*** i just found this while sifting through the data i collected from my now dead computer. it didnt make the final draft of my memoir and would just be sitting in the purgatory of my desktop if i didnt just post it here. im not sure what the first lines in the brackets are, just an idea, i suppose. i left them in because why not? in any case, i havent blogged in a while and since this is long i hope it makes up for it.
[It’s not as if there were no consequences. There are always consequences. We just usually ignored them.]
I first met Fernando at a party in a house in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Fremont. This is in 1993 after the dust from a brief recession had settled. You could always tell when a neighborhoods average income jumped a tax bracket because all the homes would have different architectural designs. Instead of the uniform look of a tract housing development, with the same size front yard and the same color shingles on the roof, they would all be unique. Some one story and some two. Some with serpentine walkways and some with lazy porches. Some would have two car garages and gravel driveways. Others would have lawns made up entirely of wood chips and thick, well manicured bushes along the perimeter, acting as a green picket fence protecting their dream. When I first moved there I’d spend hours walking through these neighborhoods, a portable walkman strapped to my head, marveling at the serenity in the quiet, well lit lanes and roads that criss crossed through the different districts. A far cry from the constant bedlam found in the city. The only chaos you could find in these neighborhoods was the occasional clamor of construction when one of the residents decided to make an addition onto their home, other than that, all the mayhem was reserved for the kids.
The party was in the backyard of a three story home, a celebration that only the host cared about. There was a pool and a hot tub and near the tool shed was a keg surrounded by people holding large, plastic cups. Fernando was holding court just a few yards from it, his cup never going empty, a crowd of mostly girls and a few guys tightly circling him. Jimmy, who knew everyone, introduced us. I'd already knew who he was by then though.
Everyone called him Nando and he was one of those guys that transcended popularity in school. He didn’t belong to any of the sports or academic teams, wasn’t part of the student government, and aside from seeing him in a car leaving campus during lunch, was rarely seen on school grounds outside of class. Yet he was the kind of guy all other guys wanted to be and all girls wanted to attach themselves to. He was good looking, smart, witty, insightful, and dated one of the hottest girls in the school. His charm and charisma was almost intimidating. His smile seemed to beam from a place none of us had the capacity to recognize in ourselves, as if he had reached depths of [confidence] we could only bask in but never attain.
Instead of slapping me five or casual sliding palms with me as a greeting, he shook my hand, giving it a firm, single pump, like an adult. He smiled and his teeth where large and straight and pearly white. When someone standing next to us remarked on my height, using the old and tired quip, “How’s the weather up there,” he saw me sort of blush and said in my defense, “Weather’s the same as down where you are, only because you’re short, the girls don’t dig you as much. Chicks love tall men,” he looked at me then, “don’t they?”
I smiled and blushed even more, looking at the girls that hung on his shoulder as they looked back at me looking at them and blushing. “I guess,” I muttered, “I do alright.”
“You do better than alright big guy, “ he said, and he smiled and winked and handed me a cup full of beer. The rest of the night I hovered in his general area, feeding off of his charm and laughing at his genuinely funny jokes. He occupied an area in the crowd that none else could fill. He wasn’t exactly the life of the party, though he did provide a source of entertainment. He didn’t supply the drugs or beer for the party, (that was Jimmy's role) but he partook in his fare share of what was being passed around. He didn’t orchestrate the music for the party, but he did holler out some well received request throughout the night. And when the cops were called and came to break up the party, he didn’t panic or get nervous, he just casually grabbed his girlfriend and walked out the side door, asking if Will or I needed a ride home even though it was her who was driving and we lived far out of the way.
We saw each other fairly often after that night. Generously, he welcomed me into his circle, letting my circle in through the door as well. We never met one on one, always in a crowd moving from one place to another. In a shifting herd clashing in the living room of a mutual friend or stopped in the road and hollering at each other from the passenger side of the car. Usually it was somewhere safe and we would be getting stoned or drinking beer from a can and listening to CD’s with our friends. Nando seemed, like myself, eager to experiment, and enjoyed the way his thoughts worked when they were manipulated by chemicals. He had a crackling intelligence, it seemed his imagination and wit was always firing on all cylinders, and he enjoyed getting high and spending hours exploring ideas and cracking jokes for an audience. When Jimmy got a sheet of acid and I bought a batch he was happy to gobble a few with me every other weekend.
At first I liked taking it with him because when the conversation would devolve into gibberish with everyone else, he would still be proposing interesting theories and speaking in coherent sentences. His eyes would be beaming and his smile spread wide across his face. His charm would still be in tact, even after all the rest of us were a puddle on the floor. After a few times though, he began hallucinating more than the rest of us. He would separate from the pack and wander alone, looking all around him in paranoid jerks, as if something was circling his head in the moonlight. Sometimes he would grow quiet and giggle to himself, and when we asked him what was so funny, he would ask back, “You didn’t see that?” Whatever it was he saw, none of us could see.
