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Jewish World Review June 21, 2002 / 21 Tamuz, 5762

Phil Perrier

Phil Perrier
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Consumer Reports

From death, life | I was standing in line with my brother at the farmer's market. It was an early June evening in Atlanta. The sky was turning gray, the wind was kicking up. You could feel a summer storm coming. We were on our way home to my brother's house to enjoy a big salad with avocado and chicken breast and tomatoes and my brother's homemade salad dressing. It had been a fun day. My brother and his little boy, David, 3, and 8 month-old baby girl, Elena had just been swimming at the pool at their grandmother's house.

My brother started talking to the lady behind him in line, apparently they had gone to school together years ago. I was introduced, and said hello. Then I heard the woman say something about a mutual friend of theirs who had just died of a heroin overdose.

I tuned her out; thought why the heck would she bring that up? After all, what kind of loser dies of a heroin overdose?

When we got to the car I said something like "What was that heroin overdose business?"

"Oh, Christopher H. died of an overdose, didn't you used to know him?"

My heart sank. "Christopher H.!?... What!?"

Chris had been one of my few friends at the tiny little private school, Pegasus, we had attended during the mid 1970s. How could it be?

I chased the woman down in the parking lot. She told me what she knew; Chris was found dead with a needle in his arm. The next day he was supposed to fly home and go into rehab again. He had been having an ongoing battle with heroin for most of his life. Chris had two little kids. He'd been working as a chef.

As we talked, all I could think about was that wild, funny, smart kid that I had known. That impish smile, those lively brown eyes so full of warmth and humor. I thought about the Halloween night when Chris and Mark and I were all about 10 and they wrapped me up in torn sheets so I could be a mummy. When the mummifying process took too long Chris said "You could just go as the Underwear Bear."

I thought about the trip to Washington D.C. we all took and about all those lunches at the Austin Avenue Cafe. I thought about the night the three of us told ghost stories at Chris's parent's house. Thought about Chris's oddly husky voice and explosive laugh. And that smile.

Always that smile.

Thought about how sad his parents must be and his brothers.

Chris's family was intact, his parents and brothers bright, loving people. Not the family you would expect to create a drug addict. My own alcoholism would have been much easier to predict.

I thanked the woman and we said our goodbyes.

My brother and I went home and had our dinner. Then the storm came. I walked out into the carport to feel the cool breeze and watch the rain. Living in Los Angeles now, I miss those driving Georgia rains I grew up with; big fat drops pounding down, cleansing everything, the green leaves blowing in every direction.

My nephew, David, came out and we both giggled and stuck our hands out so the rain falling from the roof would hit our hands. I wanted to run out into that rain and bathe in it, feel it all over me, like a kid would do. Then I thought grownup rational thoughts: "No, I'll get all wet, I'll track water on the floor, I'll have to dry off, have to explain myself, blah, blah, blah..."

Then I unbuttoned my shirt and put it on top of my rental car and I took my wallet and my keys out and put them on top of my shirt and I ran out into the street screaming and giggling. David squealed with delight as he joined me, waving our arms and stomping puddles.

It felt so good. So good to be alive.

JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Phil Perrier