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He's a genius. The father of two incredible kids (a boy and a girl). He's divorced, or at least irreconcilably separated. He's been my best friend since we were in the seventh grade together. He can type so fast that it becomes impossible to distinguish the individual keystrokes. Maybe not that fast. But fast, and fast is what Chris is. He can add cards by their face value as fast as you can lay them. He drives fast. He's fast on his feet. He comes to conclusions quickly. Sometimes, he can lose his temper quickly too.
He told me the other day that to him, a car is just a tool to use from getting from point A to point B. Chris drives a Toyota Tercel. Very economical, reliable. One of Consumer Report's best buys. An excellent "tool."
His car tells a lot about him. It's pretty messy. There's garbage in it, which says that Chris is much too busy to be concerned with trash control. He's a person with purposes and obligations, time constraints. He isn't a slob in the conventional sense. It's just that to spend one's time cleaning the floor of one's car is a ludicrous idea when there are so many books to read, stories to write, friends with which to communicate. Chris is a workaholic. And besides the work, it's important to save time for things like watching TV or playing cards, because Chris, especially Chris, needs time for regeneration. No, cleaning the car is a waste of time, and Chris has no time to waste.
Much of the debris in Chris's car can be traced to his kids. Popsicle sticks, sometimes with evidence that the popsicle was still attached at the time of discarding; crayon masterpieces on construction paper, Denny's coloring place mats, scraps of envelopes touched by the artist's hand. Chris is a good father. He'd be the first to criticize himself in this department, but that's because this is the department he cares the most about, and that's what makes him a good father. He nurtures. He disciplines. He explains. He cares. Sometimes he spins elaborate, completely fallacious explanations for everyday things, which he never bothers to correct, and so he teaches his kids to be wise in the way of the world. The way of the world being that most people never give you the straight scoop. Chris's kids are already well-versed in irony, at the ages of four and five.
Chris's car also bears some wounds. A broken taillight. Two dented fenders. At least one of these was from the wife, another from a friend to whom Chris lent the car. Which brings up the point that Chris is generous. He will help you out of a jam if you need him. And he also bears a number of wounds.
The passenger-side arm rest is missing. You have to close the door by pulling on the latch and giving it enough momentum to swing shut. The result of an argument with the ex. After she got out of the car, he reached across and slammed the door so hard the assembly came off in his hand. Tercels may be good, dependable tools, but their door handles are only attached with four little screws. Note the temper I mentioned earlier.
The missing door handle also illustrates that Chris is no weakling. When we were in high school on the basketball team together, Chris's hero was Charles Barkley. He did a good job of emulating. At only five-eleven, he pulled down 24 rebounds in one game.
But enough with the car. A car can only tell you so much about a person.
Chris is a writer. It's a dicey thing to say someone's a writer, at least, if you respect the term to the extent that Chris does. The first ingredient, of course, to qualifying as a writer, is whether or not the individual in question actually writes. This Chris does. He writes and writes, blasting out material in a flurry of keystrokes. But just cranking it out wouldn't make a writer, in Chris's opinion, and that's part of the second ingredient he possesses that makes him a writer. He believes in the sanctity of his chosen pursuit. He's impassioned about writing. He's serious about it. He's deadly serious about it. He's committed. He's willing to sacrifice relationships and personal comforts to put in the long hours, days even, to honing his skills. And he's willing to do so not because he wants to write, but because it's something he needs to do, because not doing it might literally result in madness.
Sometimes Chris can be exasperating. This is a whole other aspect of his personality. He's exasperating to me because he has problems I can't solve, and I'm a problem solver kind of guy. I see a person with a problem, and I want to help them through it. Help them realize their potential.
Ah, potential. If there ever was a word to encourage, provoke, rebuke... potential would have to be it.
That's what Chris has in abundance, and what he accuses me of possessing as well. We serve to remind each other of what we could and should be doing. For all of our hypocrisy, we do a fair job of opening each other's eyes.
Hypocrisy, though, is the other thing about Chris that can be exasperating. He accuses me of self-deprecation, for example, and yet he doesn't believe that he is a good writer or a good father, which are the exact two things that mean the most to him, and at which he most excels. He berates me for constantly thinking I can make a difference in people's lives (he has often said, "The people who are going to make it will make it no matter what you try to do to stop them, and the people who aren't going to make it will defy your every effort to help them"), and yet when confronted with my own paralysing self-doubts, he will nearly fly into a rage at the potential I stand to waste by taking the easy way out.
I've come to hypothesize that all of Chris's hypocrisies exist for one reason. This reason is plain as day, and makes perfect sense. When a person is as downright argumentative and opinionated as Chris is, he can't help but be hypocritical. This is because opinions and arguments stem from within, and none of us can lay claim to a grid pattern in our psyche. Psyches, and Chris's perhaps more than average, are twisted places, dominated by the insecurities that our lives, and especially our childhoods, have generated within us. This, at least, is my theory, and I've studied enough Richard Peck to know of what I speak.
When Chris was young, his father and mother separated. This, in itself, is plenty enough to damage a young person. And while Chris's childhood must've had many negatives, there's one that I only came to know last week (which tells you a little something about how close Chris holds his cards). His biological father lives right here in Fairbanks, and Chris hasn't seen or spoken to him in over twenty years! The man has made no move to see his son since the separation. Which is why I find Chris exasperating at times, because it's difficult for me to understand his existence. If I were suddenly thrust into his place, I'd be over at that guy's house tonight, demanding some kind of explanation, retribution, or, at the very least, a face to face rejection. But then, if I were truly Chris, how could I look at the situation any differently than he does? Being in someone else's shoes is an impossibility, because if you did somehow manage to get them on, then they wouldn't be someone else's shoes any longer. So, I'm left exasperated, because I know I can offer him no real solutions.
His kids are a good example. While he is separated from his wife, he still gets to see his kids regularly and take an active role in their upbringing. A time is coming, though, when he will have to choose between staying close to his kids and his ex-wife or striking out on his own. After all, he has hopes and dreams. Graduate school, maybe. A different climate, perhaps. That madness, the one associated with his writing that I mentioned earlier, ever present, will come creeping in on him if he doesn't go somewhere and do something. Chris, after all, is no stagnant personality. But if he goes, he'll effectively be abandoning his children. He has to make a choice between his children and his life, and yet there's no real way to choose one over the other without seriously compromising both.
I can't conceive of a solution for this dilemma. It's like that simulation test in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, when Lieutenant Saavik is placed in a no-win situation. I always thought it was profound that James Kirk found a way to beat the no-win situation by reprogramming the computer so it was no longer a no-win situation. But this is real life, and Chris isn't James Kirk. Maybe he could learn a thing or two from him though.
I said at the start that Chris is my best friend. Such a statement is more about me than about him, but it's his personal qualities that have made him my best friend. I hope you will grow to appreciate those qualities -- his humor, irony, and scathing intellect, his humanity, passion, and integrity -- the way that I do.