Saturday, October 07, 2006


Usually October is my favorite month of the year, but this October is going to be an exception. This morning my oldest friend Ron's father died. Ron and I have been friends since we were fifteen years old. We weren't immediately the best of friends. Actually, at first, we really didn't like each other at all. For a time he and his father lived on the road where I grew up and where my family still lives and during that time we'd ride the same bus home from school. I can still remember the first day we met. He was arguing with some kids in the bus a few seats back from mine and was using all kinds of false logic and misinformation to get at a point--it was a good point, I remember, but I didn't approve of the false logic and misinformation to get at it--so I turned around in my seat and corrected him in front of all the other kids. This, I realized much later, wasn't a really nice thing to do, as he was the new kid at school, but still, he wasn't doing himself any favors by starting arguments with his new classmates. For the time that he lived in our school's district, he often got into fights with other people, mostly the type that got him suspended from school. Somehow over that period of time, though, even after our first few bitchy encounters with each other, we became friends. I came to see that anytime he fought with people, he was usually actually defending some other kid from being bullied, or standing up for some other sort of injustice. He saw at a very early age the injustices certain people who stand on the outside of the circle of normal suffer. His father was a peculiar man. He was an ex-biker who had done prison time. After they lost the house on the street where I grew up, they moved to the other side of the lake that divided our town, into a rundown trailer that didn't really look livable. There was always rusting vehicles outside of it, and inside the meanest Doberman Pincher I'd ever met, until you were introduced to her as friend, and then she was nothing but a lover. This was all a very exotic world to me. It felt full of danger and like anything could happen at any minute, and often it did. It's why Ron understood a lot of things about the world at too young an age. His father, despite his dubious background, was one of the most generous and caring men I've ever known. Ron and I have been through a rollercoaster ride over the years in our relationship, sometimes inseparable, other times not speaking to one another for various reasons. Even at the times when Ron and I have had difficult times with each other, though, his father, whom everyone called "Crusher", his old biker nickname, was always there for me, not just his son. For a while Ron and I lived together in a falling down house that made the house in the Fight Club movie look posh. There came a time when I had to go my separate way from Ron and when I left that house, I moved into my first apartment and was going to live alone--without a friend or roommate or significant other--for the first time in my life. Even though Ron and I weren't getting along at the time, his father went out and found me all the furniture I needed for my living room and showed up on my doorstep with it. He said moving out on your own for the first time is hard enough, so he thought I might need some help fixing my place up. He had a bad knee and back, but he insisted on helping me carry everything up the three flights of stairs to my old attic apartment on the North Side of Youngstown anyway. After we got the couch and chairs and coffee table and bookshelves arranged, we sat down together and talked about ordinary things. And then eventually after a silence he told me, "You and Ron are having some problems right now, but you do know that this is temporary? You two love each other, and sometimes even people who love each other have problems, but because they really care about each other it won't be forever. You two just need some time to figure yourselves out." Sometimes it was odd for me to hear things like this from a scary looking ex-biker but by then I'd had years to not only just get used to Ron's dad but come to love him like a family member, so I nodded and agreed, but mostly didn't know what to say. It was a big problem we were having, and we had a long period of time ahead of us to live through on our own without really talking to each other much. Years, really. It wasn't until I got back from Japan that, after hearing from numerous people who knew us both how much Ron missed our friendship and regretted our problems in the past, that I decided to finally go and see him during this summer. After we'd talked and apologized to each other and caught up on each other's lives, he told me that his father had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and that he didn't have much time. We thought we'd have him till around Christmas, but he wasn't able to make it that long, and that's probably a good thing because he was in a lot of pain and wasn't able to eat and had lost so much weight it hurt to look at him. With my other oldest and best friend, Regina, I drove out to the hospital last night and we were able to say goodbye to him. He was still lucid, somehow. And then this morning he was gone. I've spent most of the day with Ron and his family and am home now for a shower and a rest before I go back to Ron's dad's place to help him pack up his father's life. Before I left for Japan, Regina's father died suddenly, and now, though it wasn't sudden, Ron's. I never would have guessed years ago that the more people you love in your life also makes you susceptible to so much loss. But the older I get, the clearer that fact of living becomes. Ron's going to take his father's ashes out to Farmington, a little farm town where he grew up, and spread them in the woods he hunted in as a boy, where he had his happiest memories. I'll miss him, but right now, even though there was a long period of time when I didn't see Crusher while I was in Japan, he still feels like he's right here with us. I'm glad more than anything that, before he left us, he was able to see me again and know that what he told me years ago was true.


Blogger Dave said...

Take care, Chris.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Greg van Eekhout said...

I'm really sorry, Chris. Please take care.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Thanks, guys. I appreciate it.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh chris. i am crying now. what a touching tribute. i'm so sorry i didn't realize this had happened, and even when you mentioned it the other day, it didn't register to me.

crusher and the whole relationship you described with him and ron sounds like something from a really interesting, cool book, the kind you always want your life to mirror. you are lucky to have these memories, and the eloquent voice to capture it.

-- brooke

2:03 AM  

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