One of my best friends from high school died last month. I found out about it serendipitously a couple of days ago. I impulsively clicked on the link in one of those Classmate.com spam-like messages that I normally delete without reading. At this website, the first thing I saw was a vaguely familiar name with an announcement referring to my friend’s obituary. He died of liver failure as a result of alcoholism. He was 48 years old and is survived by his 5-year old son, his long-time girlfriend, and numerous friends and family.
Lee was a year older than I was, but we became fast friends my freshman year and even stayed in touch regularly for the first few years post-high school, too. He was an extremely intelligent, personable guy with, even then, a rapacious appetite for life and pleasure, who held few inhibitions. Girls, and fully-grown women, loved him, although whether it was in spite of or because of his wolfish ways, I was never certain. Teachers were startled by his abilities, and he was a hilarious, bawdy companion. His home life was decidedly unconventional and largely unsupervised, although he was loved and supported by his parents. Lee was a non-conformist and an agnostic, but he was completely accepting of my own stumbling and uncertain emerging Christian faith.
Lee turned me on to Hesse’s Siddhartha, the writings of Carlos Castaneda, Kurt Vonnegut, Tolkien’s LOTR and many other literary works. Though he disdained the high school jock clique, he convinced me and several others in our merry little band to join the soccer club. At that time, in football-crazy Texas, soccer was not a normal mainstream sport like it is today and it was largely incomprehensible to most of our classmates, which, of course, made us cool. Our team was only reluctantly sanctioned by the school, our coach worked for free and barely spoke English, we had to pay for our own uniforms, and we were routinely beaten to a pulp. But we had the best time playing in front of our girlfriends and the occasional family members.
Ever a charming, silver-tongued rascal, Lee helped me talk my parents into letting me go to my very first rock concert (Genesis- the “Wind and Wuthering” tour) when I was 16 years old, an important milestone in my life. He also baked the brownies that we ate on the way, as I recall, and the less said about that, the better. Though not a musician, he always had the best taste in music, introducing me to Kansas, John McLaughlin, Ravi Shankar, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd and many other interesting artists. He had wide-ranging interests and taste in art, music, science, and literature well in advance of his years. Even in high school, I considered him a renaissance man, and his intellectual openness to so many disparate disciplines made a lasting imprint on my own thinking. He taught me that it was okay to be interested in a lot of different things, that I could like whatever I liked, not just what I was supposed to like.
After high school, Lee went on to do a number of unusual things in exotic places. He attended my wedding in 1983. From the late 80’s on, though, we really didn’t keep up with each other much. I hadn’t spoken to Lee since the early 90’s, and then only briefly.
It makes me sad to know that he is gone.