Situation Normal. Atmosphere Breathable. Brainstem Injected. Dialogue Engaged.
Friday, November 14, 2014

The Road Less Traveled


When I was seventeen I met a peculiar guy at a party. He was filthy, his punk t-shirt was torn in the wrong places, and he was as drunk as I'd ever seen a fifteen year old get. He was crying because he'd lost his shoes, and everybody was making fun of him mercilessly. Having always held a soft spot for drunks, outcasts, and punks, I felt bad for him, as well as a little kinship.

"What's wrong man? Sit up. It can't be that bad. Stop crying, this ain't your party. You're an ugly scene all to yourself right now and I'm sure that ain't necessary."

He mumbled/howled/bawled out some unintelligible nonsense, of which all I could understand was "my FUCKING shoes!"

"Relax man, we'll find them. What's your name?"

Three or four people yelled "That's fuckin' SEED!" in a derogatory fashion. I ignored them and continued to address the disastrous young man.

"Come inside, wash your face, and have a seat. I'll find out who hid them from you."

Five minutes later he was snoring on the couch, little snot bubbles inflating and popping from one nostril. The last time I'd seen anyone make such a mess of himself was when I'd covered my father's drunken naked form with all the cold cuts in the refrigerator, maybe two weeks before. As it turned out, the shoeless guy's name wasn't Seed. He got that nickname by repeatedly failing to take the seeds out of his pot before rolling joints, causing them to explode and scare whoever was hitting it. His name was Ian Denbroeder.

Back then, I lived with my folks, and the garage was my personal party zone. It was covered in posters, ashes, and spilled food. It wasn't long before this kid started showing up to read comic books and drink cheap beer. He liked to play chess (badly, I always won) and he often brought marijuana. I liked him most of the time. When I didn't, it was when he threw up on the floor, tried to strangle his girlfriend, or shit his pants. He never could modulate his alcohol intake, nor did he ever learn that skill.

I'm making him sound really shitty, which isn't totally fair. Let me tell you about some of the good things. He lit up with joy when a song he liked came on, lit up like nobody I've seen since. A crazy fire would illuminate his eyes and he'd pump his fist and swing his head until he couldn't stand it anymore. Then he'd get up and sing and dance, bumping into furniture or garbage cans or bicycles, knocking them over, never losing a beat. His singing sounded awful, but it was charming somehow.

He was also funny, in his bizarre way. One day he knocked on my door in the middle of the night, drunk as usual, barefoot and a little bloody. He'd walked five miles to my parents' house after being ejected from a party. He'd lost his shoes (a common theme for him) and wanted me to donate a pair of mine. I offered him a place to crash, but he had plans. "Just the shoes, please and thank you." I rummaged and eventually handed over a beat up pair of sneakers I'd recently retired. He grabbed me by the hair, (it was very long back then) and planted a kiss square on my lips. "You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar." He slipped on my old shoes and walked off.

Ian had a scar across his forehead. One day shortly before I met him, he stole his older brother's new truck and intentionally crashed it into a concrete barrier in order to hurt his family. His intention, he said, was to die and fuck over his brother at the same time. To say that he didn't get along with his family would be an understatement. Occasionally he'd claim traumatic brain injury from the crash, but everybody knew that was bullshit. He was just depressed and had an alcohol problem. A lot of us did, frankly.


All I ever wanted in life was to live alone. Eight months after I finally achieved that goal, I lost my main job. I had three choices: make a car payment, pay the rent, or say fuck it and blow my secondary income on drugs until there was nothing left of me. You know what I chose, and when I fell, it was Ian who caught me. He set out a mattress in his living room and told me his XBOX live password. We ordered a lot of pizza. You hear people talk about loyalty and friendship, but with Ian, it was fiercer than that. He looked at me like an older brother and a lost puppy at the same time. He was there when I needed him.

One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me in my entire life was Ian, back on Christmas Eve, 2007. My father was homeless and sinking fast, and I knew it. He called because the shelter was full, it was bitterly cold out, and he didn't want to drive to the Des Plaines Oasis parking lot where he usually parked his white van for the night. I asked, and Ian said it was fine if he stayed the night. He welcomed my dad and then retreated to his bedroom so my father and I could could hang out, just the two of us. Dad was ashy, weezy, and grey. I knew then his death was coming, and so did he. I spent the night getting drunk with Dad one last time. I said everything that was in my heart. When Dad fell off the couch and started snoring face down, I got Ian and he helped me pick him up, put him back on the couch, and cover him in a blanket.

We moved from Elk Grove Village to Chicago shortly thereafter, right across from the Vienna factory. We geeked out over Battlestar Galactica, The Clash, and small batch bourbon. We had fun and made terrible food together. There came a day when my sister Anita was stuck and had to move immediately. Without hesitation, Ian not only offered that she move in with us, but he also volunteered the master bedroom, which was his. He took the tiny third bedroom instead, which was barely more than a glorified closet. For a while, we were three peas in a pod, happily binge watching sci-fi and fantasy DVDs and eating platters of imported meats and cheeses and beers.

Unfortunately, Ian was always depressed and self-loathing, and sometimes drunk and angry. My sister is a happy, bright woman, and Ian eventually grew to resent her. He'd get shithammered super fast and talk about how evil and awful he was, turning Anita and I into his armchair psychologists. He eventually got even worse with whiskey and began to project his self-hatred externally. One morning at five AM he burst into the bathroom while Anita was showering for work, screaming that she's a bitch who looked down on him, and that one day he'd show her. Fortunately he never tried to touch her or I'd have killed him myself. It was vile. It enraged me. I know where it came from, given his constant verbal self-lashing, but I didn't care. Even after everything he did for me, that act was unforgivable. Intimidating and threatening and frightening my family was a hard line crossed. Anita and I moved out together immediately and left Ian behind. I told you at the beginning that he could be ugly.


I did eventually get an apartment all to myself again and fixed the financial problems I caused myself in 2007. Ian sent me a message on facebook, throwing out "remember that time?" stories. I never forgot what happened, but he seemed lonely and sad, so I said yes when he asked to hang out. He came over a few times, and we listened to the same Clash records we played in my garage. He told me about his print shop work and his giant novelty weapons, and we drank beer. It was kind of like the old days.

One day last winter he asked for a ride from Cumberland Station and a place to crash, as well as a ride to work in the morning. I said sure. He asked to stop at McDonalds, and when I pulled into the lot, a skinny, bug-eyed crackhead couple came running up (and into) the backseat of my car, while Ian popped the lock and tried to explain what was happening. I was silent, hyper alert, and furious. He bought his heroin and even had the nerve to say "shush!" when I addressed him by his name. He had a code name with his junkie crowd, it seemed. I bitched, but I let him crash and do his shit. However, after being tricked into going to score heroin, I decided to cut him out of my life forever.

And so I did. He called a few times after that, but I ignored him. Last June, he robbed a 7-11 for $40 and went to prison for two months. When he got out, he lasted less than twelve hours before going to score. Two weeks ago he chose (I believe it was intentional) to take a fatal dose instead of facing 5-7 years of court-mandated sobriety, discipline, and hard work.

I am very sad that he died. He was a wild person, both good and bad, like the rest of us. It hurts to know that despite all the wonderful things about him, he constantly chose to hurt himself, the entire time I knew him. He is gone, but so is his constant torment. He is at peace. And I will miss the good Ian Denbroeder.

Peace, brother.
8:11 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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