Living or Surviving?

My friend Andrea and I were sitting on the back patio of the family house in Hampton, smoking, on one of my frequent retreats back to the safety net of Mom and Dad. A few weeks, a month, sometimes two, often I’d get another rehab under my belt, or sometimes I’d detox on the couch at the Summer Estate, 20 minutes north where my Dad was successfully breeding a herd of antique motorcycles.

Andrea knows all of my shit – the stuff that keeps most people away. She’s the one who told my parents she found a syringe in my center console after my Freshman year of college. She came over with Wendy’s and I asked her “ruin anyone else’s life today?”. She rolled her eyes at me and we watched a movie.

One time I was drunk and being a dick at a party, so she choked me and pushed me down a flight of steps. I would have done the same thing. Andrea has been one of the few constants in my ridiculous life, and one day I’ll make her a plaque or something, although she deserves more.

So we were sitting on the patio, both surprisingly sober, and I asked her what I than thought was the most important question in life.

“Would you rather have really dramatic highs and lows, or just be steady and stable all the time?”

Andrea always hated my questions, usually because they went something like ‘what would you do if you went blind and accidently fell in love with you Uncle?’. She knew I was serious this time though, or as serious as I ever got. Catch me in a long enough depression, and I can get downright philosophical. Andrea blew smoke above her head and said “normal and steady for sure”. She made it sound like such an obvious choice.

“I’m pretty sure I’d pick the first one”

Maybe the answer was clear to Andrea because the past ten years of her life had been so unpredictable. When her mom died in 8th grade, her Dad moved her and her sister back to Pittsburgh. Andrea ended up in a computers class with me at Hampton High School. She sat by the printer, and I’d get bored and print out inappropriate notes to her. Years later she would tell me that she was always afraid of me.

We drank Smirnoff and smoked weed at her house all through high school since her Dad’s work schedule was demanding and erratic. Sometimes we’d greet her little sister Melanie when she got off at the bus stop. We’d be hammered on vodka, wielding baby strollers, and we’d pretend we were her parents. She wouldn’t talk to us for days afterwards.

I scraped Andrea’s dead cat off Middle Road when that bitch Angelica hit it with her minivan. We went to senior prom together, and she made me promise not to show up high (the only person to this day I’ve kept that promise to). She picked me up from rehab in Ohio and once let me hide my car in her backyard. Once we even got sober together. Hers took and mine is still a work in progress.

The instability of the past decade in my life resembles much of what I imagine Andrea went through before I asked her this question that night when we were 21. Perhaps she’d already had enough, and maybe I never will.

Today, Andrea has a car I’m jealous of, a steady job, and knows which address to have her mail sent to. She makes enough money that if I didn’t love her, I’d marry her, take out a life insurance policy, self-diagnose her with diabetes, and secretly kill her with an insulin overdose. I bet she even has a saving account. She just got her Bachelors degree, something that remains elusive by a semester for me after three Universities. I told her she won and she told me I didn’t put up much of a fight. This is why I love her.

Andrea will never know what it’s like to go to jail. She’ll never know what it’s like to sell her soul for a Mercedes and a credit card with no limit. She will never die in a parking lot and have to be revived by paramedics.

Andrea will also probably never know what it’s like to have sex in a moving helicopter. She probably also won’t get to snort coke with D-list celebrities on a roof top in Miami. And she will definitely never get to say ‘I did what I wanted, fuck the consequences’.

So who got it right? Eight years later, I’m not sure if I’d change my answer, and I’d be willing to bet she’d stick with hers. Maybe there is no ‘right’ way to live your life.

I guess I’ll just have to ask her again when we are 90 and our selfish kids dump us in the same shitty nursing home.