I remember those heady days when we first entered college, dropped our bags and said goodbye to our parents. Those conversations filled with awkward love and soon-forgotten advice. I remember meeting my new roommates, and sharing stories and then drinks and nodding a silent “Yes” to our unchaperoned adventure and saying to ourselves and then each other, “Life begins.”
In that first year it was all about “Experience,” and not so much the strategy. We were free of the nest and ready to drink the goblet dry. In all this Harry was the seer, the sage, the conductor of the reckless, who led us out to sample life, taste love and aspects of each other. Like a rocket, careless of its future he lit our sky, “Determined to live,” he said, “And damn the morrow.”
One girl or three loved him, and gave herself in vain because, for Harry, each day was a new possibility, and every bar a chapter in his book. He recognised everything but consequence and walked through each scene like a visitor: a man passing through your life but never in it. It was all about the talking through till dawn; draining the cup dry and being “Real” with each, and wondering what that was. We were young then, and treated our bodies as immortal: drinking with abandon and smoking weed to mark our independence.
How we envied his wild reckless ways, his music and his telling comments. “If you avoid risk you avoid life” he told our young souls, and how we loved him for it. That girl I had my eye on passed right by me, and who could blame her, for when I saw her next she was parked in his room, dressed in his pyjamas and making the coffee. For this brief time she was a revolutionary, who would never forget the way he spoke to her imagination.
By our third year, passions had cooled, and people talked more about “making dreams concrete,” and careers and strategies but never Harry. He vowed always to avoid “Death by common sense” and partied on but now there was a sense of defiance and even isolation. I found him once sitting in some bar on the edge of town and he told me, “Being lost is the doorway to discovery” but now I just smiled and said “That’s you Harry.” His acolytes loved his bravery, and the way he walked his own path, but more frequently now, he walked alone, seeking new disciples while his old followers nodded in sympathy and returned quietly to their studies.
Years later when I, by then a teacher, took my flock to London to visit a museum, I passed a figure outside the station playing a harmonica and staring at me intently: I knew it was Harry. “Did you hear the music” he asked me, “Or are you deaf now and wrapped in safety?” “All of that and more” I said, and saw love light up his eyes. I gave him some money saying “Party for me Harry” and he smiled as if I understood him. He had become unique unto himself and a stranger to company. It was the last time I saw him.