Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Death Is Only A Change of Worlds

Today marks 18 years since Katy's father smoked his last joint in the treehouse by the train tracks, put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger. This date hasn't bothered me for years, but Mraz put up a new video from Europe tonight in which he explains the origins of a song he's writing for a friend who committed suicide, and it got me thinking. Odd coincidence that it came up today.

Joey was a friend of a friend, and I was 18 when we met. He was only a half-year younger, but our birthdays fell in such a way that he was still a senior in high school, while I'd already failed a year of college and hit the working world. His face resembled a cross between David Duchovny and Dwight Yokum, with 80s rock star hair to round it out. He played guitar pretty well and was mostly low-key. I don't remember him ever speaking very loud, a trait Katy has unwittingly picked up in the genes.

Joey lived with his father and stepmother, but it didn't seem like a good relationship between the three of them. His mother had split to travel the country on a Harley, and he resented his stepmother in a huge way, both situations which I could relate to. His father seemed like a hard ass, but I only knew him from a teenage perspective, so in hindsight I realize my impression could have been mistaken. Then again, parents of my boyfriends never seemed to like me.

I remember when he first told me he loved me. He's the only guy I was ever truthful with (until Mark) about how I felt. I was still hung up on my first love, Frank. I told Joey that I really cared for him but that love wasn't a word I threw around lightly and I didn't want to say "I love you" until I meant it. He seemed to accept that, and appreciated the honesty, but it didn't keep him from telling me he loved me all the time and I felt stupid not saying it back. I was determined to mean it though.

I finally said it about four months later when I was in Austin visiting some friends. I'd called him to say hi and that I missed him, and at the end of the conversation he said I love you the same as he always did, and I said it back without even thinking. Then there was a very loud silence. He asked, "Are you sure?" I wasn't really, but figured maybe I did mean it if I'd said it without thinking so I said, "yeah." He was obviously on cloud 9 and I felt like I just landed on Mars. I dreaded seeing him again after that, but I couldn't avoid it and he was so happy I decided maybe eventually it would be true.

I lived in a tiny studio apartment in a questionable area of town at the time. We'd been dating several months when Joey decided to drop out of high school. I told him that was a dumb idea, but a few nights later he showed up on my doorstep and told me he'd been kicked out of the house for dropping out, and his parents took away his car. He wanted to live with me and get a job. I told him again how stupid that was, but I let him move in with what little he had with him.

For four weeks I got up in the morning, went to work, and paid the bills. Sometimes I'd come home at lunch since work wasn't that far away and he'd still be sleeping at 1:00 in the afternoon. I've always been a night person and often sleep until afternoon, but not when I'm unemployed living off of someone else.

My apartment was located between two major malls, in walking distance of either one, so it wasn't like his lack of transportation was a problem. I didn't expect him to have a corporate job that supported both of us, I just wanted him to have anything that would contribute to the bills. I asked him nicely at first why he wasn't looking for a job and he always said he planned to start tomorrow. I swallowed this for about two weeks before I got bitchy about it. When it was obvious he really didn't plan to do anything but be a sponge, I gave him an ultimatum. He promised again that he would apply at the mall the next day.

I don't know what made me go home for lunch that day, it was probably lack of money, but I guess it was the Universe getting me out of a bad situation before it got worse. When I walked in the door it was like the cameras were rolling and I was suddenly in some Hollywood drama. His uncle, whom I'd met previously, liked, and trusted, was sitting at my table cutting up a line of coke on one of my mirrors while Joey stood off to the side playing guitar. I don't think any of us could've been more shocked. They had obviously not seen me coming and it had never even occurred to me that this was a possible scenario. I guess I was naive, but I would've never predicted that Joey used drugs. And I guess I did love him or his betrayal wouldn't have hurt like it did.

I don't remember exactly all the words that transpired, but in the end I told Joey if he was not out of my apartment permanently when I got back from work that night, I would call the cops and report them both. I don't even know how I made it through the rest of the day, but I did. I'm a pretty forgiving person, but there are some lines no sane person would cross. Doing coke in my house while you're an unemployed high school dropout, and I'm struggling to pay the bills at 18 years old, is definitely one of my lines. And boy, that's some lovely family support from his uncle, eh?

So Joey was gone like I asked by the time I got home. When I finally took one of his calls weeks later he said he'd moved back in with his parents and was going to rehab. I didn't talk to him again for almost a year.

