Twenty years is an awful long time. Time has a way of softening and filtering the harshest realities. I used to make a solemn occasion of the week before Halloween. Many friends had to endure my morose sentimentality as I reflected on the passing of my youth. Maybe I'm old enough at last to savor the "good old days." Over the past decade, I have made it a point to steer clear of making grand pronouncements and declarations on October 24, but I feel that twenty years offers up a kind of milestone.
Twenty years ago today I had my first slap-in-the-face, cut-your-hamstrings, ten-thousand volt experience with the loss of a friend. Darren, our "little buddy," preceded Bob Denver to the afterlife by lo these score years. The pain has all but disappeared, but the memory of just how abrupt his passing was lingers. I can't actively miss him anymore, but I know that he (his spirit?) continues to hang around. Not in any profound, furniture-moving kind of ways, but in pleasant wisps of inspired lunacy.
I know this because he made a promise to his little sister. Twenty-one years ago, Darren was back in Oklahoma (Muskogee) for the summer, and he was hanging around the house watching movies. His sister came in and started watching with him. The feature that afternoon was John Carpenter's "The Fog" (recently remade, for no apparent reason this Fall). His sister was getting solidly creeped out by the story of a Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, that turns out to be the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Pretty tough stuff for a pre-teen Baptist.
Sensing his sister's unease, Darren struck this note: "If I was going to come back, I wouldn't try to scare people, or bug them. I'd be more like a Three-Stooges-type-ghost." And now I think he has done just that. I'm not a big fan of afterlife, it seems a little too simple just from an accounting standpoint (an ever-increasing population diluting a limited number of available souls), but the goofy energy that was once Darren seems to hang around some days like that creepy mist from the movie.
I had no idea that I was going to be growing up so much, so fast. For a while I made every effort to keep it from happening. How was I to know that a door had been kicked down and I was being dragged to my eventual future? We made big footprints in those days. It was true twenty years ago, and it is true today: Darren truly stomped on the terra.