Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We Were Just Kids

The late 60’s.
It was a long time ago.
Jon was one of my good friends.

Actually, he was one of my best friends. Jon was a quiet kid. Just eighteen. Very good looking. Straight blond hair. Contemplative. I wouldn’t say he was a particularly deep thinker, but he was thoughtful. Insightful even, and soft spoken. He would think about what he was going to say before he said it. Who does that? He was also very meticulous in his appearance and behavior. One might say controlled. His hair was always combed, clothes always neat, environment tidy, possessions organized. Always had his things arranged in cool little boxes, separated just so. Actually, he always had everything arranged in cool boxes, or leather bags of some sort, his intentions as well as his possessions. He didn’t label things, but in remembering Jon, it is something he might have done if it had occurred to him.

Jon played guitar very patiently, attentively. More smooth than passionate, but beautiful. More refined than how the rest of us played. We were a little more rough, as it were. Maybe we just didn’t play as well as Jon, I don’t know. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, Jon was very careful, very precise, and very hard on himself when he made a mistake. His parents were much older than the average parents, more grandparent like. Jon was an only child, and some would say spoiled. I’d say borderline. The Buffalo Springfield is the band he most closely identified with. And Neal Young in particular, even before he went solo. Learned to play all his songs. Sang with a kind of nasal, but clearly defined quality to his voice. Liked the upper register, as Neal did. Jon also liked the Byrds, Roger (Jim) McGuinn and David Crosby, and resembled them in style. We’d play music together just about every day. We communicated with each other through songs, as has always been common among teenagers. The music spoke directly, and deeply, to us. More than anything else, it’s really how Jon and me first got to know each other. We also bonded around drugs, and the outdoors. Jon loved birds of prey. Caught them, raised them, and taught them to fly to his gloved hand. Was working on hunting with them.

Among my friends, Jon was the most organic when it came to drugs. He preferred pot to pills, and mushrooms, or peyote, to acid. Like everything else, Jon was meticulous in preparing for a drug trip, thought everything out, had everything in place. Knew exactly how much to take, how long the trip would last, where he was going to be, whom he’d be with, what he could expect. Even planned for the unforeseen.

I was much more spontaneous. Some might say a bit reckless. I say trusting, not of the drugs necessarily, but of myself. I was also lucky. Very lucky. I cannot deny that. Drugs often made Jon paranoid, pot in particular. He became self-critical, and way too introspective. Reclusive even. The lingering effects of his use separated him emotionally from his family, and increasingly, from his friends and girlfriend as well. Robbed him of his ability to be present in a given situation. Stole his motivation for honesty within himself, and with others. Jon, unlike some of us, didn’t really have much fun doing drugs. It was more of an escape from self for him. I guess that was the case for the rest of us as well, but we viewed it as an exercise in controlled discovery. What did we know?

Jon was not a particularly happy kid anyway. He worried a lot, and he was in a great deal of pain. Inside. Inside of his insides even, where it hurt the very worst. The kind of pain a parent’s divorce visits upon a child, or the death of a sibling. Wouldn’t really talk about it. Wouldn’t let me or his other friends in that deep. Because of the age of his parents, I think he might have been adopted as a small boy, and that might have been the issue that fueled his pervasive unhappiness. But I don’t really know for sure. It would have been a family secret.
Secrets can be pretty dangerous.

I loved Jon, and I know he was extremely worried about the military draft, as were the rest of us in those days. Jon was not a particularly brave young man, in his life, relationships or circumstances. But who was at that age? He had very little emotional fortification. More pampered and protected really. Never had much chance to be tested as a developing young man, but I think he knew he would fail that particular kind of test anyway. I know I would have. The military would have been very tough on a kid with a passive, and even pacifist, nature. Jon disagreed, politically and morally, with the Vietnam war. We were in close agreement. But more than that, the prospect of going to war scared him. . . . . terribly. In the same way he was scared of the police.

And then his draft notice came in the mail.
Jon swallowed a handful of barbiturates that night.
He never woke up in the morning.

We were just kids.