Last night, over beers, me and A______ discussed a mutual male friend, Mitch, a good-looking, well-educated English teacher, originally from Cleveland, OH, who ended up in a small town in Northern Japan where he teaches English.
Mitch had moved to Los Angeles in 1993, right after he graduated from Princeton. He was working at a restaurant on Beverly when he was recruited or spotted or casted by a Hollywood big shot. Mitch became that man’s assistant, and ended up traveling around the world handling the man’s scheduling, shopping, appointments and travel.
There was a girlfriend back in Shaker Heights named Cassie. Cassie had dropped out of Oberlin after two years and was working as clerk in a mattress store. But she was pretty and ambitious and she was determined to move to Los Angeles.
Mitch meanwhile was realizing that his attraction to the opposite sex was not too strong. He was gay. He had no control over his sex drive, but he was determined to not admit it. To do that, he started drinking heavily and found that if he drank when he had sex he forgot what he did and with whom.
Mitch continued to succeed at his job, and was promoted to be an executive in his boss’s entertainment empire. By 2000, he was making six figures and had enough money to buy a small house in the Hollywood Hills with a backyard pool and a view of Los Angeles.
Cassie came out for a visit to Los Angeles and stayed with Mitch for a few days in 2001. By this time she had found out that he was gay, and she was dating a truck driver from Lexington, KY. She worked now in the transport business and had also put on quite a bit of weight. She was also pregnant.
Mitch was determined to show Cassie some fun. He took her to a party in Beverly Hills where she met Demi Moore and Tom Cruise. They went whale watching. They drove up PCH. They went hiking in Runyon Canyon.
When Mitch asked her how she liked LA, Cassie told him she enjoyed it, but she thought that he lived a selfish life, devoted to nothing important. “You should be helping people instead of going hiking. This isn’t real life!” she said.
He felt bad. Her comment made him feel that he was leading an aimless existence. But he knew that she was a true blue friend who only cared for his well-being. He decided that he would study Japanese and apply himself to learning about another culture just to take his mind into an objective place.
After Cassie left, Mitch began to write. He started a blog and he wrote stories about living in Hollywood. He began to post photos and long essays about what it was like to live here, what Hollywood felt like, and he would often email his stories to Cassie, but she never responded.
She had a baby named Charles in 2002, and then she eventually married trucker Graham Hawkins in 2005. They got a small apartment and she became a stay-at-home mom. She also began to eat heavily, compulsively and her weight climbed to some 400 pounds. She developed diabetes, had difficulty breathing and walking. She was only 31.
Mitch sold one of his stories that became a feature film. He was dating, but he was still drinking. Occasionally, he would call Cassie to see how she was doing. But mostly they communicated by email and when he posted photos online.
After he went on a 2007 trip to Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan, he posted photos on his blog. To his amazement, Cassie commented on a photo of Mitch sitting in a steaming Japanese bath surrounded by snow.
“Is this how you work? Must be nice. My husband hauls boxes 1,000 miles a week and I stay at home raising my son and also earning money knitting socks. Too bad you somehow have escaped all the responsibilities of adulthood.”
Mitch took her comment in stride. He was living a good life. But was it all by accident? He made the choice to go travelling. Just as Cassie chose to do what she did. He never told her how confining and sad her existence was. He felt that would be cruel.
Mitch was still drinking a lot. One night in Hokkaido he slipped on the ice and broke his arm. His vacation was ruined. When he got back to Los Angeles, he began to go to AA meetings.
He decided to quit his job as an entertainment executive, and explore what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. His daily life, meanwhile, had become devoted to attending meetings and trying to live healthy, through diet and exercise and spiritual self-awareness.
In 2009, he learned that his father in Cleveland was sick with Stage #4 lung cancer. His mother was also ill with early stage degenerative Alzheimer’s. He had no siblings, so he decided to move to Cleveland and see if he couldn’t help them move to an assisted living facility.
When he got back to Ohio, he got back in touch with Cassie. She told him that her life was crazy with children, her husband and work. And that she was sorry about his parents, but that Mitch “was finally learning a lesson in responsibility and what it means to be a real person and care for others.”
“I have to wipe my kid’s nose, take him to school, cook him every meal, clean up his room, pay the bills and work and I really can’t believe you’ve never had to do any of these things!” she told him.
He moved in with his parents and cared for them until his father died three months later. His mother, now a widow, was placed in a memory care facility. He felt drained and saddened and alone. But he somehow injected some fun into the tragedy by walking around Cleveland, taking photos and exploring neighborhoods. He decided that he would leave Ohio, and move to Japan. Before he left, he asked Cassie if she would meet up with him.
They agreed to meet at a mall in suburban Cleveland for lunch. When she walked into the restaurant, it was as if no time at all had passed. She was still beautiful, but she was enormous and he could see that she had difficulty walking.
“Well it’s great that you are moving to Japan. You should explore new places. If I had the chance I would move too. But I have responsibilities and I can’t even imagine what you do all day. If I had only my own self to think about that would be like a dream,” she said.
He told her he was going to teach English in northern Japan, in a small mountain town. He was excited, but also a bit sad and lonely. He was on his own. And his parents and their life was all behind him.
He was still in love, somewhere in his heart, with Cassie.
“Do you ever look at my photos or what I write in my blog?” he asked her.
“Yes, why?” she asked.
“I just wondered if you do because it really matters to me. It’s my life’s work. It’s what’s deepest and most important. When I write I’m revealing myself and my inner emotions. And I thought you would care,” he said.
“I do care,” she answered.
“Then why have you never commented or sent me a note about my stories or my photos?” he asked.
“Oh maybe because I’m on duty 24/7! I don’t have the luxury of dilly-dallying around, going on trips, writing or photographing. And I think it’s rather selfish of you to ask me to stop what I’m doing during my extremely packed day to attend to your blog!” she said.
“Well I see what you’re saying. I guess since I don’t have children or a husband like you do, I shouldn’t imagine that everyone has time to read or send nice thoughts to an old friend,” he said.
“You don’t know the half of it!” she said. “My life is so burdened with duties, but I have to do them. Because I couldn’t live with myself if I just went off on a bender every day of my life!” she said.
They said good-bye. And then he knew, maybe not right away, but somewhere in his heart, that he would never speak to or see her again.