Thursday, July 12, 2007

Crazy Redheaded Surfer Boy

When I was about 19 or 20, I took a summer writing class at a junior college. A blue-eyed guy in a wheelchair always sat in the back, looking fairly thoughtful and serious. He had a friend who would bring him to class, but when the class would go on a break, this guy would be pretty much stuck hanging out until the class got back. One night I asked him if he wanted a hand getting some coffee or something. He smiled, thanked me and said no, but said it would be nice if I sat and talked with him, so I did. I remember the movie A Room With a View was in theaters at the time, and this guy had seen it and loved it. "It's like watching a series of Impressionist paintings," he told me.

T. and I made plans to see the film together, and wound up seeing each other for the rest of the summer. I met his folks, learned how to drive his van, learned how to hang out with someone in a wheelchair. He told me about his injury (he'd broken his neck diving into the ocean as a teenager), introduced me to his sisters and his never-ending stream of friends, bought me flowers, made me a mix tape that opened with "I Love to Laugh" from Mary Poppins and segued into great stuff I'd never heard before. I wrote him a story using all his pet peeves about language, stopped by his house on my way home from work quite a lot, and stayed for dinner with his family. We went to a lot of movies, and I played with his long, red hair. The two of us talked and made out until four in the morning, which annoyed my mom to no end, as she'd told me not to "go up to see his etchings." (I had no idea what that meant at the time!) When summer ended, we went back to our regular lives -- he to his school, over 400 miles from home, and I to mine, only about a 40-minute drive. Although we'd really enjoyed our time that summer, it was hard to maintain contact and we fell out of touch, although he did send me a couple of letters, a telegram on my birthday, and an apology for the way things had ended so abruptly.

Years later, I flew to the Bay Area to visit another crazy boy and we swung by T.'s place. I remember we went out for a bite to eat (or was it coffee?), chatted a bit, then parted ways. It was awkward having a third party present, and so much had changed. Still years later, T. called to say he was back in my county for film school. He was living in a cottage across from the school, right in the historic section of town, and we hung out a bit that summer. He introduced me to the local restaurateurs, and I met his aide, a gruff veteran who acted like he'd kick your ass as soon as look at you, but who was secretly just a big teddy bear. I helped T. pack a bunch of things before he moved back to the Bay Area, listened to jazz with him (Cyrus Chestnut, I think it was), and played ball with his new assistance dog, a golden retriever named Shadow. He told me about the persimmon pickers who showed up every year to harvest fruit from the tree out back, and he presented me with a hard-to-find poster for my favorite movie ever (Local Hero).

Recently I happened to think of him, as I do sometimes, so I Googled him and discovered he'd recently had a piece published in the hometown paper a few days before. He hadn't put his name on his original submission, and some locals had written to the paper to identify the writer. Turns out he still lives in the Bay Area and works in the arts. No surprise there; he was always amazingly creative and positive and magnetic, and I've no doubt he's well-loved there.

I know I loved him while he was here.