August 15th, 2002


Morose and Maudlin in Midtown Manhattan

Well, that’s overstating it really. But after touring DC Comics with one of my oldest friends we drank a large amount of margaritas and, predictably, got onto the subject of our lost friend from high school, R. Neither of us have any idea what she’s up to now and we both miss her

R was my comic friend’s best friend and a good friend of mine even before I kinda fell in love with her. Surviving high school would have been much harder without her. R was a photographer with a keen sense of observation and the mean sense of apocalyptic humor of the kind that was necessary to survive the Reagan ‘’80s. She had a love of Hunter S. Thompson, iguanas and punk shows. She was also, like all of us, a fucked up kid.

But as I write that, I realize it’s not quite accurate either. She was a little more fucked up than most. But her stories aren’t mine to tell, even if almost no one out there knows who I’m talking about. I dug out some old letters from 1984 that she sent me from a forced family vacation in Texas. They’re full of pain and desperation, both personal and related to the times we were living in. But they also showed her ability to be incisive and funny in the face of adversity and her hope for a future that I had no idea I would know nothing about.

I realized later that she almost single-handedly formed my view of Texas with passages like:

"I think there’s some ultra-BAD business brewing for me in Lubbock, My absolute ding bat, dumb-shit aunt was talking to my Granny on the phone and mentioned in passing that I had been arrested and my camera had been beaten up. This is not good. You do not tell Granny these kinds of things. I’m sure she is praying for my soul right now. I can hardly wait for the late-night sessions I surely have in store when she comes creeping into my bedroom, bible under arm and cold-cream on face. YICK!!!!!!!!! Have mercy on my sinful soul."

Other passages detail family dynamics, mid-summer Texas heat, political arguments with strangers in the street, depressing visions of the coming Fascism, and responses to my previous letters. There’s nothing like old letters to humble your illusions that you were as smart as you remember yourself. But beyond the tortured teen angst and the truly embarrassing,* are the glimpses of talent and the sadness of the times.

The biggest feeling I came away from reading these however, was a reminder of how powerless being a teenager is. Not just with R, but with all my friends. Most of us were unprepared to understand people’s hints about serious trouble like anorexia and abuse. And if told outright, not having any real idea how to deal with the responsibility of knowing, say, a friend’s mother beat up on her but she was too scared for her younger sister to leave the house. Or know how to give real support to the person being occasionally molested by a family friend when their family members were too fucked up to notice..

And it’s a long time ago. I know what I would (probably) do now in similar situations. But the letters brought back the memories of being presenting with intense problems and being completely ill-prepared to know who to trust and how to help without fucking things up worse.

And while I still miss R, the letters reminded me of why some people have to get distance from their pasts.

Tomorrow: Rock Against Reagan/Racism – 1984. R and I get arrested.

* And the amusing, "Two bad Clash albums in a row! Is it time to give up on them?" written about the release of "Combat Rock". If only we’d know the unfathomably worse "Cut The Crap" was still to come.