I have actually been trying to write this post since January and I keep hitting a wall, so I decided to just do it and worry later. I don’t write about this then I will not be able to write anything, which I know because I have tried. Every time I sit in front of my computer and begin typing I hit a wall and have to stop. It has damaged the quality of my homework, job performance and obviously it has hindered my ability to write for pleasure here. So here it goes
That is one of my favorite pictures ever. It’s from what Tink and I often refer to as our “Lost Year”. An entire year of our lives spent drinking too much, laughing too hard and generally living too fast. It is also one of the best years of my life and I could not have spent it with better people. Pictured above you will see Tink, Paul, Kumar, and me – in that order. We were like a louder, crazier, and closer knit version of the guys from the Hangover. Paul is also the reason I met these other two characters, since we were friends prior to this grouping. We met junior year of High School, while Paul was still obsessing over his first girlfriend (Daisy), wearing eyeliner, dating freshmen, and trying to find his place in life as a misguided youth. He had a million problems and was certainly not the kind of guy you would want your daughter to bring home, although parents, surprisingly, loved him. He was not the worst of humanity by any stretch, but he was also very far from being the best. He smoked too much, drove terribly, cursed often, and oozed that strange bad boy persona that didn’t really fit his personality or life. High School is like that though. You often look back in confusion as to why anything seemed normal when it really wasn’t.
After graduation Paul drifted in and out of our lives, but at no point was he ever actually gone. He was one of the few people that we (Daisy and I) consistently maintained ties with, though sometimes (see: often) we would wonder why. Paul always had some sort of shenanigans going on and anytime we hung out with him we walked away with a story epic enough to become a box-office hit. It is worth mentioning that Paul was adopted as a baby. I mention this for a number of reasons, the first being that his adopted parents were lovely and completely normal people. They would have given Paul the World, they loved him so much. This means that he had a normal upbringing – he went to good schools, was shown plenty of love, ate well, lived in an affluent neighborhood, etc… In no way were his parents trashy or hillbillies. We live in Queens, for chrissake, there is no acceptable reason for anyone to be a redneck. And yet, for some reason, Paul always kind-of was. He liked pickup trucks and NASCAR. He was a little trashy in the type of behavior he thought was acceptable. He would spit on floors, he would spend money like he was ghetto-rich, he would create momentous lies for attention, and oftentimes he was just plain ignorant. I mean this is the kid that slept with his cousin in high school and rationalized it because he was adopted so it doesn’t count! He pretended to have a child with a random stranger and showed us a picture of a “frame baby” as proof and could not understand why we didn’t believe him… Anyway fast forward a few years out of high school and Paul had decided to look for his real family. I do not think it was because he loved his adopted parents less, but more because he was looking to fill some void in his life and hoped that this would be it. He knew what his birth name was before he was given away so he used Facebook and found his entire family. I was genuinely happy for him, because I knew this was something he waited a lifetime for. He seemed so happy that he had met them and he began showing off pictures and telling stories as he flew and drove around the country to visit them. They were absolute, 100% white trash, but they were really happy to reconnect with Paul. From that moment on the epic Nature vs. Nurture battle was forever solved in both my and Daisy’s minds. Nature clearly wins.
I will never forget the summer evening that Daisy and I decided to call Paul and see what he was up. This night stands out among the others not because we did anything crazy, but because in the two hours that passed from the phone call to the meet-up Paul had developed an interesting trait. Paul had just come back from visiting the branch of his birth family that lived in Texas. He had spent almost a month there and wanted to tell us all the wonderful things that had happened to him while there. The only problem with him doing this was that he was attempting to tell us with a Texan accent that he did not have on the phone earlier in the evening. The result was him sounding like Boomhauer from King of the Hill.
While neither of us have any issue with people who do have accents, this particular one made for a ridiculous night. Within two minutes of getting in the car I confronted Paul about it as I laughed uncontrollably. He tried to reason that he developed an accent from spending so much time in Texas.
Me – “No Paul – that isn’t how it works. You grew up in Queens, you speak just like we do”
Daisy – “Paul, we literally just spoke to you two hours ago and you didn’t have an accent”
Paul – “Ya’ll mustnot’ve herd ovr the dang phone. This’s how I talk now” (Please read that as Boomhauer)
Me – “You sound like Boomhauer from King of the Hill. stop being ridiculous”
Paul – “I’m not, Ya’ll downt git it dangit.”
Me – (in a rough Brahman accent) – That’s mad retarded – pull the cah ovah so we can get sum booze”
Daisy- (Barely able to breathe from laughing) – Oh good we will all have fake accents now.
Hilarity ensued. We reference this night often as a testament to Paul’s ridiculous personality. Later in life he asked me how we knew his accent wasn’t authentic. “For some inexplicable reason, we are your best friends Paul – we know you better than you think. Also neither of us is brain-dead.” We were used to Paul’s high jinks, but we loved him anyway – that’s what friends do.
One thing Paul was always good at was getting girls way out of his league. For a long while throughout college he had two girlfriends, both of whom had gone to our high school – one our age and the other a freshman when we were graduating. This was typical for him. Aside from GF1 & GF2 he has a string of girls far too young for him ranging various ages of “high school”. At this vantage point in life I am convinced that Paul was allowed to watch Dazed and Confused at an impressionable age and grew up idolizing Wooderson.
