A LIFE THAT COULD 
HAVE BEEN BETTER

   My best friend from high school and college died over a month ago and few people noticed. As far as I know, there was no memorial service, no funeral, no obituary, no nothing. How sad.
   He was 61 years old and basically drank himself to death.
   We had met in 9th grade at the finals of the 880 yard run in the San Francisco City Championships for Middle Schools. I went to Marina, he went to Herbert Hoover, and I finished a distant second to his record breaking performance.
   When we both went on to Lowell High School, he continued his record breaking runs, and I retired to concentrate on another sport, not relishing the idea of finishing second to him forever.
   He was an incredible athlete, with an iron will, right up to the time he discovered alcohol.
   He was tall, handsome, funny and smart. We were inseparable through high school, and were roommates our first two years at Cal, where he broke all the freshmen records while on a track scholarship.
   But something snapped in his junior year at Cal. He discovered his idol, University of Oregon track star Steve Prefontaine, enjoyed drinking beer, and lots of it. My best friend, who had never had a sip of alcohol until that point, while religiously running 20 miles a day, decided if it was good enough for "Pre," it was good enough for him.
   That was 40 years ago when he started drinking. He didn't stop until he died in his sleep over a month ago, his body a shadow (although a large one) of its former self.
   His drinking became as legendary as his athletic prowess. He apparently drank 10 ounces of Jack Daniel's, a bottle of vodka, and 10 beers, every single day, at least for the last few years and maybe long before that. Sounds inconceivable, but that's what I'm told by someone who should know.
    I believed it, because I watched, and did nothing about it. We were still friends through the decades, but not close. I'd see him once or twice a year, and he would always be drunk. I only remember talking about his drinking once, and I remember it well.
   "You know why I drink so much?" he said, slurring and bleary eyed one afternoon after I had mentioned his intake. When I showed interest, he gave me his answer, shouting the words. "BECAUSE IT'S FUN!"
   And then he laughed and laughed.
   I wished I'd have asked him how much fun it would be to die at 61.
   But I didn't, because he was only hurting himself, and it wasn't all that obvious. He was a so-called functioning alcoholic, teaching middle school history for 30 something years, presumably sober during the day and sober while commuting an hour each way from his home. He had no children and wasn't married. Alcohol was his wife and family. And friend.
   All of us who knew him guessed that he would die young, but we didn't know for sure. It was pure speculation, and speculation doesn't always warrant action. He never asked for help, and showed no signs of wanting any. He just functioned, alone with his drinks.
   Now he's paid the ultimate price for all those years of abusing his body with alcohol. My best friend from high school and college is dead, and so few people noticed. Why? Because bourbon and vodka dominated his life, leaving him little time or energy for anything else, including friends.
   On the other hand, he got it done. He worked, contributed to society in the noble role of teacher, owned a beautiful home, stayed out of trouble, and functioned as a solid citizen. By no means am I suggesting he wasted his life. He certainly had his glory years, and his records.
   So I guess this is his obituary, straight and true. He was a great athlete, a good but flawed man, a good but distant friend, and most likely a good teacher, assuming he was sober. But he might have been so much more.
    That's what is so sad. He might have been so much more.


 

 

 

Home     |      About     |    Columns     |     Contact          

2006-2017 hoppecolumns.com 
All rights reserved.