Friday, March 25, 2011

Waiting & watching for Jon

We were invincible. Packed into Jon’s pale yellow Olds Cutlass, the car I’d always wanted, careening down the road between our high school and its “sister” all-girls school, we’d sing along with whatever was playing on the oversized speakers garishly mounted in the back. More exactly, we’d usually be screaming along with the music, which was loud enough to rouse more than a few nearby drivers from their afternoon daydreams.

We were on our way to......take a typing class. Twice a week, seniors who had asked for the class would get to spend a glorious hour pecking away at the Smith Corona keys. It was a treat, a privilege, something bestowed only on those who had grades that were up to par, and I’m sure some other selection process was at work as well. Even though there were no girls actually in the class at the time, we were surrounded by them.

And Jon was in his element.

I had never met anyone quite like Jon. He was smart, but didn’t take himself -- or anyone else -- seriously. We’d joke and laugh like other teenage boys, but I never laughed as hard or long as when I was with Jon. His humor was so much a part of his personality that he was able to disarm even the scowling older priests at our school who had quite literally “seen it all” before. A quick jest and a raised eyebrow was generally all it took for him to win someone over to his side. Even when he screwed up, it was hard to stay angry at him for long. Heck, he even started dating a girl I’d broken up with a week before, and I couldn’t hold it against him.

Jon had one other arrow in his quiver, a gift from God, really. His eyes were the color of a Colorado winter sky, and brighter than a neon night. I suppose I’ve only seen something similar in movies, watching Grace Kelly or Paul Newman. But to see them in real life, in “action” so to speak, was remarkable. Personality plus pulsating blue eyes left the girls at Ursuline red-faced and giggling, and left the rest of us laughing, shaking our heads at how easily he could charm the pants off a nun.

Some time, somewhere later, Jon fell off a cliff. Looking back, as it always is, it is easy to recognize the direction he was headed. But the speed with which his drug problem took him down, and the depths to which it drug him, remains breathtaking to me even today. College was never completed --- hell, probably in reality never attempted. Having not seen him in several years, he showed up at my wedding, and then disappeared again, only to arrive unceremoniously at my doorstep with a pregnant girlfriend in tow. It was 11 PM, and I was dog-tired from working as a resident. And there he was, bright eyed as usual, but dirty, disheveled, and totally unaware of how badly he smelled.

That was 1990. I haven’t laid eyes on Jon since.

I know about the successive stents in drug rehab. I have had the opportunity to spend time with his ex-wife and children, and to learn of the tremendous loving influence his parents have had on them. And I have seen the pain in all of their faces, the ache in their voices. They, like me, miss Jon. But they have had to live with the person he became, and certainly don’t miss that guy.

I have put at least twenty versions of this down in electronic ink (those typing classes came in handy), and deleted them all. I have tried to write it in my head about a hundred times more. I guess I can’t come up with a way to end it, because there is no ending that will make me feel any better. Perhaps that is why I catch myself watching for Jon in places that I hope I might find him --- ski resorts, airports, restaurants when I go back to Dallas --- and more often in a place I fear I will find him --- in my ED.

We weren’t invincible.