Green Room II
With Kyle's birthday just one week away, I found myself giggling as I remembered his laugh, and the way he goofed off. Did I ever tell you about the time we arrived home totally slaughtered? We stopped at a tree and juiced the damn thing! There we were, in the middle of the neighborhood, two lighties jacking ourselves stupid, giggling like crazy at the sight of our juice dribbling down the bark. It was one of those nights we hardly slept. We giggled again and again at the mention of the most stupid things. Kyle would say something like `tree', and we held our stomachs as we succumbed to more hysterics. Or we heard a dog bark and say, "Guess what he's barking at?" Hahahaha! Bloody hell, those were the most awesome of awesome times.
As Kyle's birthday neared, Graham descended further into depression. I thought about treating him to the movies, but I also needed to check with Julie.
Meanwhile, during my last visit to the Ts, I found three disks in Kyle's draw. I checked them at home and emailed G right away.
Hey, G, if you cry when you read this, don't hassle because I did too. It's Kyle's last message. He was about to post it on his web site, but didn't make it that far.
So the big surprise is that I'm going to varsity to study marine bio. Yep! I've been keeping my acceptance as a surprise from everyone, even you. The only other person who knows is my dad because he had to sign the damn papers. Otherwise, it would have been a surprise for him as well. I think my mom is gonna be pretty stoked about it. Her little baby going out into the big wide world. So am I raving or what? Hehehehe. Okay, so I'm a little excited. Live with it. Have a cool 2002 `cause I know I am.
As it turned out, Graham didn't sleep over Sunday night. Instead, we connected early next morning at the beach for July 1, Kyle's birthday. It was one of those stunning dawns common to winter: not a breath of wind and a calm sea, with a gentle swell that soon lapped beneath our boards. The rays of the rising sun had only just begun to peek over the horizon and illuminate the Byron headland.
Graham was with five of his school mates from the swim team. All of them knew Kyle because he helped train them. At first, I was a little disappointed because I expected a bigger crowd, but that was not to be. The guys in Kyle's graduating class were all working or attending varsity.
All the grommets wore wetsuits, and resembled little gods. Only one recognized me as a fellow surfer at the local. As the run rose higher, it threw long golden rays across the glassy surface of the sea, and toward the beach. The air was fresh and cool. Graham appeared edgy as he grabbed the rails of his stick and led the group in a V formation out to the backline. I followed behind.
The surf was small but good. I was in a position to watch the silhouettes of the guys in front as they paddled to where Kyle had surfed countless times before.
Eventually, we all stopped paddling, and I wondered "what now?" One of the guys headed for the peaks to catch a ride, and the others followed. Only Graham and I remained sitting on our boards, rising and falling with the gentle swell.
"Are you gonna catch a wave ... for Kyle?"
"In a while," answered the grommet.
"This is pretty damn cool, Graham ... organizing this Dawn Patrol for our mate."
"Yeah." The grommet's eyes shone with tears. Mine began to sting a little as well.
"I reckon he's watching us right now, probably surfing a cloud and yelling for us to check him out."
"Think?" he asked hopefully, then sniffled.
"Hey, this is Kyle we're talking about, Graham. It's his birthday, mate. I think he wants you to be happy for him."
The flood of tears could no longer be restrained, and the grommet's shoulders shook with grief. I paddled closer and placed a comforting hand on his neoprene-clad leg. "I'm here for you if you need to offload the tears, or even if you feel the need to punch someone. I love you, mate. And Kyle did as well--more than you probably know."
I remained patient as I waited for the sobs to subside. The poor little dude. Then I led him to the waves, where we surfed for a couple of hours. Each time I caught a wave, I thought about how many times I'd seen Kyle styling on his stick. He was a totally cool surfer, and I figured Graham entertained the same thoughts.
Graham and I agreed to meet later at Kyle's house. Kyle had a book we used to read to each other--Kahlil Gibran's `The Prophet'. If Kyle had a religion, it was in that book. I wanted Graham to read the piece about Friendship:
And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."Your friend is your needs answered.I could hear Kyle's soft voice now. Soft. He laid with his head on my chest and held the book to his face as he read the words. Some of the passages he knew by heart. I had my hand on his stomach and felt his breathing as he spoke. It was another of those special times we shared together.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
Meanwhile, Graham was much happier after the surf. We walked home with our boards tucked under our arms, and trod the same ground that the grommet and Kyle trod a thousand times as the pair headed home after a session at the local.
"Kyle would love what you did for him. That was pretty special."
"I hoped his dad would be there."
"Did you tell him?"
"I went to his house early this morning, but Kyle's folks are feeling down. Said I'd see them a bit later, maybe."
"Want to rock over to my place later?"
