Archive | August, 2012

The Big Goodbye

23 Aug

Recently, my friend Sam moved to Portland, Oregon. There’s also a Portland, Maine, but he didn’t move there. He moved to the cool one, not the Stephen King one.

Before he left, we threw him a party. The party was held at the house of my friend, Lanny.

Sam in the foreground, Lanny in the background.

“Time to say goodbye,” I say. I pop the tab back on the can and pour a Redbull over a half-full glass of Wild Turkey. “See you guys later.” I look at all their beautiful, shiny faces. Everyone’s skin is so oily. I can’t wait to be drunk so I won’t notice this anymore. I lift the glass to my lips. It’s cold in my hand. I make a mental note to go to my car after this and get my drinking mitten.

The firewater dances along my lips; it reaches my tongue and loses its footing and falls and hits its head; it moans and thrashes around in my throat before falling down in my belly and dying. Its soul will rise and go to heaven 12 hours later. That’s the heart burn.

In attendance at the party are nine of Sam’s closest friends and someone’s boyfriend. Most of us have been friends for some time. These gatherings are thick with memories. I survey the group, thinking back on days gone by. I look at my friend Derek and remember the time he kissed my mouth on New Years. I think that thought about roughly every man at this party. I look at Sam. I think of when we would go to his apartment on the weekends and play Rock Band. We tried real hard. Derek quit, Lanny got married, I shoulda known, we’d never get far. Oh, when I look back now, those years seemed to last forever. And if I had a choice, yeah, I’d always want to be there. Those were the best days of my life.

I look at a few more people and think a few more things.

Sam gets out his pipe and loads it up. Soon the laughter begins. I sit in a circle with Derek, Sam, Josh, and Lanny. I’ve been friends with Lanny and Josh since *Nsync. I don’t smoke weed on this night, though, and for two reasons. One, I work for the government, and am fairly certain they put something in me that tells them when I do bad things like that. Two, when I drink and smoke together it’s like–it’s like my brain is a car, and when I’m drunk, the car becomes a big monster truck and I can drive all over the road and nobody can do squat because I’m in a monster truck and I just run over everything in my path (simple logic, common courtesies, my best interests) and bowl through to the next stop; and when I’m high as well, it’s like my monster truck only has three tires and is on fire.

Sam takes a big pull off of the pipe, expanding his lungs to their fullest capacity. He passes it to Derek. Derek takes a long drink from his beer before lighting up and inhaling. All the while, Lanny sits to my left, smiling like one of those monkey-with-cymbals toys.


Sam exhales while Derek inhales and it’s like some great, human machine, built to destroy pain and drive the heart from the darker places of life and into some small, secret alcove where there is warmth and always respite.

“Oh, I feel it down in my balls, dude,” Derek says as he exhales and grabs his balls. Everyone laughs. Lanny smacks his cymbals together wildly.

I get up and walk outside. The night is warm and overcast, so there are no stars. A small group has gathered by the back door. Most are smoking cigarettes. I find cigarettes detestable. How could you poison your body when you know it’s bad for you that makes no sense gosh these people are idiots I think, then take a drink of my alcohol/energy drink concoction, feeling the light, buzzed feeling as the alcohol deprives my brain of oxygen and the energy drink pushes my heart and kidneys to go faster, faster, faster.

I think of the first time I got drunk, at Sam’s student-living apartment five years ago. The drinks were home-made margaritas and beer pong beer.

Sam comes out and he smokes a cigarette too. We talk about space and the universe. I hope the clouds break at some point, so we can see the stars and the moon. Mars is supposed to be visible tonight.

Most members of the party get in the pool. By this time, we’re all happily poisoned, thrashing and yelling and laughing with the abandon and glee of mentally handicapped children.

“Let’s do a diving contest!” my roommate, Alex says. She pulls her tiny body from the pool and scampers over to the diving board, then does an annoyingly good dive. There is little splash and her body stays straight as she enters the water.

“How annoying,” I mutter to myself, suddenly no longer having a good time. My time will not be good again until I perform a perfect dive or a dive more perfect than Alex’s.

I dive and dive and dive. It never works. I remember other times I tried to win at something over and over again and always failed. I think of any physical contest with Sam.

After we dry off, we gather on Lanny’s driveway. We start playing basketball, overhand throwing the ball at the metal hoop, dribbling two or three times before the ball hits a toe and flies off under someones car. I remember hanging over the guard rail at the UNT rec center basketball court, yelling incoherently at Sam while he played for our dorm’s team. Another friend, Kevin, who is wearing a tank top, does a pretend dunk. He doesn’t have the ball in his hand at the time, but if he did, I imagine he would have at least gotten very close to making a dunk. I look over at Sam. He is sitting down under the floodlight, his eyes pointed at his feet, but looking at nothing at all. I have to look away, because I recognize the look, had the same look a year ago, when I was leaving for grad school in San Marcos; it is the look of someone who is present, but already gone.

After basketball, we’re all in a circle, swapping Sam stories. The swap was my idea, and I regret it as soon as I suggest it, because it’s depressing the shit out of me and suddenly Sam’s leaving feels much more real. Derek is more drunk than I’ve seen him in some time, and is moaning like a beached whale. I find some solace in that. Because aren’t we all just a bunch of beached whales?

[Editor’s Note: I’m not sure I follow.]

[Kyle’s Note: Then don’t. Don’t follow me anywhere ever again. Stay where you are, and I’ll just go somewhere else. Without you.]

My heart swells as I tell my story of how I met Sam. The story is not a very good one, at least not on its own. It’s better when viewed in its place among my innumerable other Sam stories. A few people laugh at the moments I think are funny, but I laugh the hardest, because I was there and it makes me happy to have these memories and because it feels good to put a physical feeling on that happiness.

The next day, as Sam leaves Lanny’s house and I see him for the last time for a long time, I give him a hug, and have absolutely no idea what to say. So, I do what I always do when met with this sort of tension, I make jokes. This doesn’t bother me, though, as it is clear Sam has no idea what to say, either. Probably because there isn’t much to say other than “This sucks, doesn’t it?”

But it doesn’t suck that much, really. I like to think that Sam left for his Best Possible Life, which is a gamble worth taking no matter who you are. It’s a gamble you’re fortunate to take, whether you succeed in finding that Life or not.

So see you later, Sammy Sweet. Hope Portland is the coolest.

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