I have no idea what to write. I’ve been wracked with thoughts for the last few days but nothing material is coming out. At times I find it therapeutic to jot my mental ramblings down, sift through them, re-read them, edit them, in the hopes of finding some pattern, some answer, amongst the chaos. Maybe this will be one of those times. Probably not.
A close friend of mine back home is in trouble. Big trouble. I was reading about a recent homicide – a man was beaten to death on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the article they mentioned the accused – the name, the age, the area in which it happened, all too similar to be coincidence. My friend, a good buddy from university and several years thereafter, is charged with murder.
I won’t mention his name, nor link to the developing story. This is not about publicizing this horrible situation. I feel for the victim’s family, although I don’t know them at all. It is reported that he was a very shady character, known to police as a drug dealer and pimp in the city’s seething underbelly. That’s not a justification, just context. My friend was apparently his roommate, and from what I’ve read he was the one to call emergency services and waited for them to arrive. He didn’t flee, or try to cover it up, nothing. It seems that these events – tragic, violent events – transpired and he accepted that he needed to ‘do the right thing’ as it were and wait for authorities. There’s no doubt about his involvement – it was him – so now the investigation is centred on motive and circumstance. What happened? Was it pure self-defense, as I honestly do hope? Or had he taken a dark path over the last number of years – we haven’t been in contact for a long while – and was this related to their mutual dealings? Was my friend involved, even peripherally, in the seedy underworld of the city’s vice trades? We don’t know yet. I know his sister well, and the family is in the dark as much as the rest of us. All we have right now is what is being reported in the press, which is admittedly little. All we know is that my friend, their son, brother, the guy we all knew, is sitting in jail in protective custody, awaiting formal charges and trial dates. He’s probably scared, terrified of what comes next, replaying the events over in his head time and again, wracked with guilt or confusion or anger or remorse and/or all of the above, alone.
I moved away many years ago – first out of the city, then to the Middle East, then to Sweden, and in the process have lost – or just minimalized – contact with a lot of people. Friends have had children that I’ve yet to see. I haven’t been there for birthdays, anniversaries, get-togethers, major and minor milestones in life. Random Facebook messages and status updates are, at times, my only link to those I’ve left behind, to those who have moved on with life, those with whom I spent some of the best times in years past. Perhaps that is a common experience for chronic expats – the fading friendships, the sense of disconnect with both the old and new cities, a sort of existentially transient dream state where nothing seems real or permanent, where that which was clear and vivid has dissolved into sepia-toned memories and ‘remember whens’, replaced only by flimsy, fleeting scenescapes that will blow over in the wind and be forgotten soon enough. It’s hard enough to find, nurture, and maintain close friends – at least for me – but knowing that in a short time we’ll all fly away, move on, making promises of staying in touch but only randomly checking their Facebook statuses in a vain attempt to feel that connection – maybe that makes the process seem all too futile, and not worthy of even the attempt. So we cocoon ourselves in our transitory world, meet arms-length friends for a Friday night pint, and accept that life goes on, so shall we, so will they, and there’s nothing to be done for it. It sounds fatalistic, but maybe that’s just a way to cope, to avoid true loss, because once we’ve left ‘home’, we’ve experienced enough loss for a lifetime.
But sometimes things bring us back to that old reality, show us what we’ve left, what we miss, what we gave up. My best buddy had his first baby when I was in Dubai, and it killed me to not be there. My other best buddy had his first a short time later. He’s since had his second. These are guys I’ve spent most of my life with, my closest friends, my confidants. We chased girls together, got into all manner of shenanigans together, built our lives and personalities and futures and everything together, but at these critical moments, I’m nothing more than a voice on the phone on the other side of the world. The allure of the international lifestyle and excitement of expat living dulls at those times, actually becoming a dark cloud that threatens rain and storm and all sorts of regret.
This, right now, is one of those times. My friend is in jail, his family is confused and hurting, and I can do nothing but send emails of support and sympathy and troll the news services for tidbits of information in the hopes of understanding a little more. We still don’t know what happened fully, and because I haven’t been in contact for some time, I don’t even know the background. Was he involved in the darker elements of society? If so, how did this happen? This is a guy I knew well – we hung out, studied together, took roadtrips to the US together, organized and hosted parties together, even took our then-girlfriends on double dates together. He is a quick wit, a wickedly funny and dynamic mind, someone that makes you feel smarter after talking to him for just 5 minutes. He is a caring soul, one who feels deeply for people and has a profound understanding of the human condition and all its fun and folly. He is someone I was proud to know, and prouder still that he would call me his friend as well. So if, then, he became involved in some shady dealings and kept questionable company, how did such a dramatic change transpire? What the hell happened?
If, on the other hand, this is a situation of self defense that turned fatal, what was the situation there? I am not a violent person at all, but can easily see where a situation could turn violent in defense of others. I once had two guys pull a knife on me in a very bad area of Toronto, late at night with no one around. That could have turned out very badly, and did to a degree, but no one was seriously injured and I managed to get away in tact. But were someone to threaten my wife, or my family, or close friends, and no other reasonable option existed, I would have little compunction about using any means necessary to quell the threat. Maybe this was such a case? Maybe he, like me were I in his shoes, is wracked with guilt and angry that the situation got that far. Maybe… we just don’t know.
But for all the lingering questions and possible scenarios and maybes and what-ifs, what is haunting me most right now is the thought of him, sitting in a cold cell, no family or friends there for support, left only with his mind and the memories of that fatal afternoon, and the thousands of questions that must be keeping him up at night. I want to be there for him, to let him know that I – we, all of us – have him in our thoughts, regardless of what the situation truly was. But I’m here, out of contact with that part of my old life, with little more than emails and Facebook messages. He must feel so much more alone, and that hurts.