So that was the birthday. No flashing lights in the sky, but I knew that Kyle had watched us.
This is such a totally fucked-up sad time, G. And it's really difficult to deal with right now. Kyle was like a blood brother to Graham, and it's hard to imagine what that little bloke is suffering right now. I just hope he understands that I'm there for him when he needs a shoulder.
G had lost a lot of email from Kyle due to computer crashes over the years or whatever, so I searched Eudora and uncovered a stack that I zipped and forwarded to the fossil. One of the letters reminded me of a time Kyle confessed to email he received from guys with sexuality problems. Kyle bitched about them because it took ages to compose his responses.
"Because my life was saved like that, by someone who cared enough to give me the time of day. Not everyone is like you, Stuart."
I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was one of our worst arguments. "What do you mean `like me'?"
"You don't give a stuff about anything except Stuart."
"Yeah? Well, stuff you! What damn difference will you make to any of those dudes, Kyle?"
"How will I know if I don't at least try?"
"So now you're `Dear Dorothy' for the net? And then you bitch about the amount of mail you get?"
"I bitch because I don't always have the time to respond. But it's cool that they mail me."
That was the reason Kyle became so liked by everyone. He always made time for others, whether or not he knew them. I needed Kyle the other day because I was in the shit with my dad, AGAIN!
I was online in chat when my dad walked into my room, and noticed a joint on my desk. It had been there for two days, unsmoked. He turned, and slammed the door behind him. Then I heard him arguing with my mom. I thought `stuff him' because I wasn't in the mood for his shit. Shortly after, he stormed into my room again and said he wanted to see me `right now'.
"Are you still taking drugs, Stuart?"
"Then what's that on your desk?"
"But it's not yours, right?"
"Yes it is, and you know it. It's been sitting there for two days already."
"You weren't going to smoke it? Is that what you're saying?"
"Why don't you just take me out to the garage and give me a hiding instead of this shit?"
"Because that doesn't work for you, nor me."
"It works for me just fine." My dad hated back chat like that from me, and wasn't handling my lip at all.
"And arriving home stinking drunk yesterday?"
"I can't explain that to you because you wouldn't understand."
"It was my mate's birthday on Monday--the one who got killed."
"So he would've wanted you to get drunk?"
"No. It just helps me handle not having him around."
"You're becoming a damn alcoholic."
"An embarrassment, huh? Big shot's son found drunk in the gutter. No good for your image?"
My dad reacted impulsively, and hit me across the face. I couldn't hold back the tears because the blow was so painful. But I was determined not to cry. Not in front of him. No way.
"I'm not one of your drug-addict mates, Stuart. Don't speak to me that way."
"What do you want? You want your mother and me to leave you alone so you can ruin your life? Is that it?"
"I thought things were improving."
"So did we. And don't use your friend's death as an excuse. You've changed during the past two or three years, and we don't know why. I see you drifting further and further away, and I don't know what to do about it."
"I try. I have tried. It's just right now."
Well, my feeble explanation didn't prevent my dad from launching a long lecture about this being my last chance to reform or suffer rehab. Even then he wasn't sure he'd want me back home again. My mom wasn't present so I wasn't sure if she was a party to the `get rid of Stuart' plan. In any case, I'd blown any chance I might have had to join my folks on their upcoming tour of Europe. "Not on your fucking life!" he replied when I asked. It was the first time he swore during the convo.
It was difficult for my folks to appreciate how much Kyle meant to me. I think it's difficult for a lot of people to understand what Kyle meant to his friends. I'm not talking sex here, but about the way he was, his personality and character. He was able to put people in a good mood.
You know what, G? Kyle was the first guy to kiss me. I almost shat myself. But it was the most incredible moment of my life because, all of a sudden, our relationship was normal. That one experience changed the way I thought of myself.
Yeah, I can hear you ask why did I fuck it all up? I wish I knew, and I wish I could make everything different.
It's Wednesday afternoon now, and I feel fantastic. I spent two hours in the gym, and just showered. I'm wearing a towel around my waist because I'm burning up after all that exercise.
Sermon on the Mount.
I climbed Wollumbin yesterday to visit Kyle's and Rick's special place. And yes, I was stalked by a guy with spiky black hair and a big cheesy smile. I sat on a rock that Kyle must have planted his butt on many times, and stared at the impressive view that stretched to the Byron coast, and up to the Gold Coast. "Hey, Kyle, what are you doing here?" I asked a drifting cloud.
"Checking up on you. Want me to tell you how proud I am of you?"
"So why aren't you really here?"
"I'm in your head, Stuart. Are you just imagining this convo or what? I'll leave that to you to figure out."
"I've read though a lot of your email to G, mate."
"You're a snoop."