Then I remember both of his girlfriends left him, for one reason or another, neither significant nor surprising at this point. He drowned himself in alcohol, rebounded with a lovely Guyanese immigrant he met at a sleaze bar, whom he ended up marrying four months later in what we like to call a green-card wedding. I remember sitting in a shitty local bar with him and trying to talk him out of this emotionally charged decision, that was on his 21st birthday. He said he did this because “he loved her” which I believe may be true, but her reasons were not as pure and he actually called me and Daisy from his honeymoon and offered to fly us across the country so he didn’t have to spend his honeymoon alone. His wife, whom we shall refer to as Jezzabelle, had told him she didn’t want to go and was still confused about the situation with her ex and needed time to think. Mind you the ink of their marriage certificate was barely dry and she was having doubts. This undermined the validity of their marriage as far as I was concerned, but still Paul tried to make it work with her. He offered to have her daughter brought to the US and sponsor her citizenship. These promises caused a brief run of renew “love” on her part, which yet again clued me in to what this marriage was actually about for her.
As anyone who has ever been in a mismatched relationship will tell you – there are some things you just can’t make work out. Furthermore there are some things that should never have been allowed to get off the ground, this marriage was definitely one of those things. Paul was not living with his wife and quickly reverted to his old polygamous ways. If you knew him it was easy to see that he was not content with life, and was still trying to find out who he was. That was during the lost year. He would buy rounds of strong drinks, spend nights blacked out and stay in hotel rooms with friends or lovers. Occasionally he would bring his wife up in conversation, how she may have come over or how they decided to buy a house, or even that they were getting a divorce. However conversations about her were far and few between and we all learned quickly not to bring it up. His behavior was a cry for help in a life that was moving to fast for him to grab the reigns. However, his behavior was not so outside character that I would have been genuinely worried. So I was there, I listened when he needed me to, I scolded him when it was appropriate to do so, but mostly I was just there – a constant in his life. That was what he needed, he even acted well out of character and told me so in the most alarming conversation I ever had with him. He opened up about a million things, he cried, discussed women, family, his behavior, his drinking problem and he told me all the things and people he genuinely appreciated in his life. I listened offered constructive criticism or, at times, just criticism. I really did try and help, I really did love him. He was one of my oldest friends and I knew his potential so where most pep talkers would say, “Get your shit together” ; Well let’s just say I was more blunt —
“Stop playing games with your relationships. Stop pushing people away by hurting them because YOU are scared.”
“Figure out exactly what it is you want out of life and work for it”
“Nobody is going to put up with you drinking everyday and sleeping around”
“Stop blaming Daisy for your problems, stop blaming being adopted for your problems, stop blaming your sham of a marriage for your problems – the only person who can make your life better is you so stop waiting for someone else to do it”
“Realize who your real friends are, Paul, because if you don’t maybe they won’t be around the next time you need them”
The last one is one of the many things that have been stuck in my head for months. I have found myself playing this conversation, among others, on repeat in my head.
In August of our epic year, Paul and I got into a fight. Again I accused Paul of ruining everything good that happened in his life. He had just started a new relationship and was already screwing around. I spoke my piece, and told him directly that the day would come where Daisy and I wouldn’t be there to pick him up and put him back together. He said he didn’t need us – many accusations were exchanged. We didn’t speak for three years. Life moved on for both of us. The fight had caused a major rift not just between me and Paul but also between him and Tink and him and Daisy. As we moved forward with life everyone was happy. We grew up, things fell into place. Paul bought a house, had a baby. I went through all of my rocky years with Nick and got engaged. Daisy pursued her education and has a fulfilling relationship. Tink is actively pursuing her dreams and living life to the fullest.
Daisy and Tink are my two best friends and I would not have them in my life if it were not for Paul. I will be eternally grateful for that. I feel like I learned so much from my friendship with Paul, he made a huge impression on all of our lives. I can’t remember a time that Daisy and I have gotten together and his name didn’t come up at least once.
On January 26 Paul was on his way home from work and was in a terrible car accident. He died in the hospital. I will never forget the text message I received from Tink that night. I suppressed my own emotions and called anyone I could think of who would want to know. I organized because I could not face the reality of what was happening. I did not cry until I was standing at his wake and his wife hugged me. His widow comforted me and told me how Paul loved us said she knew she’d see us again but never thought it would be like this. And I looked upon his body and it was real. I cried and prayed and ran out of the room, it was just too much for me.
The weekend this happened Nick and I were moving and I found my yearbook. There on the first page is my yearbook note from Paul and I lost it. I sat on the floor of my new apartment lost in memory crying uncontrollably. And Nick just sat there holding me, I apologized to him because I felt ridiculous – it was just a year book. He understood though. In many ways I regret fighting with Paul almost everyday, but other times I think that fight and distance was what he needed to grow up. Either way I wish I had actively tried to repair our friendship. It makes me think of each argument in life. Nothing is worth losing the people you love and never being able to say goodbye. Nothing.