I didn’t actually expect the second installment of my “Former Friends” series to happen so soon, but here we are. This particular installment is inspired by I lyric I have heard wrong for years. In the song Given to Fly off of the album Yield, there is a line in the first verse that goes “he made it to the ocean, had a smoke in a tree.” Since the first time I heard this song, and pretty much every time after that, I heard the line as “…had a smoke and a tea.” I am literally learning about this today, but that’s fine. It doesn’t significantly change the meaning of the song, but it does ruin my connection to it. You see, the idea of going to the ocean, and then just chilling with a cigarette and a glass of tea has always reminded me of my friend Jeremy.
As a freshmen going in to Ashland University, I was supposed to be there a few days before returning students. This was some form of freshmen orientation. Forced to be there together, I suppose part of the hope was that we would bond before the upperclassmen got there and divided us into our appropriate cliques and tribes. The highlight of this weekend was the festivities on the quad on Saturday. I don’t remember a lot of the activities and events they had, but I do remember the giant bounce house volleyball game they had. Feeling out of my comfort zone, with no familiar faces to hide behind, I could have gone with my gut instincts and stayed in my room listening to music and writing about comic book characters that would never have stories and never be drawn. Instead, I took a chance, left my comfort zone, and decided to play some volleyball. I liked volleyball. I was tall, so everyone always wanted me on their team. If you’re tall, you don’t have to be good at recreational volleyball, you just have to stand in the front court and jump at the right time. I could do that. The teams were completely random, again in an effort to force us to mingle. I ended up with five strangers facing off against six other strangers. I started my rotation in the middle of the back court, to my right a girl with a high ponytail who obviously came to win, to my left was a guy who was having a bit of trouble staying vertical and a lot of trouble seeing the ball. I asked him if he was okay, and he told me that he didn’t want to wear his glasses in here because he didn’t want to break them, and he was pretty much blind without them. He tried his best, but the other team sensed his weakness and went after it. I did my best to assist him, but we were eventually defeated and had to make way for the next group of challengers. He wandered off somewhere else, as did I. I didn’t know then, but I had just met one of the most important people in my life.
I ran into him again when classes started up the following Monday. He was in both of my art classes. I now new his name was Jeremy. Now, even within a group, like a group of art students, sub-groups still develop. My particular sub-group didn’t form because of common interests (of which we had many, we just didn’t know it) or because of similar backgrounds (which we did not have). It was born of procrastination. Over the first couple months, it was the same group of people pulling all-nighters in the studio trying to finish projects, and we bonded because of it. The group of us became closer over time, as we all kept sharing late nights trying to finish sketchbooks and studio projects. As we got to talking, we found our common interests. As time went on, the seven of us, referred to collectively (by us and no one else) as “the circle,” were inseparable. We had our differences, but we leaned on each other more than we fought. There are a lot of stories of the bunch of us and the time we spent that semester (almost none of those stories involve us doing classwork, we were enablers of each others procrastination). As the fall semester was drawing to a close, changes were on the horizon. Jeremy had a double room all to himself for the whole semester, but I so deeply hated my roommate situation that I wanted out. I asked for a change of room assignment to his room, and was granted it for spring semester. I had to fight to be “accepted back” for the semester, but that’s another story.
Spring semester came, and our group of seven had dwindled to five. Two of us had figured out that college was not the place for us. I moved in with Jeremy, and our room became the hang out haven. We original christened it “the Matchbox” and called ourselves “the matches” (partially due to the fact that we were always in there together and we saw ourselves as very similar, partly because we had all become smokers), but the name never stuck beyond being written on the white board of our room. It was unofficially christened “the Den of Slack,” and that name stuck. After losing comrades, and after almost not coming back myself due to low grades, I really tried to apply myself that semester. The effort lasted about a month. Eventually, both Jeremy and I just resigned to hanging out in our room or at one of the campus computer labs for hours. I mean, we had an old 386 computer, a Playstation and a Sega Genesis, why should we leave? Overall, college and classes were just not for me, but hanging out with Jeremy and playing King’s Field (follow the right wall) or King’s Field II or reading comics or me writing and him drawing while listening to KMFDM or Type O Negative was way better than having my art teachers tell me I was cut out for a career at Burger King. So that’s what we did. There are far more stories of our adventures in the spring semester that are just waiting for the right post at a later date. After pretty much failing all of our classes, both Jeremy and I left Ashland after two semesters. He went home to Western Ohio, I returned to Upstate New York.
