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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mixed Media Monday

Your Own Personal Jesus


Last year at about this same time I found that an old friend of mine had died, so I wrote something for him. The fall always makes me remember my friend. This song always makes me remember him. He never had a a wife or children. Most of his family is gone. But I want someone to remember him, so I made this for him. Let me tell you about my friend.

Joel was the first bad boy I ever knew. When we were nine years old, we were assigned seats next to each other in the cafeteria, and two seemingly very different children became friends. He was a wild boy; I was a good little girl. He was smart but he hated worksheets, so he didn't do them; I worked hard to make all E's. He cussed; I was a teacher's pet. He passed around a homemade Playboy magazine in a pink folder and got suspended from the fourth grade; I practiced my dance routine to "Up, Up and Away" for the school talent show.

Maybe our odd-couple friendship was based on the fact that we both came from terribly dysfunctional families, a fact I didn't realize until we were in high school. Or maybe it was just that we shared a wicked sense of humor. Whatever it was, we talked. A lot. We talked at lunch and later, when boys started calling girls in the sixth grade, we'd talk for hours on the phone. I don't remember what we talked about, but he made me laugh, and, no matter how bad his reputation was, he was always sweet to me.

The first time he invited me to go to the fair with him in seventh grade, I realized he had a little bit of a crush on me. I wanted to go with him. I told him I would go, but I chickened out at the last minute. Girls like me just did not go places with bad boys like Joel. He didn't hold it against me, though. The next day at school he brought me a stuffed animal he'd won, and once a year, after that, he'd invite me to the fair, I'd turn him down, and the next day he'd bring me another stuffed animal. Until tenth grade. By then I'd started dating other boys and gotten all involved with prissy things like painting banners for football games and high school formals. Joel spent most of his time riding around smoking pot and trying to score harder stuff. When he transferred to another high school our senior year, I barely noticed.

After high school, I went to college. Joel didn't, and I never saw him again. My e-mail yesterday said that he'd died after a long battle with heroin addiction. In 1980 he was arrested for a simple assault charge and tried to hang himself in jail. The guards cut him down, but not until after he'd suffered brain damage. The next twenty years consisted of one halfway house after another and then finally a nursing home. And then he died.

It's surprising how much I remember about him after so long. I remember a small, skinny boy with shaggy dark blond hair, a grin, and a gleam in his eyes. I remember that he lent me his coat on cold days on the playground. I remember that, in sixth grade, we made a bet about who was taller and, when we were measured for graduation to junior high school, we were nearly the exact same size: 4' 11" tall. I weighed 68 pounds and Joel outweighed me at a whopping 74 pounds. I remember the raspy sound of his laugh when his voice changed. His eyes were green and his middle name was Alan. I remember his red suede Converse All-Stars, his flannel shirts, the shape of his eyebrows and that "Like A Rolling Stone" was his favorite song. I remember when we were studying Great Expectations in the ninth grade and he managed to wake up long enough to read the part of one of the thieves aloud with a ridiculous, hilarious Cockney accent. I remember Joel laughing.

A lot of people I've cared about have died. I feel worse about Joel than anyone else, except my father and a sixteen year old member of my cheerleading squad. Why do I remember Joel in such excruciating detail? I think it's because, even at the age of nine, our souls recognized each other, and we tried to take care of each other just a little bit. Joel didn't get to do what he was supposed to do in life. He didn't get something he needed to make him whole. Joel had goodness and joy in him. He just needed help bringing it out.

I wish he'd had a happier life. I wish he'd found hope. I wish I'd gone to the fair and eaten cotton candy and ridden the double ferris wheel with him just once.

21 comments:

sherry ♥ lee said...

How poignant. You obviously loved Joel very much...one soul to another. And you've done him proud...you are probably one of very few people who knew him for who he really was. His memory is a gift to you and from you to him.

indybev said...

I think Joel is one of the people numbered among those in my art piece for this challenge (The Lonely People). It's such a touching story. My son had such a friend in highschool, who was handsome and talented, but who seemed destined to make all the wrong choices. His story is equally tragic. May their souls rest in peace.

peggy gatto said...