"I hurt you a lot, but never realized how much."
"That's the thing. I've had oodles of time up here to figure it all out. A lot of the problem was me expecting too much of you as well. It didn't occur to me that you had your own life."
"Is that what you call it? My own life? Spaced and slaughtered?"
"That's another thing. Check. It's called Life 101. It's where you live and learn. It's like climbing this mountain, my mountain. You don't always notice the rocks and stones along the way, so you sometimes trip and fall flat on your ass, but you always pick yourself up, and then keep heading for the summit. It's not like you gave up and turned back."
I could see the white caps at Byron in the distance, the local beach where Kyle and I surfed together. Roll, roll, roll, rolled the swells, just as they had since time immemorial. >From the mountain top, I felt like God surveying his creation. "What did you ever see in my folks, Kyle?," I said aloud. "Especially my dad. He hates me."
"I'm not the prophet, Stuart. That comes from Folks 101. I remember when you used to go places in the company of your folks ... overseas, posh parties--dressed in your tux like a penguin--partly because you were on the lookout for some old wrinkly lady to screw, but also because you wanted to share time with your folks. Your dad doesn't hate you, he just doesn't know how to love the new son you've become. He doesn't know how to get close to someone who won't allow him to. Your folks were always pretty cool towards me. So your dad doesn't remember my name? You've had way too many friends, Stuart. Is that fair? To expect your dad to remember them all?"
"But you were special."
"To you, yes. But, to your dad, you and your mom are the ones who are special."
"There's a huge hole in my heart since you left, Kyle. And it's not being filled."
"Maybe that's because you're trying to kill yourself with drugs. Maybe you're trying too hard to make friends. Or maybe you're not trying at all. You tried it your way, and that hole is still there. Why not try it a different way?"
"Have a great birthday, mate."
"Don't change the subject."
"What's a different way, Kyle? I've always been fucked up. I can see that now by reading all the mail you sent G."
"It's called Reading 101. You're only seeing the bad stuff ... Eudora trashed the rest, hehehehe."
"Fuck off, Kyle, you're not helping."
"I'm not allowed to cuss up here."
"You're forgetting that I was human when I wrote all that stuff to G. I picked up on a lotta the bad stuff you used to do. After the swim tour was when it hit me, like how bad the whole drug scene is. It took the rape for me to wise up."
"Why did you never tell me about that?"
"Because everything I was, everything I represented, was stolen from me. Gone. In a flash. I wasn't in control. How can I expect you or anyone else to understand the enormity of what happened? And not just the physical aspect, but me, myself, my self-respect, my folks' son, everything I was that suddenly disappeared. It took months to pluck up the nerve to tell G about it. I figured I'd let him down."
"It wasn't your fault, Kyle."
"It was. Drugs weren't forced down my throat. I need you to understand something, Stuart."
"Here we go, Lecture 101."
"Hehehe. Shuddup and listen. When you're all drugged up, it's not you anymore. It's not Stuart. All anyone sees then is a loser."
"It breaks my heart to see people treat you like crap because I know the real you. For that matter, so do you. I know the love we shared. I had you inside me. That was so special, Stuart, you have no idea."
Again, I studied the distant shore and the landmarks so easily recognized from Wollumbin's peak. "I suppose now I have to live up to the expectations of G and his friends."
"They have nothing to gain from your reformation, but you do. You've got everything to gain, including your folks. You can enjoy the same thing with your dad that I enjoyed with mine. Besides, my mom thinks you're cute."
"Yeah, but she's got an appointment with an optometrist."
"Meanwhile, Graham needs someone he can trust, Stuart. Someone older he can take his probs to and talk them through. He's heading along the same road you're traveling, and he won't handle it unless he has someone like you he can confide in."
"I've tried many times to reform, but I keep going back to my old ways."
"It's when you stop trying that you'll have a much more serious problem, Stuart. You'll always trip and fall. Check my mail to G, it's called `hills and valleys'. The hills, like up here on my mountain, are way cool. You can see things from up here that you can't see from down there."
I stared again at the same scene Kyle admired a thousand times during his life, and played our conversation over and over in my head. I imagined him sitting there with me. Hahahaha! I even mimicked his voice sometimes.
One time, the little hairs on my arm bristled and I got goosebumps. Kyle called them `chicken babies'.
I tried to imagine what he might have said to me in the only way I knew how. Reading his mail was a huge eye-opener for me. I never realized some of the pain he suffered; with me, with Brett when he left Byron for Fremantle, with the rape on the swim tour. Despite his own pain, he worried constantly about us, his friends. I wish I'd managed to find and save all his mail, especially the first mails he sent you, G. I was 14 when we became mates--two lighties on a high--a high of friendship.