We sat on the couch in our beach house on Lake Michigan. We were probably fifteen at the time for Tyler’s voice had dropped since I’d last seen him. I sat between my Peruvian friend Hunter and Tyler, before us a television broadcasting I don’t remember what. Tyler was lean and small, a sharp face, dark skin and curly hair. He tried harder than anyone I’ve ever known to be tough but was in truth incredibly sensitive. His biological parents were unknown; his earliest memories took place in his new home, the adopted son of two doctors, esteemed in their field. It was an ill-fitted match. Tyler had severe dyslexia and learning disabilities. I’d known him since I was four; we played with trucks and bricks side by side at the same preschool. Since then, he had developed or perhaps cultivated a tendency for recklessness, rooted partially in his lack of identity, which at the moment manifested itself in a clutter of empty and full beer bottles hidden in a dresser upstairs in the room of our rented house. He stole half a fifth of vodka from his alcoholic older brother, an actor in Los Angeles in the next room. Both had been adopted and the elder’s relationship with his parents was no better. They struggled for years to learn their mistakes even while their immense expectations left their children no choice but to fail.
On my other side sat Hunter. When I think of him I think of his laugh, a broad smile and immense mirth expressed through the corners of his eyes. I’ve met few people with a laugh more powerful; there’s no other way to describe it, except that it carried more emotion, more mirth than that of others. He was Peruvian, and although poor, dressed with an authentic charm. His clothes were not nice but they expressed him so fully that he possessed a complete and striking aesthetic. His frame was square and lean, his face wide, and complexion similar to Tyler’s. His smile rarely left his face.
I hadn’t been close to Tyler in a few years. I’d moved away after sixth grade. I left a kid. Adolescence hadn’t hit in earnest. Since then I’d learned of Tyler’s marijuana habit and friendship with Hunter. I used to play on a Rec. soccer team with Hunter, during the era of incessant attempts to sign me up for extracurricular activity. He’d been on the fringe of my friend group for a number of years, but I’d never met him directly. I knew he was poor; I knew he smoked weed. I was both intimidated and thrilled by their recklessness, their experience in the adult world with substances I swore I’d never try.
After sipping some vodka and coke and pretending to be drunk for a few minutes, we left the house and crossed the street, pattering down the wooden stairs to the beach, the light sipping of waves audible in front of us but their visage too dark to see. Hunter owned a guitar; it was not nice but it was a part of him in a way few people ever achieve. He never talked about it. He was not public about his affinity for his guitar, but when he picked it up, the multitude of hours spent lost with it in his arms became apparent. He looked more natural with a guitar in his arms than without one. I had one, too; nicer, but unnatural and clunky in my arms. I’d accumulated perhaps three hours of total practice time; he, thousands.
We stood alone on the beach for a minute. We’d brought chairs but needed a fire and had none. To our left, a mile or two in the distance, a small speck of a yellow flame was visible on the beach, although the beach itself was not. The sky was dusky blue and the moon weak as we walked towards the fire. It drew us, naturally. The fire approached exceedingly slowly. Our arms grew tired holding the chairs and we nearly gave up, but the prospect of the long walk back through cold sand deterred us.
The fire was abandoned when we approached. It was small and had not been burning long. Around it sat three chairs, a rug, a cooler, and a guitar. We sat down. Hopefully, the fire makers would not come back. Or maybe they would. I was terrified; they relaxed. It was strange to me; neither of them considered risk, they knew it was there but not consider it consciously.
A dark figure plodded down the woodens stairs above us. It was large, definitely a man. He greeted us and sat down. Three fifteen year old boys had taken over his fire. I thought he seemed awfully relaxed given the circumstance. He asked where we were from. He was not patronizing. His name was Chad. Or Thad. Something similar. I was shy but Hunter and Tyler carefree about their thoughts. They asked if he had weed. Surprisingly, he said yes, and offered to smoke with us. He said something like “You won’t find bud like this again until you’re thirty.” As he tread up the beach to retrieve his piece and weed from his house we talked, excitedly. The moon had come out from behind the clouds, lighting the beach. We could see the light surf, which was picking up slightly as the tide approached. The fire would be out in an hour.
Chad returned. They smoked. They offered me a hit, which I tried to take but didn’t know how to inhale. I pretended to be high after that, saying, “I think I feel it.” Chad lived in a house on the beach; I forget what he said he did, something business related. He told us what drugs we should and shouldn’t try, asked about our interests and goals, validated us as people, as individuals. By three, the water had crept under and through the embers, which hissed which smoldered. Soon the logs rolled every which way down the beach, steaming. We picked up the chairs, said our farewells, and began the walk back. It went quickly, the way now visible in the light of the newly uncovered moon.