I didn’t have a normal childhood or adolescence. I entered kindergarten knowing how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, divide, and balance simple chemical equations. I spent my first five years sitting in the back of class working on whatever the teacher game me to occupy my time. I skipped sixth grade and went to 7th with every intention of becoming a juvenile delinquent. I was wildly successful at the endevor, managing to do every kind of drug, get arrested several times, and kicked out of school five times—banished from Tulsa Public Schools for 10th grade and having to go to Bishop Kelley to avoid “Street School”. Near the end of 11th grade, something clicked and I realized that if I ever wanted to make it on my own I needed to graduate high school and go to college. No small feat given that my GPA was probably 1.3 at the end of my Junior year.
I met Kelly Dancer through my old soccer buddy, Mark Fisk. Mark and Kelly were an inseparable pair, and both wound up going to Dartmouth after graduating from Memorial High. Senior year I tried to clean up a little and reclaim my place among the smart people in high school. Most of them wouldn’t give me the time of day, but Mark always knew that I had it, and Kelly and I became good friends despite being political opposites. Kelly was a proud, card-carrying member of the John Birch Society, and a rabid conservative. It was Model UN that really cemented my relationship with Kelly and Mark. I was an unstoppable force in Model UN, and the life of the party for our local and state competitions. I’d be drinking booze and smoking weed in the parking lot and then walk in and dominate the world. Among that small group of geeks, I was the cool guy–in the minds of a bunch of geeky teenagers.
Kelly and I started to hang out a lot before going to college, we’d drink and party. I introduced him to pot, which he didn’t like—but another friend introduced him to cocaine—which Kelly liked a lot. Kelly made a lot of money programming computers, and he had big contracts with Wal Mart to do their transitions to PC based platforms. He bought himself a new Camaro and paid cash. I even worked for him off and on helping with programming, but I wasn’t very good. College was mostly a one year interruption in our friendship, Kelly quit Dartmouth after a year and moved back to Tulsa to make money. I always suspected that part of the rationale for quitting school was because he wanted to make money to buy coke. I had moved from the University of Oklahoma to the University of Tulsa, so Kelly and I were back together partying in Tulsa.
But, I wasn’t much into the party anymore. I was taking 18 hours a semester and working two or three jobs. I was on the fast track toward my goal of being a sociology professor. I was going to go to a top university for graduate school and become a professor at a research university. Kelly thought I was an idiot. Money was all that mattered and education is just fluff. Look at Bill Gates….Kelly began to drink more heavily. A party was no longer a few cases of beer, but a few cases and a giant bottle of Jack Daniels or Crown Royal. He gained a huge amount of weight, and didn’t seem to care. He had married (as had I), but it didn’t seem to have reduced his drive to party to excess. He became abusive towards friends, and I really didn’t have time for such childishness, and after a big incident at a party at our apartment, my now ex-wife said she didn’t want him around anymore–and I wasn’t going to disagree. I never saw him again.
I wanted to be just like Kelly. I remember being so envious of Kelly and Mark, going off to Dartmouth, and Emily Poe and Angela Graf heading to Rice. I barely graduated from high school and had to take night classes to do it. I almost lost that when an altercation with an administrator led to me being kicked out a month before graduation. But, they passed me anyway, and the University of Oklahoma had to let me in because of my ACT score. But I was so jealous. I had fucked up. I should have been going to a top school, and instead I was barely going to college. I wanted so much to be like Kelly and Mark. I guess Kelly wanted to be like me, permanently stoned and doing crazy shit. I feel guilty for exposing him to booze and drugs, and I’ve thought about that many times since Kelly quit Dartmouth.
I could tell Kelly was in a free-fall, and it would take a major rehab to turn his life around. I always hoped that would happen. This morning my old friend David Gieber dropped me a cryptic note to check the Tulsa obits. I should have known right away who it was. I think Dave was at the last party at our apartment. Kelly helped save me and pulled me out of my own freefall into the abyss, but he lost his grip and fell. Nobody had to tell me how Kelly died. I’m sorry, Kelly, I’ll miss you brother.