Probably one of the loveliest tributes from the heart. You told the story in such a way that I found myself caring for him too.
Very special, thank you!!!

Amy said...

wow, what a special tribute to him. I'm glad that you had the chance to know him..atleast you did make a difference in his life at one time..
You know I look back to a by in my past as well..he's married now, but I have always felt he was my one true soul mate..funny how as kids we know more about love than do adults!
Lovely piece and I hope he has found a place of peace now.

Betty said...

Wow! Such a touching story, I think we all have had someone in our lives that never had the chance to reach their potential. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend.

Sandy said...

Wow this is vibrant.
Truly amazing and what for fantastic colors. Love them.

LiveArt said...

This is a wonderful piece of art and a beautiful tribute to your friend, and to all sharing his path. Your story is very moving, and I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, saying a prayer for all those out there with a similar life story... Thanks for sharing!!

Linda

Femmy said...

fantastic!!

Diane said...

It's a lovely piece of artwork, Alberta, with a deep meaning! Diane

Yvonne said...

What a beautiful piece of art with an incredible story behind. I know exactly what you mean, because i new a guy like Joel only his name is Bart. And i was the one with the crush on him. He was my soulmate, and like you we could talk like i never could with anybody else. I dont know of he is a live or not, because he also was a user... So i am overwhelmed by each word you wrote. pff..

Lumilyon said...

I'm moved to tears by your post Alberta. why is it that when damaged children become damaged adults, society looses interest in their rehabilitation, gives them up as lost causes? I also think of all the lonely people who dies alone and unloved and how today, people all around the world will think, even for just a moment of your dear, sad friend, and that is truly wonderful x

Rosie said...

I remember shedding a tear the last time you mentioned Joel... and today is no different. It's such a sad story, but your vibrant and beautiful page is a wonderful tribute to him Kathy! Bravo!

Diana Evans said...

This ia ao touching and such a wonderful tribute to Joel....I am sure he is smiling at this wonderful tribute and I know you will both go on that ferris wheel ride again one day!!!

Michele said...

A beautiful painting and a beautiful tribute.

Kim Mailhot said...

I remember that you wrote about Joel last year at this time. I think it is wonderful that you remember him in these wonderful ways each year and especially by creating art work in his honor. You saw him, even if it was only for a few moments in his life. You saw him and I am sure seeing him way back then has helped you see others that some people have overlooked as well.
You live good, Miss Alberta and that is the best tribute you can give to your friend who missed out on so much.
Big LOVE hugs to you !

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

such a touching and beautiful tribute, it's special that you've introduced us to Joel, now I won't forget him either ... loss is something I think we carry with us even when we think we're moving forward and carrying on ... some losses go much much deeper than others
thank you for touching my heart today Alberta ... you and your art seem to do that a lot
oxoo ~*~ Patty

Staci Danford said...

I remember reading about him last year. It makes me cry all over again. I believe somehow he knows you always remember him. And in some strange way I feel like he is smiling.

Cindy McMath said...

Alberta, what a beautiful and moving tribute to your friend. Thank you for sharing with us.

Cindy

Kristin said...

Oh my goodness -- this piece and your story is so moving! It is such a wonderful story of friendship and lost possibilities. Who knows what would have happend to him if he had a partner to inspire him. He is so lucky to have had you in his life and I'm sure he sees this. Thank you for your kind words and for visiting my blog las week - your words were so nice to hear! Kristin :)

haendi said...

Your design is wonderful, and I think it is a fitting tribute to your friend. Your description of Joel and your friendship is rich and bittersweet. It is beautiful like your art. Thank you for sharing both.

*jean* said...

i remember this post from last year...just reading it again made me tear up...poor boy...

he had a good friend for a time anyway...maybe his spirit has a more important job to do...

i love this song and had kind of forgotten about it so thank you for bringing it back for me....

i love your collage - this one is really special...