After returning home, I tried to stay in contact with everyone, but ended up just staying in contact with three of the original seven. One of them was Jeremy. We would talk on the phone, only after 10pm and only for twenty minutes at a time. Long distance charges were expensive, but if you used a code before you called, the first twenty minutes were only $0.99. Yeah, it was the dark ages compared to today. Neither of us had email since leaving school. I mean, I had a Hotmail account, but no way to check it, since I didn’t have a computer. As much as I could, I would try to visit my friends in Ohio. This mostly revolved around visits to see either Heather or Jeremy or, if we could plan it, both.
On one occasion, I was able to stay with Jeremy at his parents’ house in Sydney, Ohio. I didn’t have a car, so I was picked up from New York by Julie (one of the seven), handed off to Heather (one of the seven) and another friend from Ashland, John. They got me as far as Ashland. From there, Heather and I made the trek to Sydney. When we got there, we spent the evening hanging out with Jeremy and his youngest brother Peter on their front porch, telling old stories and new stories with so many tangents and sidebars that the average listener would have gotten dizzy. We hung out for a couple more days, I watched Jeremy try to play the Cool Spot Playstation game, and tried to help Peter play Beyond the Beyond (if we can only earn $20000, we can buy that boat, even if every battle only earns us like $30, we can do it). The last night there, we rented three movies: the cult favorite Tank Girl, The Prophecy with Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortenson playing the best Lucifer I have ever seen, and the early Adam Sandler movie Going Overboard. The first two movies were, of course, awesome. The last movie helped coin a phrase that Jeremy and I used to describe awful movies for years after. I mean, it was terrible. It had a young and not-very-funny Adam Sandler and the dude who played Rocky’s father-in-law playing a farcical version of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. At a certain point, I looked at Jeremy and said, “This movie is so bad I just keep hoping for an extended scene of gratuitous nudity to keep me interested.” Jeremy responded with “not even boobs can save this movie,” and we used that as our standard for bad movies ever since.
Eventually, Jeremy bought a car. It was right around the time I bought my first computer. We laughed about the fact that we spent about the same amount of money on our purchases (almost $4000). The first thing he wanted to do was take a road trip with it. So he and his sort-of girlfriend Monica (they weren’t really dating, but they were fooling around, even though she was a self-proclaimed lesbian) came up to visit me. Jeremy and I fell into old habits. He just hung out in my room, taking turns on the computer, reading comic books and listening to Ani DiFranco’s Living in Clip over and over again. Monica was less than thrilled, so we went to the mall a couple of times just to “get out and do stuff.”
Eventually, Jeremy moved out of his parents’ house (now in Anna, OH). He had put together a bunch of money from working a temp job at a factory that made the fruit they put in yogurt. I remember the time he spent all night on the machine that slices strawberries (according to him, he didn’t want to see a vagina for a long time after that). He went up to Bowling Green for a party at a friend of a friend’s apartment there, and ended up living in a corner of her living room for a couple of months. He got a job up there, and put together a little more money. His expenses at the time were gas, food and cigarettes, so it wasn’t too hard. One day he called me up with a proposal. He had enough money to get his own apartment, but it would be easier if he had someone to share the rent with. I had talked about getting out of my parents house and moving to Ohio to be with my friends again, so why don’t I move out to Bowling Green and we could be roommates again. So I did. I saved some money, crammed all of my belongings into a U-Haul, and moved to Bowling Green.
Once again, there are many tales of the adventures of Jeremy and I in Bowling Green, but I’ll leave them for some more appropriate posts. Otherwise, this would stretch on for pages and pages. Better to spread out the inanity. Jeremy lived together, just the two of us, for a year. We both worked at Toledo Mold and Dye, a local factory that made plastic duct work for cars. Life was pretty good. We didn’t have a lot of money, and we spent what we had on comics, music, the occasional video game and drinks at Goth Night. Somewhere, there exists a comic strip that perfectly sums up our life in Bowling Green. Jeremy drew it one night when we were trying to decide what to do, and it’s a comic strip about the two of us trying to decide what to do. I wish I had it, it would be framed and prominently displayed. Jeremy, unlike me, was an amazing artist. Jeremy and I spent that year playing video games, working, going out with friends sometimes and being generally unlucky at love. We were both bad at picking up girls, and we were both bad at being wingmen.
That changed at the beginning of our second year in Bowling Green, when Heather came back into my life. She still lived at home on the other side of the state, and still had two jobs over there, so she would commute back and forth, driving out Wednesday night after work and driving home Sunday morning. I had been fired from TMD, and eventually got a job at the UPS hub in Toledo. Jeremy quit TMD soon after and joined me at UPS. It worked out, since we only had the one car (his red Chevy Corsica named “Chilly Down” after the creatures in the movie Labyrinth). Heather, on her way to pick me up for Thanksgiving, got into an accident on an icy road near Norwalk, Ohio. When Jeremy and I went to see her at the hospital, an ultimatum was given. Either she and I have to break up, or she has to move in with us. Over time, more people moved in to our little two bedroom apartment. Towards the end of our second year, there were nine of us living there.
