In grade school I had a difficult time making friends. I was homeschooled until 3rd grade and I found it difficult to enter into a new school without a clear idea of how I fit in. I was overwhelmed and it wasn’t until high school that I found a niche where I belonged. Today I take it for granted that I can make friends. Occasionally, I look back on how it used to be. I distinctly remember one of the most humiliating experiences of my childhood. I needed a place to go after school and so my mom called Shane’s mom. She scheduled a time for me to hang out with him. Even though I was young, I understood that hanging out was supposed to originate from two kids, not parents making appointments. Despite these social irregularities, I maintained one lasting friendship from elementary school straight through to college.
His name was Jessee Seneca and he was the most annoying friend I’ve ever had. By the end of middle school he was a lanky six feet and thin like a corn stalk. He carried around a perpetual grin and a mop of dirty blonde hair. Jessee liked to talk and had the infuriating habit of not listening to reason. I would rant on and on about how idiotic his views were and he would smile, laugh and ignore everything I said. We got along well enough because we had a lot in common. Our parents were divorced and we both liked each other’s moms better. My mom gave me 100% more attention than I needed, which suited Jessee fine because he needed 100% more affection than his own mom was capable of giving. Above everything, it was our wonderful fervor for being outside that held our friendship together.
Jessee had some land and we would make bonfires and go swimming in the creek. On my dad’s 100 acres we would walk into the woods with the .22 looking for squirrels. We never found those grey furry bastards but we had fun looking. Most people I meet fall into two categories: they don’t like going outdoors or alternatively; they like being outside but have to be pursuing serious sport. Me and Jessee loved to be lazy outside, it was pleasingly luxurious.
Our symbiotic friendship was solidified when we discovered the queasy, dizzy, exhilarating feeling that comes from being hammered on cheap liquor and stale beer. I became a drunken mess for the first time with Jessee, sipping on shitty leftover alcohol we stole from his mom. After that we diligently hoarded alcohol from our parents. We would drink it in his backyard and my basement. I was a notorious lightweight, when we drank in my basement we kept a big pail for me to puke in. When I think about the puke bucket, I think about Canadian whiskey mixed with Swedish vodka. On my booze runs, I only had a single bottle to sneak away the hooch with. I’ve been drunk all over the United States but those are still some of my fondest memories.
It didn’t take long for Jessee’s mom to notice that we walked soberly to the bonfire at dusk. And two hours later we had trouble finding our footing on solid ground. From then on, if we were going to get drunk at his place, we couldn’t do it on his land. To Jessee’s family, if they didn’t see us drinking it was like it wasn’t happening. Everyone drank and it was taken as granted that Jessee would continue that tradition. We still drank at my house but it wasn’t as much fun. We had to stay in the basement with the door locked, my mom and sister trapped on the normal side, our Hunter Thompson behavior hidden from the sober world. In school I met Andrew who bought me beer through a cousin. Jessee was never employed when I knew him but I usually had a job. When I paid for the beer, we drank at his place.
Since his entire property was off limits, we would walk out the back door and head left till we crossed a dirt road. From there we would walk out to the middle of a cornfield and happily plop down a thirty pack. We would crack those warm beers open and sit there in the dark drinking under the moon. It was exciting because alcohol was still a novel experience. We didn’t care that other people drank in bars, we made our own excitement. Sometimes we even let others make our nights exciting. Sitting under a half moon, on a particularly cold night, we were surprised to see a car turn down the dirt road that borders the field. It would be quite a memory for them to find us; two teenagers sitting in a field with coats and gloves to guard against the chilly September air. They might even think there was a house nearby. With a busted open thirty pack and empties strewn around, it looks like a typical front yard on the reservation.
However, breaking up our fun wasn’t on their mind, they wanted to add to it. One of the men in the pickup flicks on a Coast Guard strength searchlight and start throwing it out over the field, spotting for deer. On the scale of legality, our underage drinking pales in comparison to poaching deer. If a single cop car shows up, with room for three in the back seat, we are not the ones who would get hauled off to the station. In a quick huddle we label these guys as drunks and acknowledge that successful deer spotters are fast on the trigger. If they shine the light on us, it’s chillingly possible that we might get shot at.
Seconds before the light reaches our impromptu tavern we drop to the ground and hug the corn husks. We nervously poke fun that now, the only danger is that one of us may be shot for deer. Getting in trouble is out of the question. Thanks to our partying, the field was devoid of deer. The hunters drove on without a clue. We survived that night, waking up to hangovers and stories. When we went back the next morning to clean up the empties everything felt different under the sun. The field felt smaller and the danger imaginary. I’ve given up cornfields for bars but Jessee never got that opportunity. He was murdered several years later, a quarter mile down that dusty dirt road from where we used to drink.
I was on a bus in Hoboken, New Jersey when I got the call that Jessee was in trouble. Details were vague and I inferred that he was in a mess over pot. Jessee was dealing and refused to believe that he was going to get caught. Three hours later I was in a club when I checked my phone, reading the text that he was dead. I felt numb and calm. Jessee and me had grown apart after I went to college, I hadn’t seen him in nearly a year. It took a while before I was hit with what a loss it really was.
Jessee was the only true best friend I’ve had. A handful of other people I’ve called best friends, but it was never the same as hanging out with Jessee. Between me, my sister and twelve years Jessee is the only friend who has ever been to my dad’s house. He knew my mom and I knew his. We had enough similarities where it counted that superficial disagreements were overlooked. That night in the cornfield, getting drunk and hiding from that terrifying spotlight, was the zenith of something special. Meeting someone who enjoys such a niche activity doesn’t happen often. In all of my lifetime I’ll never forgot the experience of lying on the cold lumpy ground and clutching beer, listening to that 4×4 slowly crunch over gravel, working its way down the road.