Today I reconnected with some old friends from my youth. We gathered to pay our respects and say farewell to yet another “valley kid”, Cary Smith, who had been taken far too young.
The more days I walk the face of the earth, I realize how very tenuous life is. I am also reminded of how insidious the disease of drug addiction and alcoholism is. It is truly “…cunning, baffling, powerful.” Though I don’t know the exact circumstances leading to the demise of my childhood friend, I do know how easy it is to fall prey to addiction.
But that’s not what I remember about him. I remember that he always made me laugh and made me feel welcome.
When I was still partying, I recall showing up to a party feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I was shy. Booze helped me overcome that, but so did my friend Cary. With sweaty palms I scanned the room looking for someone I could talk to. There on the deck, Cary stood sipping a beer. “Langwell! What’s up?!” he shouted, waving me over.
“Have a beer,” he said, handing me a kegger cup.
Instantly, after a beer and my friend reaching out to make me feel welcome, my anxiety dissipated.
That was many years ago. I hadn’t seen him in well over 30 years. When I read his obituary two weeks ago, I felt raw. He, too, was fifty-two. It could’ve been me.
Now, I stood alongside the stables at Dickson Ranch in the crisp fall air, swapping stories and catching up with some friends whom I had not seen in over 35 years. Unlike the parties of 30 + years ago, I felt at ease. I didn’t need to drink.
As I was getting ready to leave, my friend PJ asked if I had a copy of my book that he could buy. As I handed it to him he asked if it was going to make him cry. “Yes.” I said, choking back my own tears.
We hugged and said goodbye. I drove away with tears in my eyes. Ten minutes later, as I traveled along Nicasio Valley Road, I reflected on the loss of my own brother, and others and thought how grateful I was that I have been forsaken. Just then, I looked up to see a white car speeding toward me at at nearly eighty miles-per-hour on the wrong side of the road. I slowed, breathed, and let out a sigh of relief as the driver safely passed back onto the right side of the road.
What if I hadn’t looked up? I could’ve been another statistic of yet one more “valley kid” taken “too soon.” But today was not my day.
My thoughts turned immediately to my friend who had passed. He is suffering no longer. I pray he is now at peace.