Jack died. His ex-wife called to say. It’s been years since that marriage ended. I was at both of his weddings. The first one was back around Fairfax in 1980. It was freakishly hot and there was no air conditioning. I recall having a kind of bachelor party for Jack at our little house with a big yard in Vienna. Lots of beer and wine and all that. My memory fades as the years go by, but I remember a big spreading black walnut tree that gave us shade that day. There was an old wise white oak across the street. We were young.
Jack was always jacked up about some material matter. A workaholic. I remember him calling me around 10 p.m. on a Sunday night to break the news that he and Katie were done. I asked him where he was. “The office”, was his reply. Even when we met at age 16 or so, he had to be the superman gas pump jockey. This was before the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. Twenty years before the double murder at the gates of the CIA. Twenty eight years prior to the 9/11 slaughter. Somehow these things link in my mind. Maybe because the landlord of our Vienna house was shot in that attack of ’93. A nice man who had nothing to do with Middle East policy.
I link many Jack moments also. The time he slavishly tried to impress his Georgetown classmates who were from Connecticut’s upper class. Contemptuous name-dropping snobs. A trip to UVA where he studied sanskrit for… what? The approval of foreign service officers who would never accept him. A trip to VATech. Fun times in Richmond and D.C. We laughed a lot. His appetite for attention was voracious, dwarfing even mine. He needed affirmation like a newborn needs oxygen.
I remember his Dad. The divorce where his mother slipped off the rails. Bad behavior all around. Remarriage to Carol and the family chugged on. Parties at Jack and Katie’s old place next door to Austin, the mechanic, and Jan, the barren former nun. The old hippies down on the valley road. The Cleveland Town neighbors. Shooting guns behind his house with Bert. We vacationed at the beach together a few times. He was on the phone endlessly when there were no cell phones. One year he had to fly back early to his office, leaving his family to fend for themselves at the Outer Banks.
Somehow the more stuff he accumulated, the worse his marriage became. I talked to him about it a few times, deeply concerned about the sanctity of family. The last time was when he went to the mall to buy a couple of suits to piss off Katie, so he said. He threw in a few ties for seasoning.
“So, it’s like that now?”
By then there was the house next to the golf course. It wasn’t enough. Working two hours away, weekends were like gold. He ran for county office. Voracious for new and more attention. He lost. He’s the only guy I’ve ever known who won the company grand prize for achievement and was then fired after a two week prize trip abroad. He explained that someone he’d crossed had transferred laterally, been promoted above him, and then came back in revenge to whack his career beanstalk. Nice work if you can get it.
I drove three hours to the second wedding. It was in a rent-a-chapel with a rent-a-singer and his electric piano. I sat down on the bride’s side. An older Black woman asked to sit next to me. She whispered to me, “I don’t know these people. They just moved in and asked me to their wedding!” It was like that, off brand macaroni and cheese that doesn’t taste right no matter how you prepare it.
I looked around and realized that of the folks I knew, I was the only one who had been married once and was still in his original marriage. Mom, dad, brother, sister, friends, etc. I’d never met the new bride, so as the cheesy electric piano soared, I turned to see her. I almost fell over. She was the clone of the woman he had just divorced, who I always thought resembled his troubled mother. Wow! I didn’t have a container in my brain to put all this weirdness. So I got agitated. I didn’t smoke or drink anymore, so I felt out of the happy circle of addictions. I went to the reception. A bunch of used car salesmen types were drinking, smoking, and talking too loud. I absorbed the desperation of it all and left before that elevator descended into loan shark Hell.
My head spun for two hours on the way home. I decided to stop by his ex-wife’s home where she was holding a “Just Desserts” party to counter celebrate Jack’s wedding. It was dark and snarky.
Over the years less and less blood flowed through the aorta of our friendship. There was blockage. I had no interest in the trajectory of his life. He explained to me once on my deck that he was likely much holier than I was. I forget his reasoning. It had something to do with the virtue of not going to church. It didn’t matter then. It doesn’t matter now. Finally there was no blood flow, and then no aorta. Now no Jack.
The beanstalk came crashing down with Jack still on it. Somewhere along this journey he became the giant with the gold.