Walking Randy home one last time
It says a lot about my dating disasters that I was wildly overdressed for the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I ever attended. I agonized over my outfit, hair, and makeup only to walk in the door and find everyone else in hoodies and worn-in sneakers. Most attendees were chatting casually and smoking cigarettes when I showed up: the Lone Fancy Jackass, strutting through a cloud of secondhand smoke and straight down the aisle between the metal folding chairs as if it were the runway at Fashion Week.
A few steps ahead of me, my friend Randy snickered at my faux pas. He attended AA meetings regularly and knew the protocol. This night he had invited me as his date. When he saw my outfit, he knew I was overstepping my sartorial bounds, but he chose not to warn me and thus basked in my humiliation.
I met Randy in college; he shared a dorm building with my sister and we all became close. Very quickly, I learned to love Randy as if he were my own brother. We shared similar tastes in movies, music, and art. Randy was charming and thoughtful and, in any situation, he always cracked the best joke.
My first vivid memory of him was standing side by side on the porch at a toga party.We looked on in disbelief as a husky guest struggled to exit from the backseat of a Toyota Corolla. After a few tense, sweaty minutes, the guest burst out of the door of the tiny car. Standing in stunned silence, it was Randy who spoke first:“That was like watching a cow give birth to a baby.” The college crew Randy ran with, including me and my sister, was very tight-knit. We were all aware of his struggle with alcohol. Still, we included him in all our plans and helped him when his drinking got out of hand.We saw him through unspeakably tough times and never judged him. It was for this reason that he kept in touch with most of us once he got sober.
So that’s how it came to pass that I arrived with an embarrassing flourish to my first AA meeting. Randy invited a few of us college friends that day.
This was not just any meeting: Randy was receiving his two-year sobriety chip, and he wanted us there to witness it. It was a humbling experience; hearing people be so open and honest about their struggles—struggles that I will never contend with. I quickly deduced that I was in a room full of quiet heroes, people who faced the hardships of everyday life with a heavier burden than the average person.With Randy committed to his sobriety and me dedicated to my writing, our dating lives took a back seat. So, we made a habit of taking each other out instead of braving the dating scene.
I looked forward to my dates with Randy because he always managed to expand my horizons. He was a fantastic cook and often prepared dishes for me. When he excitedly introduced me to his lavender rice recipe, he overlooked the fact that rice expands as it’s cooked. I can still see him at the stove, laboriously stirring through a mountain of rice, shrieking that he’d made enough to feed the masses. Once, he got a side hustle selling skin care products and invited me to a party. (It was a huge win both for my vanity and my insatiable need for guacamole dip.) When Randy’s AA chapter hosted a picnic on the beach, he invited my whole family. It was a warm, breezy day, and Randy was happy and healthy, radiating brighter than the sun. Perhaps my favorite date was when Randy took me to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra one year near Christmas. He was curious about the show, and he knew I’d be game. It was close to three hours and, honestly, kind of weird. But my last date was with a guy who first told me he was an illegal gems dealer and then, noticing my red-and-white-striped shirt, asked me if I would hide in the bar so we could play “Where’s Waldo.” Trust me, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was a welcome upgrade. At the last significant event I participated in on Randy’s behalf, I was accompanied by most of our college crew. We reunited on a nearby Indian reservation to attend his longhouse burial. After nearly twelve years of sobriety, his addictions caught up with him one last time. It was my first longhouse ceremony, and I smiled to myself that it was just like Randy to expose me to something new.
The circumstances of his death are best kept to those he held close. But, as I looked around at Randy’s assembled friends, it was the details of his life that spoke to me.We were the people who saw all of Randy’s colors, all of his warts, and we loved him anyway. And here we were gathered one last time to walk him home.
In our transactional, boundary-filled world, finding even one person to love you unconditionally is hard; Randy was a special soul who found several.