At various times we had all wondered why we remained friends with him! It was exhausting keeping up with the misadventures that constituted Gary’s life! There were the late night phone calls in which it was immediately apparent that he was drunk out of his mind: “I hate you! No, I don’t, I love you! It’s not fair!” For a number of years “It’s not fair” was the mantra he chanted whenever Life was demanding something of him with which he didn’t want to deal. It became clear to us all that he drank himself into obliviousness in order to run from whatever was currently not-fair. The same with the drugs. At various times we each had received that call from a hospital asking if we knew him, saying that he had been found overdosed on whatever his drug-of-the-moment was. If one of us accused him of lying to us about the drugs he replied, “I don’t lie… I omit!”
From our point of view, omitting the truth about things seemed to be THE problem, and… aside from the booze and drugs… this issue of avoidance manifested itself roughly every two years in his suddenly moving to a new apartment. Often, we had no idea that it had occurred and we had to once again track him down to his new address. We sometimes wondered why we bothered as there so often seemed so little reward in it for us! But Gary seemed to think that in a new place he could be someone other than himself! Oddly, though, in every new apartment that he moved into he strove for continuity by tricking the apartment out to look almost exactly like all of the previous places: that hideous salmon-coral pink color on all of the walls, that “Just Do It!” poster over his bed, and his massive collection of Hawaiian hula lamps!
And then, unnoticed by us, he stopped running! One of us contacted the rest with the realization that Gary had, by then, been in the same place for three years now! To us it seemed that something must have happened of which we were not cognizant, so we called him and arranged for everyone to come over with a dish of food so we could have a dinner celebrating our friendship. To our surprise he said “Yes!” There was no “I’ll be out of town” excuse, just “Yes.” During the meal he seemed present and uncharacteristically peaceful, so much so that one of us, in front of the rest, asked, “Gary, what’s happened? You seem settled, like you’re finally happy.” He replied, “It’s because of Deng Xiaoping.”
In unison we all yelled, “WHAT?!!!” He smiled, apparently not threatened by our response. “Yeah,” he continued, “I read about when he was confronted by his party members and accused of being more concerned about economic reform than the purity of policy party, and Deng replied, ‘It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.’ ” Our looks of uncomprehending stupification caused him to laugh. Then he said, “Deng’s pragmatism hit me right between the eyes. Life was telling him what needed to be done, despite the party’s policy, and somehow I suddenly saw how un-pragmatic all of my avoidance is… was! I saw that whatever drug I took, however much I drank, I always woke up still being me! Wherever I moved to… I came along. Reading Deng’s words I came to see that I had no idea who that ‘I’ was… is. Deng told me to stop running, that it didn’t matter whether or not I liked myself, that oxygen doesn’t provide me with life based upon how it feels about me! I suddenly realized that I don’t really know how I feel about me! But I knew I had to stop running from finding out! I feel like I’ve lost 100 pounds. I feel free.”
That was one dinner-party that none of us will ever forget! I tried reading some of Deng’s writings but he just didn’t speak to me. But he did to Gary! It just goes to show that the strangest things can trigger enlightenment!