Living Out Loud: : Looking at the Past

The old friend

I've seen this guy walking around Clifton for maybe a month now. He's usually on the other side of the street, and I say to myself it can't possibly be him. Surely he's drunk himself to death by now.

A couple days ago I was walking up to Arlin's to meet some friends. I saw him sitting at an outside table in front of Sitwell's. Again he was across the street, but he kept staring at me and I stared back, starting to feel tense.

While in Keller's picking up some eggs this afternoon, I saw the man again. He was looking at some cheese a few feet away from me. We make solid eye contact.

Fuck. Goddamn it.

It is him. He looks heavier and older now, but there's no mistaking that face and those black-rim glasses.

He looked startled when he saw me, and I'm sure I looked the same. We said nothing to each other — just picked up our purchases and kept moving. I felt angry at the checkout lane, couldn't wait to get the hell out of the store.

The man I ran into this afternoon was my old college professor and one-time friend. I've known him for almost 30 years. About nine years ago he was also my roommate, and last year, I wrote about him in this column (See "Don't Give Up On Me," issue of Feb. 16-22, 2005). I wrote about his out-of-control alcoholism and how I had to kick him out of my apartment.

I was living in Price Hill at the time, and as I walked back to my current place on Ludlow Avenue, I thought to myself that it shouldn't surprise me to find him in Clifton. This is where he and his wife lived — I'm assuming his ex-wife now — and he always loved the diversity of the area, just as I do.

When I got home, I just sat at my desk and stared at my computer for awhile. The old days — going to college, smoking weed with him and the good times — entered my head. Then the final straw — drunk all the time, the lies, the shit he put me through while living together — overshadowed those memories. Seeing him in Keller's made me look at my past, and the whole thing seems bizarre, that our paths would cross yet again.

I can't help but wonder if he's stopped drinking. The last time I talked to his soon to be ex-wife, she said he was trying; but he's made many attempts in the past, and they never stuck. That's how he ended up living with me. His wife couldn't stand it anymore.

I don't like the fact that I saw him today and that he's living here. I feel like he has invaded my space by coming into my neighborhood that I like so much. A few columns back, I wrote about it, wrote about Clifton's Gaslight District, where everybody knows your name and how comfortable and friendly it is. Now I can't help but wonder if that's going to change. I remember the events at the end of our living together — those eight days of hell he put me through — and now he's a goddamn neighbor.

Don't get me wrong. I take friendships very seriously. It takes a lot for me to totally give up on someone, and I tried to be his friend for almost three decades.

To talk to him, you would think he's an intelligent, engaging, friendly guy, and he most certainly is. But he's also a raging and lying alcoholic and, even if he is now sober, I don't want to ever lose sight of that reality. I can't.

Sooner or later we'll have a conversation. Sooner or later he'll run into me and he'll want to know how I am, how sorry he is about what happened and how he's changed and is off the bottle. He'll want to get together again, maybe go to Sitwell's. You see, I know how he is.

I'll be friendly and polite, but that will be the end of it. There will be no getting together or restoring the friendship. There's no going back; and while I know I'll bite my tongue and not say it, I wish he would move the hell away from my home and from my space. I wish he would get the fuck out of Clifton.

Larry Gross' book, "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories," is in bookstores now.

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