The worst thing I ever did – and that would be an absurdly long list, if I had to write it all down (yeah, I have, but I won’t share it here) – still haunts me. And I’ve got myself to blame for that. To a certain extent, alcohol was to blame, sure, but I was the one who picked up the bottle that morning.
The best friend I ever had was a guy who stuck with me through absolutely everything, and he got sick with something called ”acute lymphoblastic leukemia” around the age of 35. It’s a cancer that eats you from the inside out, and it takes a whole lot of heart and grit to beat it, but he did. In the end, a bad bone marrow transplant – what they try to replace after the cancer’s destroyed everything you’ve got, but you somehow beat it anyway – did him in.
I was there when he was sick. I was there toward the end. But the day of his funeral – when I had a whole long speech about how much he loved playing darts and our Wednesday night rituals in college and the stupid movies we’d watch late at night when neither of us could sleep – I was drunk.
This guy, who was there for every terrible thing that ever happened to me, and never gave up on me, died in a bad way from a stupid mistake, far as I know, and there was a funeral. I was supposed to show up, I was supposed to tell people what a great guy he was (and he was). I was supposed to make people understand what a good person he was.
That morning, fearing facing that, I got drunk instead. And I didn’t show up.
Charles was terrible at Madden. I remember bringing both an X-box and a pizza into his hospital room – for some reason on the cardiac ward, no less, where the rest of the patients were obviously salivating for heavy cheese and pepperoni. He had no dietary restrictions – his doctors had thrown up their hands at that point, they couldn’t do anything more, and he could do as he wished.
He was always so bad at that stupid video game, and I felt bad for him, and I tried to let him win, but in those last days I’ll swear to you he’d have beat me anyway. I bet he would have, but I tried to lose anyway. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do, and it seems so stupid and small in hindsight, it was just a video game – but it was something that took him out of that cold little room with a view of a highway overpass for a while, and let him insult his best friend for a few hours in the way friends do.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Sometimes, you just have to get things out. But I’ll never forget that, after he died, I was supposed to give this whole big eulogy. And I got drunk instead. It’d be easy to say alcohol took that moment from me, but the truth is that I let alcohol take that moment from me.
His parents forgave me. His sister forgave me. They were absurdly kind and understanding. But as long as I live, I’ll know that I didn’t give that stupid speech in the last room I’d ever share with my best friend, and the only reason I wasn’t there was because I was too drunk to show up. It was a hard thing to do, but it’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to do for your friends, and I didn’t do it. It was easier to feel sorry for myself and drown the morning in Vodka, when I should have been there for him, his family, and his friends instead.
So, I’m sorry Charles. If I see you again, I’m not going to take it easy on you. I hope you win anyway.