We took pills, Mike and me. Lots of them. Mike took Darvon, an opioid. He found a giant plastic bottle in his Grandmother’s linen closet, one thousand pills. She used to be a nurse. He brought them back to college, took them by the fistful.
I took speeders. Caffeine pills. I had big plastic bottles, as well. Several. I got them over-the-counter from a pharmacy. After dinner, I gobbled down an overdose of caffeine; I used it to fuel my drinking. You can’t pass out wired on caffeine. You simply blackout and keep on drinking. Throughout the night, I broke open capsules and snorted the powder. I learned about my drunken exploits from friends the next day.
After four months, Mike quit the Darvon. Standing in the shower, he vomited blood. We were stupid, but not idiots. He jumped on the speeder wagon. Happy to join me while drinking to excess.
Last night on Facebook, I saw a post: “Pray for Mike.” I messaged my friend Alex and asked what’s up. Mike was en route to a university hospital. He needs a lung transplant. Alex says it’s Pulmonary Fibrosis, a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. It’s 100% fatal, unless, I suppose, you can get new lungs. My immediate reaction: You dumb shit, you killed yourself with cigarettes.
Mike and I lost touch as college friends often do. But not immediately, we shared a house after graduation. We got jobs at the same company. Our method of partying didn’t change. Drinking hard long after we should have been unconscious. Our exploits were legendary and embarrassing. We graffitied the inside of our house with spray paint. We shot out our own windows with slingshots. I mummy-wrapped my head with duct tape. Et cetera.
But slowly, over time, I distanced myself. I developed adult interests. I started to exercise, people at work began to notice my achievements, I found a girlfriend who didn’t go to school with us. I’m sure Mike had similar experiences, growth. We grew apart.
Around thirty years ago, leaving Mike’s house after a get-together with college friends, my girlfriend commented that I didn’t have a single conversation with Mike all night. I noticed this too, but I didn’t have an answer for her. I simply didn’t want to talk with him.
I’ve seen Mike three or four times since that night. I’ve heard about him though. In 2011, through Alex I learned Mike had a heart attack. I thought back to his propensity to eat gas station hot dogs for lunch. His two pack-a-day cigarette addiction. His M.O. of drinking a twenty-ounce gin and tonic after work, falling asleep while watching M*A*S*H reruns, and waking up at eleven to eat mac and cheese and drink a beer. Just like now, I knew exactly why he had a heart attack. He did it to himself.
Not long ago, I analyzed my aversion to spending time with Mike. I have other friends from that period who I avoid as well. I’m sure they’re perfectly nice people, but I don’t want to talk to them. They make me remember the person I used to be.
Today while running, I thought about my assumption that cigarettes ruined Mike’s lungs, that hot dogs and booze ruined his heart, and I thought: What do I know? People who lost touch with me thirty-five years ago would think the same thing. When something bad happens to me, a car crash, some other sort of accident, everyone will nod. I was a Drunk (notice the capital D). I’m sure when people from Lynchburg College circa 1984 gather to reminisce they say: Remember Jeff Cann? God what a fuck up.
Years ago, I decided that God or aliens put Earth on a course to evolve life, and then they walked away. I don’t believe there’s a higher power to intervene on my or anyone else’s behalf, so I don’t pray. In situations like this, I invoke the energy of the universe, which I’m sure is totally useless. But most of you pray. So please pray for Mike. He needs it.