April 5, 2007

This is a long post.

I had an odd dream last night about a friend of mine that I knew over 30 years ago. He has appeared in my dreams before, the last time several years ago. I have written about him before, but I don’t believe I have here.

Roy was one of my best friends. I met him in 4th grade when he was the new kid in class, from New Jersey. He visited my house more than any other friend I had in the next 6 years or so.

Background: Roy constantly shuffled between living with his mother in New Jersey, his father and grandmother in Ohio, and another grandmother in North Carolina. I think this was because of the custody arrangements between his parents, but I’m not sure. All I know is that one day he would be gone, and his cousin, who also went to school with us, would say he’d gone to North Carolina, or I would call his house and his grandmother would say, oh, he went to New Jersey.

His coming and going became his own a few years later when he began to run away. His grandmother called my house several times asking if I’d seen him or knew where he was. But Roy never told me or anyone else where he was going, or when. He just simply wasn’t around one day, and except for one instance when he ran away to California, it wasn’t like he was running away. He simply left to see his mother, or his father, or grandmother. When he ran off to California he called his grandmother several weeks later, and she wired him money to return.

When Roy was away from Ohio, before he began leaving without notice that is, we would sometimes write letters back and forth. Roy’s were always filled with a great deal of cursing and even more exclamation points. He printed almost all the time with a strong, bold print, and almost every sentence ended with an exclamation point. One time my mother read one of his letters without asking me. “I didn’t think Roy was that way,” she said, angry at the cursing. In fact, Roy was very much “that way.” He was an expert at colorful phrasing and I learned a lot from him. He taught me to smoke, too, though that was one of the view vices I declined to make a habit.

One spring, he showed up at my house out of the blue, back from North Carolina. He’d stopped bothering with school by then. He showed me scars on his wrists. He’d cut himself with a butcher knife, he said, in his grandmother’s attic in North Carolina. He’d been staying with her for some time, but she was sick with cancer, and had died in the hospital a few days before. “I caught the blood in a bowl and put my fingers in it,” he said, lifting his fingers and gazing upward. He wiggled his fingers and said, “And I let it drip back into the bowl from my fingers.” He’d hidden the scars with a large watch band.

That was when I knew for sure that things weren’t right with Roy. But he was my friend, and I have believed for some time that I his only friend.

A few months later I got a call from Roy’s grandmother, asking if I’d seen him or might know where he was. I did not, and told her that I’d dropped him off at her house a two days ago. We’d gone to see part of a high school baseball game and then stopped for a milk shake.

“See you later,” I had said when I dropped him off. “Yep,” he had said, “I’ll call you.” He shut the door, and walked up the driveway as I drove away. This is what I remember: looking in the rear view mirror as he walked away.

She sounded resigned. “Well, he probably ran off again without telling anyone.”

A day later, the mailman’s wife called my mother. I could see my mother on the hallway phone from my room as I lay on my stomach, reading a book. My mother called my name. I looked at her, and saw her expression. I sat up. Wide-eyed and holding her hand over the phone receiver, she said, “Honey, Roy’s dead!”

I think I sat there a moment, but I do know that I lay back and stared blankly at the pages of my book for several minutes. I am surprised now by my lack of surprise then.

I sometimes wonder if Roy had walked directly up the driveway from where I dropped him off to the shed where they found him. The shed was behind the small mobile home he shared with his grandmother, father, and older brother. Roy had filled a black plastic trash bag with insecticide, and tied the bag around his head. At some point, he fell and hit his head on the work bench. He had been missing for three days.

I probably asked who found him at the time, but I don’t remember who it was now. On the dark, rainy spring evening of his funeral, I saw Roy’s mother for the first time. She had straw colored hair, like his.

Roy’s grandmother introduced me to people as “Roy’s best friend, his very best friend.” Looking at Roy’s rigid face, bruised from the fall, she also said, “Doesn’t he look good? Doesn’t he look natural?”

No, I thought, he looks dead. All I could think of then was that if I were his best friend, why couldn’t he tell me what was wrong?

Dream: Roy arrives in a car, as he has in other dreams. It’s summer, as it almost always was then. He’s been gone a long time and we laugh seeing one another. I’m surprised and glad to see him. I slide in to the front seat. I always drove, and the last time, the last dream years and years ago, I was driving then too. But Roy is driving this time though he’d never gotten his license. “I put in 10 weeks of driving to do this,” he tells me proudly.

We drive along back roads, having dream conversation — meaningless, most of the time. Dreams are like that. We look at the newer, fancier houses that have popped up in the area since his last visit, and comment on how people can afford such beasts. We stop somewhere — I don’t know why or where — it’s a dream.

Then I’m jumping into the back seat and he’s driving again, my chauffeur talking to me in the rear view mirror. I wonder why I’m in the back seat. All I can see is his eyes, a dark but fierce hazel. “I have something for you,” he says, and reaches into his back pocket and hands me a fist full of paper over the seat. The handful of paper is crinkled and wadded up, tissue like except for one or two pieces folded into tiny, tight squares, like kids do when they’re passing notes in school.

“What are these?” I ask, opening them one by one and smoothing them on my knee. Some of the pieces are newspaper clippings. Editorials about George Bush? Most of it doesn’t make sense at all, and some of it I can’t read. But some of it is written in Roy’s bold, exclamation point ridden hand, snippets of conversation he’s apparently written down.

One of them is a conversation with someone who has my name, but it’s not a conversation I remember having. In dream logic, I instinctively know it’s someone else with my name, but not me.

“Who is Khozyain?” I finally ask.

“Just a friend,” Roy replies. “Nobody you know.”

For some reason the way he says “just a friend” says more than the words. Oddly, I wonder about he and this other Khozyain’s friendship.

“Where to now?” Roy asks, looking at me in the mirror.

I look at my watch. It’s almost six PM, time for dinner at my mother’s house. “I guess we should be getting home,” I say.

Suddenly I am in the front seat too. I look at Roy and he lowers his head. No, it’s more of a slump, a physical sigh, his hands still on the steering wheel. “Do we have to?” he asks almost petulantly.

“We can stop at the school first,” I say. “We can walk around a bit.” It’s where we went to school, and the midway point between our houses. We met there often.

He lifts his head and nods, seemingly relieved, and continues driving. But something is weighing on him, I can tell. He has something on his mind and he doesn’t want to take me home before he tells me.

Maybe he’ll tell me this time, I think.

But then I begin to lose the dream to wakefulness, and my last glimpse of Roy, this time, is him sitting beside me, driving and looking into the distance.


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