Because he had commanded such respect in school, and still dated a gorgeous girl and still was smarter and still better looking than the rest of us, no one ever questioned or challenged this strange behavior. And even though we were all high on LSD, the behavior he showed was still considered strange. As long as it was confined to the eight or so hours the drug held its effect though, we didn’t worry too much about it. We ignored unbalanced way he had started acting. Dementia was part of the territory. He was high on acid, people acted weird on acid, that’s why they took it.
It was one of the mornings after that we all noticed something had gone awry.
Most people, the following day after taking acid, had the burnt out manners of someone who had pushed their bodies and minds to their limit. Energy was scarce and conversation almost non-existent. We spoke in mutters and clipped, unfinished sentences. We were beat, unable to do anything except flip through the television channels in hopes of finding something simple that we could zone out to. But that morning, as he rolled to a stop in front of our garage, Nando wasn’t beat. He wasn’t wrecked. He wasn’t even tired. Nando still seemed high.
Me, Jimmy and Will noticed something was off about him the minute he pulled up. For one, he was alone when he drove over to my house. He was rarely ever alone and it was even rarer that we saw him drive. For two, his eyes were still beaming, but they had a crazed, almost maniacal look behind them. And for three, he was still wearing the same clothes as he had the night before, meaning when the rest of us had gone home to sleep, he had stayed up all night alone.
He walked up to us and without any kind of greeting said, “Do you see the aura around me? It’s my energy. Something unlocked in me last night. I can see the energy of everything now. It surrounds everything. We all have our own energy, and it reflects who we are and what kind of person we are.”
Will and Jimmy looked at each other and smiled a bit while I just stared at Nando, wondering if he was going to break into laughter and say he was just kidding, waiting for him to do it. But he just looked back at us expectantly; his face at first eager and eyes widened in excitement, like a pirate that had just discovered treasure or a scientist that had just found a cure, then it fell when he saw we weren’t taking him seriously, and his mouth pursed a bit in frustration.
“Wow, you’re still high,” said Jimmy, “Awesome, dude.”
“I’m not high. I’m completely sober. I swear,” he raised his hand like a boy scout, “I’m telling you. I can see the energy that surrounds everything. It all has its own aura.”
Will scoffed and Jimmy laughed. I lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.
“That will kill you,” he said pointing at my cigarette, “I can see it distorting the energy field that surrounds you, turning it black. You should quit.”
I looked at him and then looked at the cigarette and then looked back at him, “I don’t think you need to see my ‘energy field’ in order to determine that cigarettes will kill me. It’s pretty obvious.”
He sighed in exasperation, frustrated at my reluctance to believe. “But you don’t understand, man. It’s like a poison in your aura, there is this scary…” he looked at me up and down as if he was studying me, “…blackness, that’s seeping into your energy. I can see it making your natural color darker. It’s not healthy.”
I shrugged and blew smoke into the air, “Yeah.”
He turned his attention toward Jimmy, who was leaning on the hood of a car and about to light a cigarette of his own.
“Your energy is already dark,” he said.
“No it isn’t,” said Jimmy.
“It is. And I can see there is a lot of anger in you.”
“Here,” said Nando, “let me try something.” And he squeezed his eyes shut and balled up his fist and then he just leaned slightly towards Jimmy for a moment. We all just stared at him.
“Did you feel that?” He asked, “I tried to send some of my energy to you.”
Jimmy looked at him confused, “No. I didn’t feel anything.”
“That’s OK. You have a dark energy, a lot of anger; I will have to send more of my own energy next time.”
“Man,” Jimmy said, “You are fucking high.”
I knew Nando wasn’t high though. I had seen the look before. The crazed sleeplessness, the maniacal smile, the unhinged and most painful of all, innocence in the eye. He had, overnight, become a casualty. We all slightly monitored him over the next few weeks, but his behavior just continued to get increasingly more bizarre and erratic. He shaved his head bald and refused to wear shoes, just sandals or nothing. He talked of joining a monastery and decided he wasn’t going to college. It was clear to me that his sanity had been compromised. His mind had been broken. I knew all too well the signs for insanity. And I think it was my fears of watching his reason crumble, his soundness disappear, that I started avoiding him when all the others still hung around, clinging to his reputation and ignoring his eccentric manners. He made me uncomfortable. His lunacy creeped me out. It reminded me too much of my mother.
I hadn’t realized until then that I was trying to forget her. That I had been trying to exercise her from my memory as much as I could, trying to grasp on to the normal, suburban American life I had lucked into and been blessed with. I had gone almost a year without feeling the burden of her mental disease. I had gone a year without the pressure of worrying where she was, what she was doing, how she was surviving. Seeing Nando lose his grip on reality brought all those fears back. And I couldn’t take it. I was a kid that wanted to be a kid and that was all. I couldn’t bear to face the trails of insanity again. I didn’t want to feel as if I should protect anyone anymore. I wanted to be the one that was protected.
I didn’t see Nando much after that, and sooner than later he seemed to disappear into the suburban maze that seemed to have no exit. I asked after him every now and again and was always told that he was still a little off, still being strange, still daring society to institutionalize him. I never tried to find him though; I never made any attempts to see for myself. I just accepted that he was lost, gone for good, another of many ghost in my past.