Babylon Revisited, Revisited

Beverly was #7, the last person on the list. Everyone on it had two things in common. They were all my Facebook friends and they were all dead. I put together the list last week, a day after I found out about Beverly. The other six had been floating around in my head, vanishing then reappearing as my memory lapses would come and go.

I wrote it longhand in my spiral notebook while sitting at my desk at work. Next to each name was the cause of death:

  • Brian – AIDS
  • JD – Cancer
  • Patty – Suicide
  • Holden – Cancer
  • Kalen – Cancer
  • Karys – Heart Attack
  • Beverly – Heart Attack

All of them died relatively young. Beverly was the only one to live past 60 and she only made it to 62. She and Patty were the only friends I knew in the Bay Area. Kalen was a friend I only knew online. JD was a frat buddy at San Diego State. The remainder were friends from when I lived in Santa Barbara.

The list was in chronological order. Brian checked out in 2014. JD passed away in 2015. Patty and Holden died 20 days apart in 2016. Kalen went in 2017. And John/Jonathan/Johan Karys (his first name changed over the years) keeled over in 2018.

Beverly died in either late February or early March of this year.

I don’t know exactly why I felt the need to make this list, but I did. Maybe I needed to impose some order on human mortality, that inevitability that makes no sense whatsoever. No, that’s not it. Imposing order has never been my thing. What little hope I have in life mostly springs from chaos. For whatever reason, seeing all the names together is comforting. It’s not so bad, I tell myself. I have a list.

When another Facebook friend dies, I shall no doubt put together a new list with eight people on it. If you happen to be an FB friend who finds this activity morbid and never wants to be on such a list, you have a couple of options. You can unfriend me or outlive me. It’s up to you.

I found out about Beverly’s death from…Veruca. That’s not her real name of course. It’s just that I can’t talk about Beverly without talking about recreational drug use. Many of those close to her were involved in that scene. I am not one to judge (and am in no position to), but a lot of people are. Even though the statute of limitations has run out on what I saw and did, reputations are still at stake.

Therefore, I decided to refer to anyone still living as a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Those mentioned can likely identify themselves while maintaining plausible deniability. The dead are out of luck. Again.

There was to be a memorial of sorts, more of an informal gathering actually, to remember Beverly while having a few drinks. It was scheduled for Monday, March 11 at a bar on 16th called the Double Dutch. Starting time TBD.

I’d been there. In fact, I had been there for another memorial gathering. It was back in 2008. My ex-girlfriend Shannon (real name because dead) had died from an overdose of something or other. We dated for about four months back in 2005. The breakup was unpleasant, but enough time had passed for us to be cordial on the rare occasions we saw each other.

Veruca was there as was a still-living Beverly. Shannon’s 19-year old daughter showed up. She looked almost exactly like her mother. I had a brief, creepy thought, which I quickly put out of my mind.

Mostly, I wanted to get out of there. A bartender friend (I have a lot of those) was doing a mud-wrestling exposition with her roller-derby league. That had a lot more appeal than obligatory face time for a dead ex-girlfriend who was more than a little crazy.

Then again, that whole era when I was dating Shannon was more than a little crazy. There was one weekend in the first half of 2005 that comes to mind. Shannon was there. So was Beverly. However, the real star of the weekend was cocaine.

To the reader, this daisy chain of flashbacks might be a little confusing. Alas, there is no other way for me to say what I want to say and do it honestly. If you hear a war story from a drug veteran that is a clear, linear narrative, chances are he’s lying his ass off.

There was enough blow that weekend to keep a half dozen people high for 36 hours. Well, that’s not entirely true. One of the people left after the first eight hours or so. Maybe he did 36 hours’ worth before he left. He sure acted like he did.

Other than Beverly, Shannon, and myself, the three cokey revelers were my friend Violet, her boyfriend Charlie, and Shannon’s friend Augustus. I can’t remember if the drugs came from Willie, our usual supplier, or from our backup, Slugworth. Veruca was not there.

It all started pleasantly enough. Beverly, though high as a kite, was her usual friendly and rational self. Shannon, often too busy showering herself with praise to notice the eye-rolling of everyone within earshot, was being charming and delightful. Violet was hyper and adorable. No change there. Charlie grinned like a drugged-up Matthew Broderick. Augustus, who hailed from the Central Valley and was visiting Shannon for the weekend, seemed like a decent enough kid.

At some point, it turned ugly. Augustus had gotten it into his head that we had collectively wronged him in some way. Shannon tried to calm him. He told her to fuck off then fled.

I shrugged. More drugs for the rest of us then, I reasoned. Shannon disagreed. Despite her bouts of self-absorption, she genuinely cared for her friends. After a while, Augustus called Shannon saying he had taken a cab somewhere, but had no money to pay the driver. The details of how it all got resolved have been lost to time, but I do recall being very happy when we were finally free of his bullshit.

Violet’s boyfriend Charlie was next to pull off his mask and show the monster underneath. There was no outburst, no Irish (or rather Peruvian) exit, but what he did was in some ways far worse. He started talking about his natural dominance, how it was for him to have things his way all the time. I’d heard similar sentiments in BDSM circles, but his came with a cocaine-fueled certainty. It went on for hours. Part of me wanted out, but leaving meant leaving the drugs and I was not about to do that.

Through all this, Beverly stayed calm. She was a little older than me, even older than everyone else, and was doubtless no stranger to scenes crazier than this.

“Look at us. We’re all partying like rock stars,” she said at some point the next day.

She was right, except that there was no music to show for it.

I eventually drifted out of that scene, flying solo with my drug binges for some time before giving it up entirely. The weekend provided no wake-up call. Instead, it’s a memory I can look back on and say good riddance.

This is not the same as saying good riddance about all the people involved. I didn’t care much for Charlie or Augustus, but the rest were fine. As I said, Shannon and I had a nasty breakup, but I bear her no ill will. She was messed up, but so was I. The difference was that her problems killed her.

I remained on friendly terms with both Violet and Beverly after Shannon’s death, but rarely spoke with either of them. Violet cleaned up her act. Beverly kept partying. Eleven years later, she died.

On the day of Beverly’s memorial, I dropped my backpack at home after work and walked to the Double Dutch eight blocks away. Veruca messaged me the day before saying it would start at six. My pace was brisk because I thought I would be a half hour late. As I approached the bar, there was another message from Veruca saying the start time had been moved to seven. The bolted door and the trash bins in front explained why.

With time to kill, I wandered back and forth on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero. This was the block where bad decisions were perhaps either made or acted upon. I felt no temptation to return to those days. I’m happy to merely drink too much.

I entered the bar at pretty much seven o ‘clock on the nose. A lot of the faces were familiar, but Veruca was the only close friend so spent most of the time talking to her.

Like me, she has gotten her shit more or less together. We talked about Beverly, how smart and funny she was, and that neither of us were completely surprised that her life ended the way it did. We knew that good people are often imperfect and that a drug problem can be a dangerous imperfection to have.

I remember the wonderful conversations I had with Beverly, our shared appreciation of punk rock and Patricia Highsmith. Of course, shared some bad habits as well. “There but for the grace of God” would make sense if I believed in such things. Instead, it comes down to luck and knowing that even the best of luck won’t last forever.

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