I knew Howard in 8th grade, but we became friends my freshman year in high school. Howard lived with his mother and younger brother in a small apartment on Thayer Street, which struck me as unusual because Thayer Street was a merchant strip that ran through Brown University where my friends and I all hung out – it wasn’t some place you lived. Unless you were Howard. It was in his little bedroom there that he played Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” for me, which freaked me out at the time. Howard thought it was hilarious that the song so terrified me.
I liked Howard. There was simply no social circle into which Howard would naturally fit. The other friends I was collecting at this time were mostly actors and artists and musicians and the sons and daughters of academics. Though I had the arrow of my ambition trained on being a writer, I was also an athlete and generally a wholesome sort of fellow. I felt immovably traditional compared to my new friends. If you had looked up “American Boy” in an encyclopedia you would have likely found my picture. My friends, meanwhile, tended to dress in long black coats, pierced their ears, and listened to a lot of New Wave, which, frankly, I thought sucked.
I don’t know what Howard was. He was fidgety and excitable and eager. While walking home with me once he said, “I just learned the word decay, Bill. Don’t you love that word?” That was Howard. One evening, I decided to join my artist friends in a giant game of Manhunt, which was sort of like tag. It was weird playing this child’s game as a teenager, but it was fun anyway. Howard was there. Right as we were getting ready to play, he handed me a bracelet.
“This is for you,” he said. “It’s got something in Latin written on it. I can’t read it but it means, ‘Unlike any other.’ That’s you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I thanked him, but at fourteen I did not have the words express my true gratitude. How easy it is to become lost in your own boring story about yourself, and what a relief to be reminded of what we all are.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.