John Lennon once wrote: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”… It is a profound statement, but then again, because we are in fact always busy making other plans, we’re most likely too busy to remember that quote until we have the time to sit back and relax and reflect. Perhaps then we remember all that has happened while we were busy making those other plans: kids growing up, our old friends from high school, the things that we used to be so damned angry about with our parents, people we miss and have gone separate ways, or have passed on from this world and gone into that great beyond.
Twenty-eight years ago would have been 1991. I don’t often times sit back and reflect on those years, because inevitably to quote another phrase: “that was then, and this is now.” Other pressing issues are always forthcoming in the future leaving little time to think, “Do you remember that one time?” I mean it happens. Sitting around with my wife, my closest friend, we at times we’ll have nostalgic conversations about things we used to do. Most of the tales are greatly exaggerated and deal with ignorant stunts we used to pull. And then there are times when meeting someone for the first time and in the initial oft times awkward stage of getting to know someone we share personal stories of our past: good times, dark painful times, and seriously, for the most part each person’s story is similar in context—falling in love, breaking up, childish pranks, loving family, unloving family, etc…
We share them anyway, for even though they may be mundane, and even perhaps embellished and told a thousand other times to other new found friends, they are the foundations that essentially formed our personalities and our world views and we tell the stories to say, yeah, I’ve come a long way or to say sometimes depressingly, my life has always sucked and continues to suck, but I’ll manage because I always do.
Even so, life keeps on moving along, and current events from yesterday are soon replaced by events today, and the things that moved us yesterday, and made us protest, caused us to be outraged, or in some cases enlightened us, made us smile, or made us sad get shelved and forgotten after the next news cycle comes and goes, or the one we had been on a date with yesterday and thought we had made a connection for some reason isn’t answering your calls today, but we pick up the pieces and move forward keeping pace with the ever-changing cycle of life. Before we know it, another year has passed.
We sit around at our New Years Eve parties, talking about the events from the last 365 days, and we can actually laugh about the bad things, and toast the good things, and bow our heads and mourn the passing of someone we loved, and all wax poetic about how this next year, no matter what, it’s going to be better…and some of us follow through on those promises I’m sure, but many of us, just wake up the next day, and the next 365 days afterward going through the motions as we have been doing since we were babies, and while we’re making our plans, busy preparing and micromanaging and updating our profiles and eating our next meal, and stepping in and out and back in again of so many places and problems and issues, that we wake up from all the chaos and routine and before we have a chance to reflect on anything another year has passed and so it goes.
I bring up 28 years purposely. A specific date, in fact, comes to mind. April 2, 1991. I’m certain if I Google the date I’ll get several search results for big events that happened on that particular day. And just the mere idea of Google makes me think of a time when back in 1991 I hadn’t heard of Google, nor was the internet some worldwide phenomenon as it is today. Certainly, I could say, now that I’m 45 years old that the ’90s were such a simple time as the cliché goes, but I was seventeen, and I don’t recall that period of my life to be blissfully romantic or whimsically frolicking through green pastures with wild daffodils in full bloom. Not that it was all bad. There were good times, there were good friends, and from what I can remember, we had not a damned clue or did we care about where we’d be years later. But instead, we trudged through everything we did with reckless abandonment most likely believing that our youth and immaturity could give us enough excuse to get away with our lack of common sense, and our young at heart, carefree, tomorrow will always be there, so let’s just go ahead and do it because we’re going to live forever anyways attitude had lulled us into believing we were immortal. All that other stuff, the things adults complained about, they’d be there when we got there, but in the meantime, we were too busy trying to define ourselves, and forge an identity, and impress each other with acts of bravado, that at my age now if I pulled some of those same stunts as I did back then, I’d probably be arrested and told to act my age. But then, it was cool to be stupid, and careless, and tell crude jokes, and not be afraid of polite society looking at us suspiciously, because they were old snobs. Now I suppose I’m an old snob. It’s a vicious circle.
I’m not writing this to dig up my past and attempt in vain to analyze it, and cast blame on old so and so, or rationalize any of my ignorant behavior with the simple excuse: well I was a kid, I didn’t know any better. Because even though that may be true, it really doesn’t matter much in hindsight. And to reexamine old disputes with my parents or friends or with my school or whoever or whatever the issue might indeed soothe my soul, I’ve moved on, they’ve moved on, and for better or worse, life has moved on.
