Five-Minute Memoir: Andrew Kaufman recalls the day a friendship went wrong


The trip wasn't about celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I wasn't even sure what Cinco de Mayo was. Few people in south-western Ontario, the industrial heartland of Canada, did. All I knew for sure was that it was both American and Mexican, which seemed like an odd combination, interesting but potentially volatile.

The real reason Debbie and I'd borrowed a car, spent what should have been rent money in the off-licence, then drove three and a half hours from Toronto to London, Ontario, wasn't because she'd heard that David Montgomery was having a Cinco de Mayo party – it was because Debbie hadn't seen David in about four years and I hadn't even talked to him in about nine. And we both missed him like crazy.

It's easier to explain Debbie's relationship to David than mine. They met at secondary school. They'd hitchhiked across Canada and then down through the American South. In 1987, when I moved from the small nowhere town of Wingham, Ontario, to go to university in the small nowhere city of Kitchener, I met Debbie in an English class. She took me home. Her and David were already living together. They were the first couple I'd ever met who were living unwed. This seemed radical at the time. Not that they were doing it – everybody was doing it – but that they were so open about it. Their parents knew. One of them didn't keep some stuff in a room on the other side of town just to keep up appearances. They had a pet rabbit, a hookah, and an ability to score great seats to the best shows. They took me to see the Pixies, Jane's Addiction, the Grateful Dead. The first time I ever got high was in their living room. The first time I ever felt cool was when I realised that I'd become their friend.

I was 21 when they broke up. We'd gone to Debbie's cottage. They'd started arguing about who'd forgotten the potatoes. They were arguing a lot. This argument was different, cruel. Debbie stormed away. David didn't go outside to comfort her. So I did.

The break-up was hard on him. He slept on a sequence of our couches for a while. Then I lost track of him. As we drove through the outskirts of London, I was four months from turning 30.

We parked in front of the address Debbie had got from the same guy who'd told her about the party. Giggling, we gathered up our booze and headed for the door. The party was raging. David didn't know we were coming, but once inside, it was us who got the surprise. The place was a dump, filled with secondhand furniture. Now we all lived in dumps, filled with secondhand furniture, but this was different. The floor was dirty. The armchairs lacked arms. This wasn't like David. He had never needed money to make his surroundings beautiful. These surroundings were not beautiful. Neither were the guests. Like the furniture, they were worn, dirty, and seemingly broken.

We met David in the middle of the living room. He was very thin. For a long time he just stood and stared. Then he hugged us, held us tight, as if he were making sure we were real. The conversation was hard at first. And then, just as we were all starting to relax, one of his buddies came up and tapped him on the shoulder. David, without excusing himself, turned and followed him downstairs to the basement.

They were gone for a long time. We decided to go down, too. Perhaps they were smoking marijuana, and if they were, I wouldn't say no. When we got to the bottom of the stairs the first thing I saw were the glass pipes. Then the butane lighters. Then my nose filled with the sharp acidic smell of crack-cocaine.

David waved us over. He offered me the pipe. This was the same man who'd turned me on to David Bowie, Kurt Vonnegut and magic mushrooms. What made me say no were his pupils. So large that they blocked out almost all the colour in his eyes, nothing but two ink-black full moons staring at me, asking me if I wanted to smoke some crack.

We were too drunk to go home. We slept on the living-room floor. In the morning, David and his buddies were still in the basement. I didn't say goodbye. I got into the car and I wept. This was the moment that the future turned into the present. What we were going to do with our lives had always been a decade away. But that wasn't true anymore. We were no longer en route, we'd arrived, and where David had landed was lonely and depressing and dark. It was so sad that it had happened, of all people, to David. What was even sadder was that I was willing to leave him behind.

'Born Weird' by Andrew Kaufman (The Friday Project) is available now in hardback. His novella, 'The Tiny Wife', is available now in paperback