Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Open Letter to an Old Friend

Dear Bob V. (a pseudonym),

It's been a long, long time. I'm fairly sure the last time I saw you was at my 23rd birthday party at The Brickskellar. You were the last person to leave and you made a point of telling me what a bright future you thought I had. Hearing that from you meant an enormous amount to me then and still means a lot to me now.

Brickskellar closed at the end of last year, today is my 29th birthday and my future, like everybody else's, gets darker and brighter as the days wax and wane. Time goes by, and memory often counterfeits what one would like to remember.

In many ways the college days feel like an eon ago, but in some ways I still feel like I'm living them. My memories of everyone I knew well at AU have not a whit grown dim -- not yet at least. And neither have my memories of the things we all did: The 5-in-the-morning conversations, the boozy days and cigarette-soaked nights; the out-of-our-league girls we all longed for and the kids barely nerdier than us about whom we talked smack so ruthlessly, the dreams we all had for our futures and the deep fears we had of what we might become. You and I may not have been the very closest of friends, but you and I knew each other quite well, and I know that you have as many of these memories as I do -- sometimes involving one another. I hope you value these memories as I always have.

Everyone under the age of 35 collects mentors the way old people collect stamps. We all need models for how to behave, and even if our mentors sometimes point us in the wrong direction, at least they give us the direction we need and filter out the confusion which all of us feel when we first realize the difficulties with which life will continually present us.

You always seemed to collect mentees -- after you graduated I can't deny that I did exactly the same thing, but you collected far more and with far greater devotion than I ever did. In your time at AU, you had a whole basket full of us. Insecure, bookish younger kids (usually guys but not always) who flocked to you because the generosity of your mind extended to having an opinion about every subject. Even if we knew we disagreed with you, even if some of your opinions seemed totally bereft of nuance, there is something incredibly comforting about thinking that the world can be understood through a single prism. So long as all the facts can be framed through a single frame, the world seems less confusing and less dangerous.

And on top of all that, there were two simple facts. The first was that you were a genius, with a force of personality to match. You would extol ideas about modern media that seemed either visionary or lunacy in 2002, and in 2011 most of them are considered conventional wisdom. Anyone who came across you could not come away without your having made an enormous impression, whether positive or negative never mattered. Everyone who met you knew, consciously or unconsciously, that all you had to do to bend the world to your vision of it was to be yourself.

The second reason was still simpler: I liked you. Even before we met, I knew we'd get on when I heard the story about you spitting in the face of Jack A.(another pseudonym) after he said that America had brought 9/11 on itself. Even if I probably agreed with what he said at that time in my life, the simple fact of someone with the guts to do something like that meant that I knew I could not possibly lack for entertainment by being around you.

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