Staring Down the Barrel of Hindsight
“The older I have gotten the less I know.”
I have heard this sentence uttered a thousand times in my life and never before has it seemed so poignant as it does now.
I am 36, engaged and poor. I live in relative anonymity in the largest city in America pursuing a goal that has an estimated success rate of .0001%. It’s odd how in this time in my life I think of my childhood more than ever — especially odd considering how much of my past I don’t think about whatsoever.
The reason that I choose not to dwell on my past was because it was, as a lot of people will admit to, a huge series of awkward mistakes. I could never really find myself, or be comfortable in my own skin and never learned until I was much older what the real value in life was.
The value of my life did not come from conformity. As an only child who grew up too fast and was more sensitive than I cared to admit all I wanted was acceptance from my peers.
I did a lot to gain that.
I am happy to say I never attained it.
I remember in third grade some of my closest friends were Chad Beach, Joe Rodriguez, Phil Lagger, Andy Dorr and a wacky kid named David Biglow. Joe, Chad I used to run around with in school because we didn’t live close by one another. Phil and David were my pals because they lived across the ravine from my house that was on the way to school.
Phil was always the silly, yet definitively more studious kid I knew. He lived next door to David and they never really seemed to associate with one another too often. Phil’s parents seemed to be pretty successful by South Toledo standards (meaning they were still married) but David’s family was way different.
David’s family consisted of just his dad and about 30 random cats. It was rumored that David’s dad sold drugs to the Hell’s Angels – and that’s why we weren’t allowed in his house – but no one could ever validate that. What I did know about David was that he was about the smartest kid in class despite being the most unstable. If Phil was the smart, goal driven good kid then David was the mad hatter of elementary school who would light smoke bombs and listen to Metallica at age 10 before we even knew what a Metallica was.
My goofy ass was sandwiched somewhere in the middle.
David and I liked each other because we felt eerily similar. David would admit that his father had a drug habit (much like mine) but the difference was that his father was his sole care taker and mine was out of the picture. I lucked out with a really good mom. David didn’t fare so well.
We used to do all sorts of crazy kid things growing up: we lit gasoline fires, shot bee-bee guns and pranked our neighbors. One time I accidentally hit Phil in the eyebrow playing GI Joe in the ravine and he had to get stitches. I don’t know that his mom ever forgave me. David and I would sometimes steal porn. In fact, the very first issue of Club International I ever saw was one David lifted from a convenience mart on the way home from summer school in the 7th grade.
Me and this kid had a kinship.
But time passed. David got into some serious troubles (mainly with cops) and I was looking more and more for social acceptance (even though I was occasionally arrested too). Instead of getting into art, drama, writing or theater which I really enjoyed, I instead wanted to play sports 1) because they’re fun and 2) because kids with friends who didn’t start fires played them. I wanted to belong.
David and I always stayed in touch but things started to shift when we hit 8th grade and high school. I started to be a sycophant wannabe cool kid and hung around (and not with) a lot of those cool guys. I wanted to be seen as “cool” even if it meant not really being cool. It was pretty stupid.
I never really knew what the difference was until David started to hang around a really cute girl named Lisa Eureste. David always did his own thing and developed his own mystique for doing so. Girls started to take notice.
Instead of doing my own thing I just tried to assimilate more and more into a crew of people who, quite frankly, didn’t really care that I was around. Maybe they would have had I been my own person but I never developed an identity of my own.
One summer David went away. No one really knew where until one day he showed up at my door. He had been arrested and was in prison for our entire freshman year. He looked bigger, buffer and a little more level headed.
At least then.
He had told me about how he had already taken his GED in jail, passed it and was working on college credits for a degree in Chemistry. He was bettering himself in prison while I was trying to ram my football helmet into someone else for some transitory approval which I never got.
I used to see him often during my first two years of high school. Just randomly though.
David wore a shirt around the South End that read “Fuck Racism”. He shaved all of his hair except a small tuft on the front which he dyed pink. I remember this well because this was on the police blotter when he stole a van and was chased down by the cops in the Southwyck Mall parking lot. By the times the cops caught him they had shot out the tires and he was driving on the rims.
My parents did one of the best things they could do for me and moved out of South Toledo. Joe Rodriguez was still doing okay, Phil was an all-star at basketball and in the classroom, Chad and I weren’t friends anymore as he started to go down an even darker path and I was just a still goofy idiot. One that was prone to laziness and lemming-like behavior.
As time passed, I talked with David so infrequently that I had no clue as to what he was up to.
One of my last memories of David was when he and an associate of mine named Justin had a disagreement over a girl. I sided with Justin. Not because Justin was right but because Justin was cool. And I wanted to be cool.
I don’t even remember the details of it. All I remembered was that I had forsaken my own friend to be cool and it was one of the dumbest things a kid can do. My friend Todd Everingham pointed it out to me.
I hadn’t talked to David in a really long time. I hadn’t really spoken with anyone from my old stomping grounds as I now lived in the suburbs and the false friendships I built had fallen by the wayside. I randomly called Lisa Eureste just to say “hi”. When she answered the phone I knew immediately something was wrong.
David and another kid named Rick had stolen Rick’s girlfriends car. Rick’s father was a cop and they also stole his service revolver and decided to head to Florida for a week. They left a note for whomever to find.
On their way they ran out of money in Virginia. David was syphoning gas from another car when a cop spotted him. He and Rick decided to flee the scene and lead the cops on a chase.
During the chase, David stuck his torso out of the passenger window and fired shots at the cops using the stolen service revolver. They ran out of gas and drove down a set of railroad tracks where the cops circled the vehicle about 20 yards away.
That’s when David and Rick used the remaining bullets to shoot themselves in the head.
They were just teenagers.
I hung up the phone. I was astonished. Truth be told, David was the kid I was maybe the most honest with. He knew when I was in trouble as a kid and he knew when I was a fraud as a teenager. He still never really judged me. I had judged him.
I don’t feel responsible for anything that ever happened to David. I miss the guy. He was my friend. But he was also his own person with his own, sad agenda for his life.
I do, however, think that maybe had I been more honest with everyone in my life, myself especially, at that time then perchance I would have come to the conclusions earlier in life that I value now. Maybe instead of shunning David in favor of the cool kid, I could’ve stuck by my friend and been a more genuine person at an earlier age.
That falsity followed me around for a long time.
At the end of the day trying to be the cool kid meant that I never was.