This essay was originally written for and performed at the “True Story!” Reading Series in Atlanta.
This is a Zippo lighter I received as a gift in 1997. It says “Love Colleen and Becky” on it. I’ve always been bothered by the lack of a comma. The intended message is, “Love, Colleen and Becky.” Like, “Hey, we love you. We got you this gift. You can light your cigarettes with it. Or commit arson. Hope you burn all the buildings you hate to the ground. Love, Colleen and Becky.'”
But due to the lack of a comma, I’ve always read it as more of a command. “Love Colleen and Becky! Do it! I’m a Zippo lighter, and I’m telling you to set aside love in your heart for your two best friends from college!” And I’m like, “No problem, lighter.”
I guess I could get a comma engraved on it. That would be a little fussy, though, wouldn’t it? Getting anything engraved is a very Frasier Crane thing to do. Nobody’s going to think you’re a badass for getting your initials etched into the back of your iPad. Although if you got “I’m a badass” engraved on the back of your iPad, that amount of self-contradiction would cause the iPad to implode, leaving behind a perfect tear in the fabric of reality. I stand by my “Frasier Crane is a badass” iPhone case, however.
I suppose I should mention that Colleen died suddenly of a blood clot from dental surgery, a few days after she and Becky had this lighter engraved for me. I should also point out that I haven’t spoken to Becky in years, and can’t find any trace of her on Facebook or Google. So, this Zippo lighter is all I have to remember them by.
I remember Colleen and Becky and I were inseparable my freshman year of college. Colleen and I used to make fun of my ridiculous roommate, who had covered our entire dorm room in comic book posters, so the last thing I saw before I went to sleep was a web-slinging Spider-man. Then again, I’d hung a vinyl copy of Jimmy Buffett’s live double album “You Had To Be There” over my own bunk bed, so I had no room to critisize. At least Spider-man can produce webbing from his wrists. All Jimmy Buffett can produce from his wrists is margarita mix and a spring-loaded knife.
I remember Becky and I briefly dated, which was mostly us doing Billy Bob Thornton from Slingblade impressions at each other and riding around listening to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” album. There is no more solid a foundation for a relationship to be built upon than on the bricks of pretending to be a mentally impaired man with a love of french fried potaters and rapping along to a young Snoop Dogg telling Eazy-E to eat a fat dick.
I remember Colleen had a very distinctive laugh that sounded the way I’d imagine an adult Lucy laughs at Charlie Brown, after finding his OkCupid login and reading his earnest, melancholy messages to red-headed women in his area. In fact, the last night I saw Colleen, she was sitting in the audience of a play I was directing, and I could hear her laughter all the way from backstage. I will never forget the sound of her laughter, and I will never forgive her for ruining my play.
That would be something, right? If you thought I was doing this whole big sentimental thing about my long lost friends, and it turned out I was just here to air a grievance. Like I wanted to let everybody know I was still mad at her for laughing during my play. That would be quite a commitment to the theater on my part. Anyway, I hope she went to the heaven for people who can’t stay quiet during plays.
That seems like an oddly specific thing to make an entirely separate heaven for. But I’m not a heaven city planner or anything, so what do I know? Had you already guessed that? That I’m not in charge of building and planning heavenly kingdoms? Let me be the first to confirm, your suspicions are correct.
There is a scene in the Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence in which Jude Law’s robotic gigolo is about to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit, and he says to Haley Joel Osment’s robotic Pinnochio stand-in, “I am…I was.” Now, what he was getting at is, “I was here. We were friends. I want you to know that I existed, and to a lesser extent, that I had sex with human women.” Not to compare my old friends Colleen and Becky to a robotic male prostitute, but by giving me this lighter, they sent a similar message. They Jude Lawed me, if you will. Or Haley Joel Osmented me. Not sure which side of the conversation between two fictional robots I’m on. If I had to choose, they were pretty much the Jude Law in this scenario.
For me, this lighter is like an umbilical cord to 1997. That’s right, babies. You thought you had a monopoly on umbilical cords? Not the metaphorical ones. But yes, physical umbilical cords are still the province of babies. Anyway, this lighter helps me keep a physical and emotional connection to that time in my life, and to my two good friends, who I miss very much. I will have this lighter until the day that I die, presumably while telling Haley Joel Osment how many human women I’ve had sex with.
Friends will come in and out of your life. Most of the time, you don’t get to choose how they leave. If you are lucky, they will leave something behind that becomes an integral part of you. In this case of my friendship with these two girls, they left behind two things. They left this lighter, and they left their love. Fortunately, love does not require a comma. But it does require lighter fluid.