We’ve all, no matter who you are, have problems, or hated something, or have skeletons lurking in that proverbial closet. Without a doubt, we’re all affected in some way or another by our past, it’s only human. I’ve met some people over the years so emotionally damaged because of their past, that they allow those events to dictate how they act and feel, and to live in fear and be angry. Of course, sometimes I just want to tell them to get over it, but it’s their life, I have no right to tell them how they should feel years after the fact. I just choose not to hang on to the bad memories and allow them to haunt me, and even if they do subconsciously affect me, there is little I can do about it. Instead, I’ve always tried to see things from the point of view of well I survived it, it was painful, but I made it.
In 1991 I was seventeen going on 30. I hate that cliché but there it is, and it’s the truth. I like many seventeen-year-olds was in such a hurry to be grown and on my own that I did all I could in my power to provoke circumstances to cause me to push all conventional rules aside, and argued with my parents about everything, acting stupid, you know playing the stereotypical role of the brooding loner, refusing to conform and well, was pretty much a dipshit And as a consequence, I got exactly what I had been begging for, a big dose of the harsh reality that being a teenager with all my angst, all the trials and tribulations I thought at that time to have been so insufferable were for the most part self-inflicted.
Because I’d had been such an antagonistic angry teenager, the people in my life who once adored me as a child, but not so much since I had grown out of that phase, felt tough love was the best way to say, you wanted this, you got it, now deal with it, and yes I’m speaking of my parents and thankfully they did push me to make choices instead I might still be laid up in their house playing Super Mario. I had to “man up” and do something constructive. And like all those forced into adulthood, looked for love in all the wrong places, went to college, met people from all walks of life, some are still my friends, while others have never been heard from again, almost as if they never existed, to begin with. And I’ve been in love, and I’ve been heartbroken, and I have laughed and cried, and I’ve witnessed cultural changes, and technological advancements, and watched the first African American man to become President of the United States, and I’ve watched my brother get married, have three kids, divorce and marry again, and seen my parents growing older, and cherishing life, and their grandchildren, and I’m now happily married to my best friend, worked a job for several years in the non-profit sector helping thousands of people. I own my house, my cars, have traveled, hung out with rock stars and celebrities, and overall, for all the ups and downs and ins and outs and sufferings and frustrations, life is ok. I’m still alive. I’m still here to complain about it. And that’s good when compared to the alternative.
However, I must digress, this story, although it is about me, and my life, it’s more than that. It’s about my friend Chris Ferguson. Most of us that knew him called him Fergie. It’s a shame now, twenty-eight years after the fact, that for all the time I spent hanging out with him, I cannot for the life of me remember his voice. I remember his face only because of a picture from a newspaper article and a couple my brother still has in two of his Junior High yearbooks. The face I see now is familiar, and I do my best to remember the voice that went with it, and even do my damndest to go back to 1991 and commit to memory the things we used to do and talk about.
Even so, no matter hard I try only a few things come to mind. It would seem I suppose, that maybe I didn’t know him very well. But that’s not true. I admit I wasn’t his best friend. Chris had many friends. His house was the hang out for most of us stragglers who like me skipped classes on most days. A lot of times, it was just me and Chris. I’d be there first thing in the morning and knock on his door. He’d just be waking up, or I had awakened him by knocking. He’d let me in and sometimes go back to bed and I’d crash over on the couch, and on other days, he’d be up and we’d eat some breakfast and then head out and walk around town. We didn’t have a car, so we hoofed it, and we never had an intended destination. If there were one, it was most likely up to a convenience store for cigarettes and snacks or something.
A lot of times, we’d hang out at his house and listen to music. He turned me on to Led Zeppelin. I distinctively remember hearing the song “The Ocean” and that beat, and I wanted to play like John Bonham ever since. Sometimes we’d hang out in the living room and watch movies. It was there the first time I watched “Legend”. Chris loved that movie. It’s pretty good. Even now, when I see it on, I watch it and I think of Chris.
