Questionable Influences

I think of my life in terms of regenerations, like Doctor Who. The smug, leather-jacketed Jeremiah straddling 2002 and 2003 was not the same Jeremiah from twelve months earlier—bleary-eyed and asking “Now what?” as he had since the second week of that September. And neither of these Jeremiahs resembled the boy who’d first been entranced by this chattering, grinning young woman in October 1998. 

She made me swoon, but not nearly as much as this city had in the previous six weeks. 

I had it bad for New York. Here I had been, twenty-two, poor, mostly friendless, and unsure of who I was, but my joy was indescribable. New York had distracted me from the desperate bender I’d used to hide a devastating breakup. She’d provided me with two jobs I needed to cover rent and a meal-and-a-half a day. She was there for me.  

On second thought, maybe that was all Shane. 

It was easy to lose Shane in the shuffle, because, even though I worshiped him and considered him the most important friend I’d ever had, he’d managed to live in my periphery. Optimistic, sincere, unique, and carefree, he contrasted my teenage cynicism and angst and helped me do the same. He brought out the artist in me, which is the one aspect of my personality I’ve never outgrown. Throughout my senior year of high school, I lounged in his apartment while he painted, and we consumed strange music from the eighties that didn’t sound like music from the eighties. 

And yet our lives were so distant from each other’s. He was a dropout who hung out with adults who had adult concerns. I was a student immersed in life-or-death student concerns. He was my ride to my surprise birthday party, but not a participant. He had been working the night of the community theater play I co-directed. He never read a story I’d ever written. Hell, I’d only met him as a result of a wager with someone else about something else entirely, and months passed before I saw him again, living in the backseat of a VW Beetle.  

To his adults, I was his occasional sidekick. To my teenagers, he was my mentor. 

Years later, when I fled the pile of rubble I’d built out of my life, he waited for me in New York. And we were equals. He showed me how to buy weed, persuaded contacts to employ me as a copy kid at a tabloid, and convinced his boss at a concert hall to make me a part-time usher. 

Over time, he faded into the background, cheering me on as I taught myself how to draw, how to date, how to drink, and how to dust myself off every time I fell down. 

I didn’t know where Shane was that moment on January 1, 2003, as I sat in the back of that cab, a beautiful woman curled in my arm, my awesome sister fading into sleep, and my future spread out before me like a buffet. 

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