Thomas Wictor

Thirty-three years and counting

Thirty-three years and counting

My friend Joe Cady dropped in for a visit today. In Ghosts and Ballyhoo, he’s The Punk Who Set Me on My Course (pages 17 to 20). Unfortunately, I’d set my camera to take time exposures or something, so all the images of Joe in Tim’s house came out blurry and yellow. Here’s the best one. No, Joe is not the color of cheddar cheese. He’s the pinkish hue of a Brit, as befits his ancestry.

Joe hasn’t changed a bit since I met him in 1981. I walked into our dorm room and found this thin guy with spiky hair and bondage pants, and I thought he’d hate me. By the end of the day, we were fast friends.

Thirty-three years and counting. That’s pretty amazing for anyone, but for me it’s a miracle. The moment we met, we were able to communicate. We’ve been having one unbroken conversation since 1981. Whenever we meet or speak, we pick up where we left off last time. We’ve discussed just about every subject possible.

Since Joe majored in psychology, today he was able to give me a lot of insights into my failed relationship with the Cardinal Ghost Carmen. After twenty years of ruminating on why I lost Carmen and then writing a book about it, I thought I had it all figured out. Joe added some permutations that I hadn’t considered. I think he’s right. Though revealing what he said wouldn’t violate the agreement I made with Carmen to not write about her life before or after we were together, I feel that it wouldn’t be fair.

When I wrote Ghosts, I offered Carmen uncontested kill rights, the deal I gave everyone I interviewed as a music journalist. She didn’t ask for that and initially refused. The memoir is an art project that tells one version of the many that could’ve been put on paper. My intent was very specific; I wanted to elicit certain reactions in readers and maintain the dignity of everyone involved. Carmen exercised her kill rights three times. I disagreed with her decisions, but I honored them. I don’t think the exclusions were detrimental to the art I created.

What Joe told me today is very perceptive and certainly accurate. If he’d told me these things when I was writing Ghosts, I wouldn’t have included them. I can say this: I had a far greater role in the failure of the relationship than I knew. It’s not a question of “blame” but rather physics or any of the other natural sciences. If you posit certain factors, the outcomes are unavoidable.

Put a pan of water on the stove, turn up the flame to high, and the water will boil. It’ll happen every time, regardless of what you want. It’s hard to describe how I feel about my new-found knowledge. Rationally, it should make me feel less sad about the Cardinal Ghost, but what I now see as the inevitability of my loss actually makes it more painful.

I hate when failure and suffering are built in. My own personal preference is for tragedy to come out of the blue. I find randomness—”bad luck”—much easier to accept than misfortune that’s preordained. Most people seem more traumatized when they become victims of chance.

“It could happen to anybody,” they say shakily.

That’s why I prefer it. Having some terrible experience randomly befall you means that you may have avoided it. You could’ve been lucky instead of unlucky.

I used to imagine all the steps leading up to a fatal car accident, for example: I’d start out by seeing both drivers waking up, getting dressed, having breakfast, getting in the vehicles, and driving closer and closer until they collided. At the time I thought it was horrific. Any minor change in the steps could’ve avoided the death. Something as innocuous as stopping to tie a shoelace before getting into the car became the lynchpin. An untied shoe determined whether you lived or died.

That kind of randomness used to make me afraid of everything. Now, I use it to live my life to the fullest. Randomness can take you at any second. It’s true. What better reason to strive for happiness, peace of mind, empathy, fulfillment, friendship, and kindness? Since you can lose it all in a second due to an untied shoelace, you really ought to junk everything you hate about yourself, put improvement at the top of your agenda, and fearlessly pursue your dreams.

At least that’s my own reaction to randomness.

On the other hand, when you want desperately to succeed but are doomed to fail because of deficiencies for which you aren’t responsible, it’s far more heartbreaking. You’ve been sabotaged. Someone booby trapped you.

I’ve been in several major car accidents, I’ve been in airliners that dropped out of the sky, I almost died rappelling off a water tower, I nearly drowned in the ocean, and my liver quit functioning. None of those near misses could hold a candle to thinking I was about to be murdered. When you know that your suffering is due to the actions of others, it’s much worse than bad luck or randomness.

I’m glad Joe and I had this conversation today, even though it saddens me. Would I go back and relive 1987 to 1993, knowing that my time with the Cardinal Ghost was doomed to fail? Yes. Absolutely. The pain of the loss would be worse, but the three years of perfect happiness would become all the more precious.

Two nights ago my brother Pat called from New York. In the course of the conversation, he said that my choices weren’t limited to the Cardinal Ghost or solitude.

Yes, they are. Really. I tried several times to have relationships after 1993; none could compare to the Cardinal Ghost. That’s a door I’ve closed. Other doors continue to open, but that aspect of life is not available to me. It’s not a bad thing. How many of us can say that they experienced perfect happiness for three solid years? It’s enough.

Besides, I have friends like Joe Cady, who once joined me and four other meatheads in trying to drink an entire pony keg of beer. That’s one and one-third gallons of beer per meathead. We took the keg from F-50 of Copeland Hall down to Lewis and Clark Creek at night and cavorted ridiculously, like the kids in The Lord of the Flies. To this day that’s the drunkest I’ve ever gotten. I had bedspins on three different axes: end over end, flat like a DVD in a player, and rolling like a log.

When I asked Joe how he felt the next morning, he made his characteristic noise, the one he usually made right after waking up.

As a result of this night, Joe and I share a bond that most people don’t. I’d completely forgotten about it until he reminded me. It’s on page 20 of Ghosts and Ballyhoo.

You asked me if I was going to put it in the book, Joe. Of course then I had to. You had kill rights too, remember? So don’t blame me.

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