I sat at my desk and stared at the glowing monitor. “He can’t be gone. He can’t be gone. He can’t be…” My words trailed off like an interrupted meditation mantra. I suppose that somewhere inside me there was the belief that if I refused to accept what the computer screen showed me, then it would not…could not be true. Salvatore was gone.
Salvatore, or Sal as he was known to everyone but his grandmother, and I first crossed paths more years ago than I cared to remember. I suspect what made us such fast friends was the differences between us. We were not kindred spirits but, more properly, proof that opposites do attract. He was all of the things that I was not. While I was quiet and bookish, Sal was boisterous and street smart. Where I was calm and deliberate, Sal was too busy flying by the seat of his pants to concentrate on anything.
It was a friendship both made in heaven and forged in the fires of hell depending on the circumstances. The formula for our friendship was discovered early on and remained constant throughout all of the days of our acquaintance. Sal would create a messy situation and I would clean it up. It was just that simple and yet, is anything ever really as simple as what meets the eye?
We survived our childhood years by the simple expedient of me being able to put out the fires faster than Sal could ignite them. While I bore the brunt of adults’ anger and teachers’ ire, Sal sailed above it all…pristine and untouched by the smoke and flames. For his part, I think Sal felt badly about the flak I caught but, being Sal, could never admit it. For my part, whatever resentment I may have felt towards him was assuaged by Sal’s unique ability to make me feel important and indispensible. And I suppose, to him, I was.
As adults, our situations changed very little. I was the wage slave sitting in his cramped office and Sal was the street hustler on the prowl. I placed money into my savings with every weekly check. Sal would, one week, need a couple of bucks for lunch and the next week invite me to a restaurant so extravagant that the valet parking required a credit check. While I never quite found the “right” girl, Sal decided that the best way to find her was to just keep culling the herd one by one.
There were successes and disappointments. There were losses and there were gains. Through all of it, the one constant that remained was Sal and me. We were inseparably joined at the soul by Fate and thus would it always be…or would it?
I never will know what sent Sal in to that final destructive spiral. Anything that I suggested to him was brusquely refused with a sneer. His interactions with others became too chaotic and toxic for even me to be able to mediate. He began to behave less and less like the Sal that I had always known and that was bad. Our relationship had clearly defined rules and Sal was ignoring them all. This could not long continue.
The last time I met with Sal I barely recognized him. His suit was so rumpled and stained that I could scarce determine what color it had started out. His cheeks and chin were darkened by stubble and his hair looked greasy and lank. His eyes were wild and barely focused. It was clear he hadn’t slept in some time. I nursed a small coffee while the waitress wore tracks in the carpet refilling his empty tumbler with more scotch and soda. He was in a bad way and I guess I wasn’t much better.
I tried one last time to bring him back to being a Sal we could all live with. The drinking, the drugs, the broken hearts and broken bones were taking their toll, I told him. While I loved Sal and his bohemian ways, I reminded him that even the most free spirit needed to obey SOME societal rules. I crooned, I cajoled, I pleaded and, at last resort, I think I even threatened. It didn’t work.
For his part, Sal seemed to rally a bit and I caught a glimpse of my friend through all of the smoke and mirrors. Then an invisible curtain fell and my friend was lost to me forever. He sloshed alcohol across his suit as he gesticulated wildly at me. He was Sal, damn it, and if you don’t like what you see? Take a hike! He would do as he had always done, be as he had always been and nothing had changed. My pleas for moderation fell on deaf ears and my course seemed locked and headed for only one outcome.
For one time in my life, the mouse roared. I transformed from Jekyll into Hyde and I raged. I demanded that Sal do as I told him, make the changes I absolutely required or there would be consequences that he could not survive. His features went from shocked to his habitual sneer and finally to an expression that could only be called insane. As he gibbered and drooled in a complete manic breakdown, I reached down and pressed the Delete key…ending Sal’s existence and ripping a chunk out of my soul.
Head in hands, I glanced again at the blank screen and wept. My oldest friend, my Enkidu, my Main Character was…no more.