I recently got the news that one of my college mates passed away. It whisked me away to my first year of college. Away from home and finally able to fully express me. Thrilled to be out of my mother’s house and on my own. Meeting the people who would become life long friends or nemesis or merely a name that I once could place with a face but no longer. Growing into an independent being with increasingly independent thoughts and ways. No curfew. No limits. Grown up…finally.

Grown. Up. When we were young, we thought grown up was turning 18 and being able to vote (and in some states drink legally). When we were out of high school, grown up was turning 21 and being truly legal. After college, it was getting that first salaried job or trading in the futon and milk crate and wood slab bookcases for an actual bed and bookcases. And so on…

I went through those spaces like many and thought I was finally grown. But the moment that I really felt grown was when I learned that my best friend of almost a decade had passed away. It was 1995. I was only 27 years old. Still high on the idea that I would live forever, would always be strong and fine, and free. Still unsure of exactly who I was but pretty sure that I was fucking awesome and would be exactly who I thought I was going to be. The moment that I felt truly grown up was when I lost the friend who was supposed to be my yet-to-be-born (and still ain’t) children’s crazy Uncle Karl. They were supposed to learn to ride Indian ponies in the arroyos of northern New Mexico. They were supposed to hear the story of our getting our first, second (and likely many more) tattoos together. How we rocked the FUCK out of Wesleyan’s campus with a band improbably named Trotsky’s Ruin. He was supposed to finish teaching me how to drive a stick shift – this time sober and NOT uphill. He was supposed to be there when I dialed the phone. We were supposed to be able to laugh at each other as our hair turned gray and our faces wrinkled. As we became parents or at least the whacky aunt and uncle to our siblings’ kids. We were supposed to mourn the loss of our other friends together… sitting back drinking Wild Turkey, smoking too damned much and telling those stories about when we were young and fine and the world was ours. We were supposed to grow old and toothless. Be at the doorstep of death STILL arguing about scientific proof over spiritual knowing.

Karl is still with me. There have been moments over the years that I have felt him quite powerfully. Like the birthday dinner at a mostly empty DC restaurant where the jukebox started playing Bad Brains I Against I in its entirety although no one had touched the machine during the hour that we’d been sitting there. I still hear his laugh and his wise ass comments. His sardonic humor and that place in him that was always isolated from those of us who loved him. He was a beautiful and brilliant man. In my mind, he is still young and hale. Playing that bass beside me and smiling that great smile that so quickly erased his usual scowl. I’d prefer to see him bald and toothless but I am so grateful for the time he was here. The one and only person who has been my best friend. The man who I loved most in life.