Have you ever lost track of someone you once liked? And wished you could reconnect? There are certain people whose favourable memory I wistfully recall but whose fate is regrettably unknown to me. One chap – whom I’ll call Rutledge – intrigues me in particular. I’ve even tried to find out from other mutual colleagues what happened to him but no one seems to know. In fact I may know more about him than others do. The only comment which surfaced during my investigations was a concise but pointed observation by a mutual friend and former colleague at undergraduate university:
“He had all the characteristics of a good-looking loner who played by his own rules. The stuff that young ladies swoon for. I did not know of the connection with Elliott but would have assumed that there was a connection through the private school clique.“
While trolling the internet I located the obituary of the person who I believe was Rutledge’s late mother. In the obituary of his mother there is the usual recitation of immediate family, including her former spouse (who I knew was a doctor) and a former child (who had my friend’s Christian name). This of course led me to believe that my friend Rutledge was dead. While it isn’t unimaginable that a contemporary of mine could have died I was curious to know what had happened to him.
Rutledge and I met in our first year of university in Toronto upon graduating from high school. We lived down the hall from one another in the same House of the men’s residence on campus. Those were exciting times! Everything was new! Everyone was enchanting! He characterized himself as a bit of a rebel. He told me he had been a problem child and that his parents had pushed him into a boarding school for the last year of high school in hopes of straightening him out. Though he hadn’t attended one of the “Little Big Four” private schools as I did, we at least had some of the boarding school experience in common. We ended travelling together to Jamaica that Christmas with some of my former boarding school friends to whom I introduced him. Throughout the subsequent years of undergraduate study we remained friends but after I began attending law school in Nova Scotia we fell out of touch.
I always thought of Rutledge as uncommonly intelligent and saw nothing weird about him at all. I certainly never imagined him to have been a problem child. One incident in particular will always linger in my mind. Near completion of our first year of university he applied for what was then a well-paying summer job as a tour bus director. When he returned to the university campus after his interview he reported that there had been hundreds of applicants for the job but that he had got it. I asked him why he thought they picked him. He said, “They only asked me one question.” “What was it?“, I responded. He said, “What’s the first thing you would do if someone died on the bus?” More curious than ever, I asked to know his reply. He answered,: “Open a window!“
As friendly as we were however we parted company on what for me anyway were difficult terms. When I first arrived in Halifax to study law at Dalhousie University I was very lonely. I knew no one there. To my surprise when I wrote a plaintive letter to Rutledge complaining about my loneliness he wrote back saying, “There ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself; you travel the suburbs of your own mind.” Of course I couldn’t dispute the strength of his observation but nonetheless I found it unexpectedly abrupt and frankly uncharitable. He seemed to harbour some secret animosity towards me for reasons I didn’t comprehend.
While I won’t suggest I have ever completely resolved my anxiety about that curt reply from him, I believe I know enough about human relationships to understand that anything I might imagine others to detest in me is most likely something they dislike in themselves. I say that not to deflect well-founded criticism but rather to explain peculiar behaviour. I suppose it is possible that his reply was strictly matter-of-fact but I think more exactly it was the nail in the coffin of our friendship. To this day I have never spoken or communicated with him again.
I have to admit that my inquisitiveness about Rutledge includes a speculation that he may have died by his own hand. Don’t ask me why but there was always a murkiness about Rutledge. I don’t mean that he concealed dishonesty or immorality; he was just opaque. While many people at university formed romantic alliances – often ephemeral – Rutledge remained aloof from any commitment as far as I know. This was somewhat peculiar because he was tall and handsome and was undeniably the object of attention from more than one person. One girl – Martha – was noticeably attracted to him. Martha was exceedingly attractive and had all the social credentials to go with her appearance. It was pretty much acknowledged that what Martha wanted, Martha got. She failed however to capture Rutledge. As did anyone else apparently. Sadly from my point of view, Rutledge wasted his talents by dedicating himself instead to all-night card games (though I never knew the obsession to damage his academic progress). He also took up the company of skeptical intellectuals, men whom I considered on the social periphery, people who notoriously smoked nefarious combustibles and listened to music only with headphones while chain-smoking cigarettes. Gradually I became marginalized from this vernacular and no doubt for that reason as well I lost touch with him.
I won’t deny I pursued my own agenda at the expense of past relationships. In the whirlwind of casual relationships among colleagues at university, and tossed about by the turbulence of off-campus associates and experiences, it was impossible to remain focussed or even to appreciate the necessity (if any) to do so. In the result people just came and went; ties became frayed with time; people lost touch with one another. But lately my mind has stolen back to those fugitive reminiscences. While it is possible I’d be better not to know, I’d still prefer to close the loop.
“In the adversity of our best friends, we often find something that is not displeasing.“
17th-century French nobleman François de La Rochefoucauld