13 September 1982

My friend Tommy (Part 3)

Circumstances change, as they always do, and when Michaela and I broke up in the fall of 1982, so did my friendship with Tommy. Sure, I saw him every once in a while at this bar and that, but he always seemed to be avoiding me and was always on his way somewhere else.

The next time I spoke to Tommy was five years later. I was studying in Vienna, and he had just finished his grammar school diploma through second chance education. He wanted to study Art History. We went for drinks a couple of times, and one time he and a girl we knew, Andrea P., made plans how they would alternate going to classes and share their notes with each other. I told him that that may not be the best way to go about his studies, and after that he disappeared from my radar.

But why I am telling all this?

Because for that one year in my life Tommy was my best friend, and I knew him so well.

Except that I didn't.

Years later I learned the truth about Tommy.

I learned that he was gay and had been gay all along. That he had been expelled from the boarding school in Vienna not for truancy, but for a gay relationship with a journalist and an escalating cocaine habit. That while he was working at the candle shop one evening he had jumped a guy in one of the toilet stalls. That all those nights he disappeared without telling anybody, who knows what he really did.

How terrible.

Ten years later I ran into Michaela at a grocery store. We went for a coffee and she told me about her life, and I told her about mine. (I had just won a Schrödinger Fellowship and was about to move back to Vancouver.)

I looked at her, and she looked happy, and I knew she would be all right.

Then I asked her about Tommy, and she told me that he had a boyfriend and that they moved to Bali, of all places, and then came back again, and had to move in with his parents. Later that year he tried to kill himself with sleeping pills, and he was committed to the same closed psychiatric ward, where Michaela now worked as a nurse. She told me that he was fat now and unkempt and dirty and didn't talk any longer. She tried to break through to him, but he only grunted and hissed.

I told Michaela that I always suspected some craziness in Tommy, but that as a friend you sometimes look away.

She smiled and then told me about the tape.

When they were 14 or 15 years old, one afternoon when his parents were away, Tommy invited Michaela over. He made her a glass of cold Ovaltine, as he always did for friends, and they went to his room, which was at the end of the hallway. They chatted about school and listened to music. When it was getting late, Michaela said she had to leave, and Tommy asked her to stay a little longer, but she wanted to go.

She got up, and Tommy got up too, and then he suddenly locked the door of his room. She protested half-jokingly, because she didn't know him that way, and when she tried to get to the door, he pushed her back, and every time she tried to get to the door again he pushed her back again. At last he pulled the key from the door and put it in the pocket of his jeans.

Michaela thought it was a joke at first and was telling Tommy that she had to go because she had promised her mother to do the laundry. But Tommy called her lie. Then Michaela started swearing at him and threatening to tell his parents, but as the minutes became an hour, she became frightened and started imploring him to let her go, and that she wouldn't tell anybody.

But he was just sitting there in front of her watching her, laughing at her.

And then he suddenly unlocked the door. But before he let her go he told her that he had taped her pleading, but that he wasn't going to play it to anyone. Michaela wanted the tape, but Tommy only laughed, and so she stormed out of his room and didn't talk to him for a couple of days after that. But in the end, she forgave him and doubted that the tape even existed.

It did exist.

I know because Tommy had played it to me, not once but on several occasions. He had laughed at the fear in her voice and her pleading, and I had laughed with him, and I had been in love with Michaela.

And Michaela had known me so well.

As for Michaela?

When she was eighteen, she was knocked up by a guy ten years older than she was. She dropped out of school, and he left for Berlin. A couple of years later she got married to a drunkard. Their wedding invitations were Garfield postcards. She got knocked up again, got divorced. Then she met another guy, and got knocked up again. At the age of thirty she had three daughters by three different men. Michaela's parents became grandparents when they were not even forty. They became great-grandparents before they were sixty.

Over all these years Michaela was also in a relationship with a woman she knew from grammar school. She was the twin sister of the girl who wanted to kill Armin at the New Year's Eve party in 1981.

We knew each other so well. We really thought we did.