Also during this time, Jeremy met a girl. Her name was Danielle. She was a local girl, born and raised in Bowling Green, that he had struck up a conversation with at Goth Night at Uptown. I was very happy with my rekindled relationship with Heather, and after all this time I wanted nothing more than for Jeremy to be happy, so when he decided to break it off with her over his own issues and uncertainty in himself, it was Heather and I who convinced him not to let her go, and to just see where it takes him. So I was now happy with Heather, and he was happier and happier with Danielle. Plans that we had made months before, before these women came into our lives, started falling by the wayside one by one. Our plan to move out to Seattle was nixed. Our plan to write and draw our own line of independent comics was moved to the side. We were in our early twenties and going nowhere, and none of these plans seemed to make any sense, especially not with these blossoming relationships. When we were desperate bachelors, making plans was easy since there really wasn’t anyone else to consider. Now, it seemed like the right thing to do was make slightly more mature decisions and see these relationships through. The only plan we had now was to hold on to these women for as long as they would have us.
The next plan that made sense came from Heather. She posited the question to us “You want to move to Columbus?” Both of us answered “Why?” to which she responded “Why not?” So the four of us, along with a fifth friend named Jeremiah, moved to Columbus.
Unfortunately, this is where the roads started to diverge for me and Jeremy. Both of us, after being single and sad for so long, were now dating and happy. Neither of us would do anything to jeopardize that. My girlfriend wanted to stay in Columbus, where there were options and opportunities and possibilities (as she and by extension I saw it). Danielle, who didn’t like concepts like “rent” and “bills” and “having a job,” wanted to move back to Bowling Green where there was stability and familiarity and comfort. I knew Jeremy was my friend, and in fact he was my best friend, but I never doubted that he would side with Danielle over me. It took me a long time to see it, but while I was spinning all of my grand plans of our epic comic books or our crazy adventures we could have on the west coast or the wild times we could have in Columbus, Jeremy really didn’t want that as much as he wanted the quiet life of a solid job and a family with children. I realized all of this a bit too late, and by the time I did the chasm between his goals and mine had already become to wide. The story of Jeremy and Danielle leaving is something I want to save for a later time. It was not a pleasant experience, and she wanted nothing to do with us after she moved out. Because of this, he could have nothing to do with us after they moved out. That part hurt most of all.
Jeremy and Danielle got married not long after that, and they had a daughter together. Heather and I stayed in Columbus. In what could be called fate or could just be happy circumstance, Jeremy’s younger brother Josh was living in Columbus, too. A little less than a year after losing Jeremy and Danielle, we got a call from Josh. Jeremy’s youngest brother, Peter, also ended up in Columbus. Both of them are the best friends I could ever ask for. But that doesn’t pale the time that Jeremy and I were thick as thieves.
It sounds trite, but I am the person I am today because of Jeremy. His friendship helped me to have confidence, it helped me to be a little crazy and impulsive sometimes and it helped me to dream. Jeremy brought out a more vibrant side of myself that I was always afraid to expose. It was easy with him, because Jeremy never cared what anybody thought, so he would do crazy shit all the time, and by comparison, anything I did would never seem as crazy. It allowed me to let a little bit of my own insanity and warped world view show. To me, Jeremy was kind, generous and loyal. He was supportive of everything I dreamt up, but would call me out on my bullshit if need be. Of all of the friends that I’ve parted ways with, Jeremy is one of the ones I miss the most. I have no bad memories of him.
I don’t have a lot of kind things to say about Danielle, but a lot of that is resentment. Jeremy and I were very close, as close as you can platonically be. We were close enough to have jokes about us being a couple thrown around every now and again. We shared our deepest secrets and darkest fears with one another. We shared victories. We shared adventures. We had history. But his future belonged to someone else, and to be fair, so did mine. But that doesn’t make it hurt less. The best thing I can say about her is that she makes him happy, and that’s all I actually care about.
I see him every now and again. I’m close friends with both of his brothers, it’s a little unavoidable that our paths would cross. It’s great to see him every time I do, but it’s not the same. He’s changed, and so have I, but not in the same way. But we always manage to laugh about the old times, and smile about the good times. And then we part for our separate worlds again.
P.S.- Oddly enough, the Pearl Jam song Jeremy never makes me think of Jeremy. I just thought that was worth mentioning.