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It was a forced friendship. True, Craig was an only child like me, but that was the only thing we had in common. I wasn’t averse to taking risks, but Craig was the most reckless person I’ve ever known. Why? What was he trying prove? And to whom?
His parents and mine had been friends since their teens. Mom had married a boyish Marine named Bill, and JoAnne a swaggering entrepreneur named Jack. We frequently attended barbeques at their home so Jack could show off his pool house. And so JoAnne could show off her Jack.
Cocktails flowed nonstop, as did stories. Jack loved to tell how, unsatisfied with conventional designs, he’d spit on the ground and told the pool company, “Make it like that!” And so they did. To please Jack, the pool acquired a defiant shape.
And so did his son. Jack didn’t brag about Craig’s schoolwork, he bragged about his wild side. Perhaps because he’d survived WWII, the man believed he was bullet-proof. And so did his son.
We did what Craig wanted. Always. When I was 11 and Craig 13, while our parents gamed and cocktailed, he insisted we play tag in the dark. “Run!” he shouted. I didn’t trust my footing, but I trusted Craig even less. I turned to look back, hit a rock and tumbled forward, swinging my head around again just as my knees hit the sidewalk and my face hit the edge of a steel wheel barrow. My knees were bruised and my mouth was bleeding. But most devastating of all, my dream of stardom had been dashed with my badly chipped front teeth. If that had been my worst experience with Craig, I’d be laughting about it now. But it wasn’t.
Half a year later, Craig suggested a game of chicken on a nearby railroad trestle. His dog was killed, and I developed a train phobia. But Craig’s sense of invincibility, I think, turned into something darker that day.
The year he got his license, his parents bought him a convertible. Multiple tickets and warnings later, on New Year’s Eve, Craig and a friend left a party saturated with alcohol. When the car flipped over they were going well over 100 miles-per-hour.
The phone rang early the next morning. Through the wall I heard Mom’s muffled, “JoAnne, what’s…?” and instantly knew what had happened. Some unconscious part of my brain had always expected this. The other boy had a permanent brain injury. Craig was killed instantly.
It was my second funeral. My dead grandfather had looked like a peaceful shell. But extensive reconstructive make-up, complete with a “serene smile,” had turned Craig into a cruel cartoon.
His parents, too, were altered forever. Their marriage did not survive. JoAnne eventually remarried, had children, and found a dented version of happiness. But I don’t think Jack ever did.
It seemed like a horror movie with a prolonged build-up to an unspeakably grotesque ending. I’d still had some sense of a God when Grandpa died. But by the time of Craig’s death, I’d abandoned any semblance of faith. I wasn’t sad about it, mind you. Still, optimistic atheist that I was, Craig’s death was a reminder that not all stories ended happily and that, worse than tragic, some seemed to end pointlessly. Still, mine was one of the happy ones. Right? So I chose not to think about it…
Until years later.