May 15, 2009

Madness or Genius?

I've had the privilege of knowing some extremely intelligent people in my walk of life. I gravitate towards them, eager perhaps to learn something just from being in their aura. I always feel like a fringe member of the elite intellects, knowing that every so often I really will completely understand them, but more often than not, I'll only have a cursory grasp of their topics. I eagerly wait for the moments of absolute clarity.

I have a friend from college. I will call him David, because, well that was his name. I tried to think of a fake name for him, but then my story would not be true. David was "the quintessetial old student". Every college has them, the back to school student who blows away the grade curves. What was unusual about David was that actually chose to live in the dormitories, with us wild just barely out of our teens kids. He wanted to be near the library to study. David was the roommate of one of my friends from work. When we could pry David away from the books, he would join us for dinner. Everybody thought we were just being nice to "the old guy", but the truth is?

He was fascinating. David was going back to school to get a law degree, doing his undergraduate work. He had a psychiatry degree and had been over in Viet Nam. So even during Nam, he was probably "the old guy", compared to the average age of the soldiers he worked with. Indeed, he had a fatherly air to him, and incredibly insightful. We would talk and he'd get a serious look on his face, and just listen. He would guess things about me that I never mentioned. I am sure it was his psychiatry training. He would advise us about life and the world as he saw it. We thought he was so wise and a heck of a study partner, too. Everyone wants to be friends with the person who gets perfect test scores.

In Viet Nam, he had two tours of duty, but his wife was back home. When he came back, she apparently had fallen in love with someone else and left him. His story gets fuzzy here, but something happened, that he blamed on her, and he lost his medical license. He was a broken man.

He met a woman who helped him get back on his feet and they were deeply in love. He kept her picture on his desk and also inside his notebook. She died in a tragic accident before they could be married, so all he had was her pictures. She was a beautiful woman. David's genius seems to cross to madness, because he also blamed his ex wife for her death. He apparently couldn't get anyone to believe him, so he decided to take it upon himself to right the wrongs of his life by getting a law degree.

This is about the time I met him. He was finishing up his undergraduate work, where he maintained a 4.0. We could talk for hours, but whenever he talked about his ex or his dead fiance, it would be a bit manic. We were so much younger than he, we didn't know what true love was yet, so our best reaction was to politely listen.

He received his dual degree with highest honors, applied and was accepted to law school. On the first exam, he didn't get his usual perfect score. I no longer wondered if he was a bit crazy, but knew, because he blamed his ex wife out on the west coast for that, too. He explained with rage simmering in his voice, how she had gotten to his professors and somehow convinced them, perhaps through bribes, to fail him so he couldn't get his degree and exact justice on her.

He dropped out of school and checked into a VA hospital. We wrote letters back and forth, just keeping in touch. He came home a year later, and went back to law school. Shortly after that, he and I lost track of each other but another mutual friend told me he dropped out again, and was living in his mom's basement.

A couple years ago, I was reading the paper and saw the names of the recent law school grads. His name was listed. Somewhere, across the miles and years later, I hugged, and prayed.

Maybe he finally got it right.


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