you do? You ignore us all. What the hell, dude?”
Again, I felt the butterflies mutating, this time into laughing pixies. I was not allowed the opportunity to ask anything when Kathy, apparently sensing my confusion, spoke up. Her grip on my knee firmed, bidding my attention. “Flash, you were cool for the first hour or so, but for the last two hours, you’ve been sitting up here, ignoring us all, and freaking everybody out.”
Doreen chimed in. “Yeh, we didn’t know whether to call the medics or just forget about you. So we’ve been watching for like an hour or more.” Sincere concern washed her normally cheery complexion.
“Dude. I just gotta ask one thing,” Cochise continued. “Why are you up here mumbling to yourself?”
“Jack.” I grabbed Jack’s shoulder, and my hand went through him to the plush green carpet he sat on.
He looked at me, and winked. “Thanks for remembering me,” is all he said, as he vanished into past memory.