We did eventually hook up though or Katy would not exist. I had successfully avoided him at all gatherings of our mutual friends until Vince's birthday. It was a major party and I was told that Joey had been clean and sober for awhile, and that he still wanted to get back together. I wasn't interested, but I wasn't dating anyone either. I was still too shaken up about having so grossly misjudged his character.

Sure enough, he was there when I arrived, and immediately turned our conversation into a love drama of explanations and self-introspection. We agreed to go back to my apartment to continue our talk when the party started breaking up. It got so late I told him he could sleep there if he wanted, but that's all we were doing was sleeping. I guess we both had good intentions but those things kind of get thrown under the bus in the wake of teenage hormones. We didn't have any protection and I said fuck it anyway, and as soon as we were done I knew I was in trouble. I mean literally the moment it happened I knew. I don't know how I knew, but I did. I didn't mention it to him though.

The nausea started a couple weeks later, and the tests all came back positive. Now I had a real problem. I had also heard that Joey went back to using when I refused to get back together with him. Deciding to keep Katy is a story all its own for another time, but obviously that's what my decision was. I didn't want Joey involved in her life at all because of his drug use. I debated long and hard with many people over whether to tell him or not, but in the end I decided it would be easier not to, both for Katy's sake and Joey's. He had enough problems to deal with.

I managed to keep my pregnancy and Katy's birth a secret from him, but when she was two months old, one of our friends slipped in conversation and told him I'd had a baby. Fortunately I'd only told one person in that group who the father was, but I'm sure it wasn't hard to do the math. Joey called me demanding to know if Katy was his and I lied and told him it was another guy I'd slept with after him. I suck at lying and it was really good I only had to talk to him over the phone or I'm sure he would've seen right through it. He probably did anyway, but he let it go. At least, I think he did.

Late in the evening on November 14, 1989, my mother received a call on her private line from Joey's and my mutual friend, Jason (not Mraz). Jason was the only one outside my family that knew Joey was Katy's father. I couldn't imagine what he was calling my mother for. It's weird how moments of great trauma slow down in time. I was feeding Katy, rocking her to sleep, and Mom came to tell me what Jason had relayed to her.

I don't know who built the treehouse, but it was a party place. All teens that lived in the area seemed to know about it and they went there to smoke weed and drink. It was well away from any roads; you had to walk through some woods and across a train trestle to get to it, so the cops didn't bother you up there. I remember going out there at night once with a bunch of people and it was scary but cool. It felt so far away from civilization and crossing the train track, where there was no escape if you didn't get across before the train came, made my heart race even though there wasn't a train in sight.

Apparently Joey had gone out there earlier in the day with some weed and his father's gun. The police report said he smoked the weed with some 13 year old kids, then the kids left. When they came back later that evening, they found Joey dead with a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner's report said he also had heroin in his system. He was 19 years old, only a year older than Katy is now.

Other pieces of the story surfaced with time. He had stolen a guitar and sold it for drug money and was about to go to jail for it. He had tried to commit suicide once before by cutting his wrists. I didn't know either of those things. Jason swore to me he never revealed Katy's paternity, but they were best friends long before I came on the scene, and Joey had been at Jason's house that day and seen pictures of Katy on the piano. I'm not sure what to think about whether Joey knew or not, and if he did know if that was good or bad.

I think I was more upset for Katy than anything because Joey's decision wasn't only for himself, it closed the door on any opportunity the two of them may have had to know each other. Even though I didn't want him around her while she grew up, I never doubted that someday he might clean up and when she was old enough and beyond the influence of his bad habits, I would tell him everything and hope he would understand my reasons and not hold it against me or my daughter. Katy has turned out to be a good kid. She's gotten in some trouble here and there, but never with drugs or sex, and no more than an average teenager. I'd like to think that's all the proof I need to know I made the right decision, but nights like this I have my doubts.

I don't even have a picture of him. I've asked Jason and some other friends if they have any, but they are either unwilling or unable to dig them up. Since she turned 18, I've offered to get in touch with his parents so she can meet them and see pictures, hear stories, or whatever she needs to resolve some things in her head, but so far she says she doesn't want to.

The first few years were hard every time the calendar came to this day, but the questions and emotions fade with time. In recent years, it's barely hit my radar. I'm not sure why hearing Mraz talk about his friend made me think so deeply about it, but I needed to write the story down anyway, so I'm thankful the chi was stirred.

Whatever branch of reality Joey chose to inhabit next, I hope he's happier there than he was here.

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