We wore black shirts, and trench coats and our hair was long, and we smoked and listened to heavy metal, and headbanged, and skipped school, and didn’t care much for anything besides hanging out. And that’s what we did. As I said I wasn’t Chris’s best friend. He had lots of friends. He knew everyone it seemed and everyone liked him. He was for lack of a better word, cool. I can’t explain it, and twenty-eight years later, I’ve yet to meet anyone like him. He was always friendly to everyone and was personable. And I think this is relevant because I didn’t perceive myself as cool. I was very much a confused loner and kind of lost it seemed, even now to this present day I seem to be a little out of place socially. Chris, however, he treated me like I was someone, and never shied away, or pushed me away and always no matter whom he was around, whatever “cool” crowd he was part of he brought me along and made me feel comfortable.
I know the stereotype we were given back then that we were the “Youth Gone Wild” to quote a Skid Row song. But, in all honesty, we weren’t out wreaking havoc on The Bluff. I can’t say for a fact that Chris didn’t do drugs or drink, and if he did, he never did so around me. All I can say is never once did I see him angry with anyone, or up to nefarious activities. Out of all the people I knew back then, including myself, Chris always seemed to have a plan or was going to be ok, because he just had that personality that no matter the circumstance he would fit in anywhere and people were going to gravitate towards him.
In the months prior to April, hanging out with Chris became routine. He seemed to enjoy my company. Those were, looking back, some of the happiest days of my teenage years because my home life wasn’t exactly cozy whatsoever. Chris’s home was my home away from home and he was more like a brother to me than just a good friend. The odd part, is although I was a year older, he carried himself like the older of the two, and I looked up to him and probably looked stupid at times following him around, but that was his personality, his charisma, and I think all of us that knew him felt the same way.
March 29th was a Friday. I don’t remember anything else much about that day. I’m sure I lay on the couch, ate, and watched television. At some point around nine in the evening, Chris came by the house. He was happy, smiling, most likely bored and riding around and looking to hang out. I wanted to hang out like old times or let him come in and hang, but I was grounded. So I apologized and told him my situation. Chris was cool with it and understood. I reached out and shook his hand, and told him I’ll see you later, and he said the same. He turned around and left, and that was the last time I would see Chris alive.
The next morning, everyone I knew that was friends with Chris had called or came by and informed me that Chris was in the hospital and in intensive care. The details as to what happened that night were unclear, and are still to this day. But what I did know is that Chris, while out riding around with another friend around 1 a.m. Saturday morning he had been in an altercation with another friend over a girl the two had been or were dating. At some point during the altercation, Chris was stabbed in the upper left part of his chest. Immediately after he was stabbed, was driven to Jefferson Regional Medical Center a few miles away and admitted.
I know that I, and most likely most of my friends believed the wound wasn’t too serious. He was said to be in critical but stable condition by Monday. However, on Tuesday, Chris’s condition worsened and at 4:30 that afternoon, he passed away.
I was in shock. All of us that knew him were. Immediately I began thinking of the last time I saw him. I wondered if I had let him come in and hang out that Friday if he’d still be alive, but I knew that it wasn’t my fault. Even as everything was happening so suddenly with Chris passing away, trying to remember him alive was fleeting, and the idea that I’d never see him again under any circumstance, say for example twenty-eight years later just running into each other on Facebook, makes me still very sad and upset.
His funeral was on a Thursday. I went to the funeral home early after going by my brother’s school and picking him up, and went in and viewed his body. He looked at peace. His eyes closed. He was so damned young and had been so damned full of life, and confidence and bravado, and here he was, my friend, my brother, gone. I couldn’t, I can’t still grasp that he’s gone. It made no damned sense to me, and it still doesn’t.
Chris was in his casket wearing a long sleeve, button up pink polo shirt. I can’t remember if he was wearing a tie. But I remember that shirt to this day because in the entire time I knew him, he was always in black. I’m sure his mother picked it out and it did look nice.
The cathedral was filled with friends, acquaintances, and family members to full capacity. After the service, the cars following the hearse were lined up for blocks upon blocks. The local police were on hand to stop oncoming traffic so we could proceed to the cemetery at Graceland.
