I can’t talk to my best friend any more. He took too many drugs and they made him stupid. I never thought it would happen, but somewhere along the line it has, and now he’s somebody else, someone I don’t know.
If I knew exactly when it happened, I’d like to think that I would have done something about it, but it crept up on us both gradually, and I never noticed until it was too late, and I don’t think John ever noticed at all. Now it pains me to speak to him, because I can see him trying to still be my best friend, trying to reach out towards me, and not understanding why I give nothing back.
Has anything like that ever happened to you? I’m guessing it has and you’re probably thinking that I’m very green for making so much of it.
John was my greatest friend in all the world. We were like partners in crime, grinning and shouting our way through the world, gatecrashing parties and laughing and dancing and causing all the chaos we could without being caught. We were masters of mayhem and we always kept our heads on. No matter how battered he got, John was always right there in the zone with me; if something funny or absurd happened I could always look at John and know he’d be laughing along with me. And then, somewhere along the line, he lost his head. He isn’t dumb or anything, he just isn’t sharp any more, he doesn’t get the joke, he’s become the person we’re laughing at instead of the person I’m laughing with.
The thing is, I sort of feel a bit like it’s my fault. I mean, I didn’t make him like that, but at one time we were almost inseparable, and then we grew apart, and it was because I let it happen, because of this girl I was seeing, who I didn’t even like.
John hated her. And he hated her for good reason, because he saw what she did to me – and she hated him because she knew that he hated her. It was a bad situation to be in the middle of. It made my life hell to be honest, and she was making my life hell anyway because she was a deeply jealous person and she hated everything I did and she deliberately made me miserable. And for whatever fucked up reason I guess I sort of chose her over John; I dumped my best friend for this horrible girl, and when it was all over, and I started talking to my friend again, we had grown apart. I think it was because of that distance that I didn’t see what was happening to John. I always think if I had seen that I would have somehow been able to stop it, that if we hadn’t grown apart in the first place it might never have happened. But then maybe I’m kidding myself.
The other night John and this other kid did half a gram of ket each in one line. Now, I don’t know what you’d say about that, maybe you’d laugh – I laughed, I had to – but personally I think it’s quite a silly thing to do.
I first found out about it because my mate Dan came and got me.
“You have to come over here” he said, and dragged me through all these people who were talking and dancing, shouting over the techno.
We got to where he was taking me, which was the end of the bar, and he pointed at John, who was apparently trying to reach out for something, except he’d forgotten how to move any part of his body apart from his left arm. He had an agonised expression on his face.
“He’s done half a gram of ket in one line” said Dan.
“Christ” I said. “What the hell did he do that for?”
“God knows” said Dan.
“Well, what can I do?” I asked. “There’s nothing I can do for him now. He’s done it.”
“I think he was trying to ask for you” said Dan.
I had to laugh. Well I was laughing anyway. It was possibly the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life, but it was awful as well. By that point quite a crowd had gathered. John tried to say something but it just came out as this weird roar. And then he fell over.
I wiped my hand across my eyes. None of us could stop laughing. It was horrendous, but it was hilariously funny as well.
We picked him up – four of us. It took about fifteen minutes, because his limbs were stiff like a corpse. I seriously considered the thought that he was possibly going to die but I could not stop laughing.
The best bit was when I remembered that he had been out with this other kid, Craig, and that John had said something about them buying a gram of ket together. Craig was possibly even stupider than John was.
“Dan” I said, “There must be another kid like him in here somewhere.”
“Oh yeah” this girl chimed in, “There’s another one over there.”
“We need to put them together!” said Phil, one of the guys who was DJing that night.
I laughed my head off at that. I mean, I really couldn’t see what good that was going to do either of them. Nonetheless I joined in, and all of us laughing, me, Dan, Phil and the girl grabbed an arm and a leg each and carried John over to where Craig was. It reminded me of this time when a girl got me to rescue a pigeon that was trapped under some stairs. When I got it out from under the stairwell I tried to hand it to her and she screamed and told me she was scared of birds. So I passed it to this guy to hold, hopped over the railings, and then asked her what she wanted me to do with it. ‘Put it over here’ she said, and she took me to this other stairwell, where there was another pigeon also trapped. ‘Put it next to that one’ she said. ‘Will that really make any difference?’ I asked her. ‘Well – no’ she said. ‘I just wanted them to be together!’
Craig seemed to take it better than John. I mean, he had no clue what was going on, either, but he was just relaxed and dribbling, whereas John was seriously in a state of anxiety. He looked like he wanted to escape from his own skin. He looked trapped. At one point somebody put a pint glass in his hand, and it just sort of sat there until he loosened his grip a bit and it fell on the floor. I think he tried to shout ‘Help me!’ as well. You shouldn’t laugh. They should film people like that and show it in schools as an anti-drugs video. That’d work a thousand times better than all the bullshit the do-gooders force down your throat. It was funny, though. I was sorry so many people I knew had missed it because they’d have laughed their heads off. John would have laughed if he was there and it happened to somebody else. You would have. I thought of you. I wondered where you were.
Ketamine is a weird and lonely drug. I could imagine John’s state of mind after he’d talked to me and asked if I wanted to go on holiday with him sometime in the summer, and I’d said no, not really, I had too much on, and then he’d had all that ket. I could imagine, in the moments before he completely lost the plot, how helpless he felt. I felt fucking lonely as hell myself. It was a funny night, but not a nice night. Not like when we went to that party and there were loads of us stood up, laughing, in my mate’s living room, and then we walked home and it was frosty and I cursed myself for wishing we’d have cold winters again, like when I was a kid. It was February then. It’s nearly June now.
There’s this picture of you on Facebook, and you’re so young, and you’ve got this crazy, crazy hair, and you look ace. I don’t know why it stuck in my mind, except that maybe I could have seen you then, I could have walked past you in the street. Except, of course, I’d have been a child, and you would have been a stranger.
I was walking through a shopping mall this afternoon, and through the dead atmosphere of its stuffy, pre-fabricated emptiness, a song came on that cut through my heart. It was A Whiter Shade of Pale. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to listen to that song without getting upset. I don’t know why. I mean, it’s a wistful and melancholy tune, but there are a lot of wistful and melancholy tunes and they don’t do that to me.
I remember, years and years ago, I was standing in my friend’s kitchen in Jericho, Oxford, and there was music on. It was a tape. I remember that because nobody really listened to tapes any more, even then, and the song was a song from years ago: You Are Always On My Mind – the Elvis version from the seventies. The next song was A Whiter Shade of Pale.
“I like this song” I said.
“Oh” said my friend’s mother, “This is an old, old song” – and I will always remember that, because the way she said it seemed somehow to be fitting with its mood, and because now that day is old and the song is even older, and one day that moment – me standing in their kitchen – will be as old as the song was then, and I will be somebody older, somebody else.
One time, my mate Jim showed me a picture of him and this other guy in 1989 and it scared the shit out of me. They were at a rave, and Jim still looked recognisably like himself but this other guy was almost unrecognisable, because he’s an alcoholic now, and he’s fat and looks old, and in the picture he was a fresh faced smiling kid. It’s sad what life does to some people.
There’s this picture of you on Facebook, and you’re about my age, maybe younger, and you’ve got this crazy hair, and you’re smiling, and it upset me even more than the picture of the alcoholic did, because I know you, and even though you don’t look so different, there’s something in your face that’s gone now. You looked hopeful. That’s what made me think. It made me wonder what life might do to me, what it’s already done, how it can tear us apart, and how somewhere along the way, no matter what you do, some of the pieces end up missing and you never get them back.