My friend Les tracked me down and called me a few weeks ago. Les was one of my buddies from the old East Texas and Austin days, from '91 through '94. We used to do so much drinking and partying back in those days, along with an inordinately stupid amount of ecstasy and cocaine, with acid and mushrooms thrown in for variety. We lived in the Austin sub-culture of weirdos back then, along with Clint and my sister and her boyfriend. We were all roommates, and Les and I were just about as close as two friends can be. We were brothers back then, and we were also just stupid kids, trying to figure out what life was about, trying to enjoy our youth while we had it. Les' behavior bordered on self destructive a lot of the time when we were roommates together in Austin, and he did the most drugs out of all of us. It was an attempt to bury the pain of his guilt, I think.
When Les was was 15 he shot his best friend in the face with a shotgun and killed him. It was an accident. They were both getting ready to go camping, and Les decided play a joke on his friend by scaring him with the shotgun that they were taking with them. Les snuck up behind his friend and tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around, Les pointed the shotgun at his face and pulled the trigger. Les had meant to 'get him back', as his friend had just pulled the same joke on Les a few minutes before with the unloaded gun, and Les had assumed that it was still unloaded. He didn't know that his friend had since loaded the shotgun.
Les was put on probabtion for second degree manslaughter, and he spent several years in prison for not showing up to meetings with his probation officer. I think he purposefully put himself through the prison system as an attempt at atonement. He rarely ever talked about what happened, but he confided in me once about it when we were tripping on ecstasy back in '94 at a dance club in Austin, and he described the entire incident to me in detail. When he had finished relating it all to me, he said, "And you know what, man? I'm not sorry for it. Not one bit." I knew that was just wishful thinking though, and the drugs talking.
Les used to keep a .22 rifle in the trunk of his car, and one afternoon at his house, when we were getting ready to go somewhere or do something, he was rummaging through his trunk and he pulled out out the rifle. He put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and when it clicked, he laughed. I laughed too, thinking that it had been a joke that he'd planned, and then he said, "Hell man, I didn't know if the damn thing was loaded." Then he laughed again and put the rifle back in the trunk, and we went on with what we were doing and nobody mentioned it again.
Right before Les went to prison for the second time, he told me that he had decided to kill himself, but Johnny Law had caught up with him before he could formulate a plan. I guess that saved his life. Now he's living in Vermont and is married with a four year old boy. I never imagined that Les would wind up married and with a kid, and it came as a complete surprise when he told me about it. I think he's achieved some measure of peace in his life now. He says he's a practicing Buddhist.
When he called, he asked me how I was doing, and I don't know why, but I started spilling my guts about how unhappy I am. I was surprised that I was saying all of that to him, as I usually keep my feelings buried down deep and don't express them to anyone. Maybe it was because I've gotten used to confessing my despair to Fr. Justin... heck, I even spouted it all over facebook several weeks ago, after which I was terribly embarrassed and wished that I could have just erased that from happening. Anyway, as we were talking it all came tumbling out, and I thought, 'Way to go, Ash. You haven't seen or spoken to Les in six years, and the first thing you do is start unloading all this crap on him about how your life sucks.'
I felt embarrassed again. Somehow I felt as though I didn't deserve to be feeling bad around Les, and that it was a selfish, ugly thing and a horrible indulgence that I had no right to. I felt embarrassed confessing to him that I had 'joined the Orthodox Christians', as I put it to Les. Back in our drug addled party days, we had been brothers in atheism, and I felt as if I were betraying our friendship of old. I felt stupid, and slow, like a slug, and ugly, for trying explain to Les my effort to find comfort clinging desperately to a fairy tale. That's not how it is, but it's how I felt at the time. Just wretched and miserable about my Christianity. It's funny how certain people unnerve me for different reasons and in different ways. All of that was my own failing and weakness though, because Les doesn't see me that way. He said, "Oh, the Russian Orthodox? Yeah, I know them. Buddhists have a lot in common with those desert monks."
Les has changed a lot. He doesn't do drugs anymore, and he seems a lot happier just from talking to him, and I still can't get over the fact that he has a wife and a kid now. When he described to me how they met and decided to get married, I said, "You make it sound so easy." And he did make it sound so easy, like it just fell in his lap. It's funny how marriage and family is something I never cared about, or even wanted remotely, until recently. I wonder why I feel so differently about it now. Sometimes I think it's because God is trying to temper me with the pain of being alone, so that I can prepare for a monastic life. Maybe it's also because I'm not worthy of anything good right now, and the only way to get me to actually make the effort to become a better, more worthy person is by luring me down the narrow, righteous path with the idea of marriage as the reward, much like how God used the girl to lead me to the Church. I didn't get the girl, but I got the Church, and I won't get married, but I'll get salvation? It's a hard possibility to accept, but it might be the truth of things. Then again, I'm not really trying right now, so what business do I have to actually want companionship and love and a familiy, when I'd probably just screw it all up with my unworthy state of perpetual sin? I don't know. I'm too hard on myself a lot of the time.
Anyway. Since Les and I have been back in touch, he's left several little encouraging messages on my facebook page, things like 'I love you brother' and 'Mucho joyo, my lovely man'. He's the best friend anyone could ever ask for, and I miss him.
He also happens to be an amazing poet. He wrote this for me the other day.
as it happens just like so
this and that are these alone
a whytherefor with where to go
when as it is you never know
so we only as if though
in the least and for the most
in this very all along
altogether and so on
as such in such into so forth
however much and furthermore
with none the less in as of yet
like somenothing to forget
until maybe eventhough
an if and when if not also
where there and then somewhen will come
after awhile into the from
since all there is no matter how
is as it is as of now
and afterwords as from before
an after all with something more
the of All ings
the very meaning of the dream