I don’t remember the service at the graveyard. I was still in shock and everything was sort of a blur. And just as sudden as learning of Chris being injured to him being buried four days later, it was over. We said our final goodbyes and one by one we got back in our vehicles and left Chris to rest in peace.
In the weeks and months that followed, several of his friends would return to this grave and visit him. Many of us would leave cigarettes, which may seem kind of strange, but we missed him and honestly, I don’t think any of us really understood how to act or what to say. For many of us, this was the first time in our lives we had lost someone so close to us. I know it was for me.
Eventually, and may I say unfortunately life must go on. I had my own issues at that time. My visits to the cemetery became less frequent and although I often times thought of Chris, my memory of him and the times we spent to gather was gradually fading with time.
I would eventually move away from the Bluff, but it was still home and when I came back, and if I thought about it I would go out to Graceland and see my friend. No one left cigarettes anymore. It’s possible, like myself, many of us may have not forgotten our friend, but time and circumstance over the years had separated us all in different directions, and we were just always, and as we always have been, too busy making other plans to stop and reflect on what was or what might have been.
Nevertheless, one of my last weekends there, I had been asked to visit an old friend of mine who had been begging me to come down. So I drove into town early Sunday morning and could smell the odiferous sulfur being produced by the paper mill as I made my way closer to the city limits. I drove down Dollarway road, and in the past twenty-eight years, not much has changed. The old drive-thru theater is gone and a school is in its place. There is Jefferson Parkway now that has grown and is an expanding area of local industry. A few minutes from Dollarway Road is the Martin Luther King Memorial Park. It used to be called Oakland Park and as a kid, I’d play there with my brother and other friends. I drove past it and continued heading east towards University Avenue. It’s in between the park and University Avenue and just a few feet north of I65, the section of interstate that runs through the north side of Pine Bluff where Oakland Cemetery is, and where my friend has been resting since April of 1991.
I turned onto the narrow road and followed it to the back section of the cemetery and parked my car in about the same area I had parked the day of the funeral. There are more graves now in the area Chris is buried. But I knew the general direction.
I knelt down and touched Chris’s tombstone and ran my hand across his name. I thought about him, trying to remember his face, his voice, but time had stolen all that from my memory. I did remember the pink shirt he was wearing. I wondered if somewhere in heaven he had a laugh about that.
I miss my friend. I hate that he is gone. Who is to say that if he were alive today that he and I would still be close? But I don’t like thinking of all the “what ifs”. It’s too sad to even contemplate. The man who stabbed Chris is still around I suppose. I don’t know where he is, but I imagine, at least I hope, he wishes he could take back all that happened that night Chris lost his life. But this is the point, it was immature, they were both at fault to some degree, but we have to be able to take a step back from situations when we’re angry and we begin to lose control over our emotions because life is too precious.
Chris would be 44 now. One year younger than me and one year older than my brother. I kept thinking of that year, 1991, as I read it on his granite stone. 1991. Twenty-eight years. Chris was only seventeen when he passed away. He has now been gone longer than he was alive. It breaks my heart to know that for twenty-eight year’s my friend has been gone. It breaks my heart to think of all the things he has missed, and it makes me sad to think of all the times I’ve complained and been upset about my problems in life over these past years, and the things I haven’t done and could do because for whatever reason God hasn’t seen fit to bring me home.
Then I think of all the tragic violent acts in this world. And why we have to keep on fighting and killing one another and it makes me angry. Chris’s death was in all reality over something so stupid, and something that if cooler heads had prevailed, they would have probably laughed about it later. And yet every day it seems people are dying and killing each other over issues that in hindsight could have been and should have been preventable, if only we’d just stop and follow the biblical verse to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to wrath.” And to do unto others, and to love one another. But I fear that this will never happen. All I can do is live up to those words in my own life.
All I know is that I miss my friend. All I know is that he’s been gone for twenty-eight years now and it breaks my heart. All I know is I hope and pray he is truly at peace and in heaven and he knows that his friends may have moved away and gone in different directions in life, but we think about you, and we hate that you are gone, and we hope to see you again soon.
Copyright © 2019, Chad M. Ard, All Rights Reserved.