1983: Peacock turns to me and gets a slightly cruel look on his face. He tries to mask his caustic assessment of my character by speaking with a casually objective tone of voice. He says, “People have been asking where you’ve been and whether you and I are still friends. I tell them that you use up people, and when you’ve had your fill you just move on. That’s fair, isn’t it?” I stare at him and say nothing in return. But I cast my judgment on him as I silently conclude that he is a man who can never let go of people. He lost an older sister when she was killed by a drunk driver in an auto accident, and he has never fully recovered. Peacock doesn’t cut his connections with a friend or a lover when the positive energy and good will have faded away or burned out. He holds onto them even as he gets more bitter and critical, and doesn’t understand why an object of his obsession eventually flees.
Spring 1978: I pass through a broken door frame and skirt a suspicious puddle of ooze on the scuffed tiles of a dimly lit hallway as I make my way to his door. He lives in a tiny dorm room in Stewart Hall on the campus of the University of Dayton. I have a bottle of Rhine wine in one hand and a Janis Ian album in the other. Peacock lets me in and produces a joint, and we smoke, drink, and talk until early in the morning. The sound of the music takes on cleaner, sharper edges and sometimes echoes inside my head when the singer hits the high notes. When we get very drunk and high he tells me that he dated a girl in high school who later became a lesbian. He worries that he did something to push her over the edge. I point out that the probable cause for her conversion was the parish priest who got into her pants when she was 17. Peacock doesn’t listen and continues to stare sadly at the floor.
Fall 1978: Peacock discovers that I’m dating a girl named Anne. I’m still on the rebound from my disaster break up with Madonna, and ask her out in an attempt to have a relationship with someone who is less manipulative. Peacock thinks that my choice is hilarious. He teases me by imitating her goofball laugh, and continues his impersonation by saying, “Oh Denny, hyuh-hyuh, kiss me, hyuh!” I try to defend her, but he’s persistent and begins to mimic some of her facial expressions. I laugh against my will and feel both disloyal to Anne and embarrassed by our relationship. I continue to watch Peacock mock both her and me, and realize that he is putting Anne and me on the same level. I thought that I had done her a favor by condescending to ask her out, but as Peacock’s ridicule slowly deflates my ego I realize that she and I are equals, and even suspect that she is the better one of our two.
Summer 1979: Peacock is at the wheel of his AMC Eagle. He’s smoking a cigarette and nervously fiddling with the radio dial. We listen to a cut from Breakfast in America by Super Tramp, and when the music fades he gets serious. He tells me that nothing is sure in his life except for his certainty of his moral goodness. The only thing that Peacock knows with complete confidence is that he is good person and will always choose to do the right thing. I identify several flaws in his argument but say nothing. I wonder whether it will ever be possible to settle a disagreement or win an argument with him.
Fall 1980: Peacock, his buddy Mike, Sue (Mike’s younger sister) and her sour faced girlfriend sit around a kitchen table drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Peacock and I are both interested in Sue, but she’s making it obvious that her latest frustrations with attending college are her one concern. We slowly get drunk except for Mike. He hangs back and plays the part of our ersatz Daddy. He smokes a pipe and smiles benignly at our foolishness. We all end up at a state park sitting by a little lake at dawn. The drunken buzz is wearing off and the dull weight of a hang over starts to press down. We smoke the last few cigarettes in the pack and stare glumly at the sun as it peeks over the horizon. Birds begin to chirp all around us and they grow ever more annoyingly cheerful as they remain impervious to our group’s collective misery.
Peacock likes girls with big chests who look like they grew up on a farm. Patti fits the description perfectly. She is staring at him from across the hall as our genetics class waits for the door to the classroom to be unlocked. It’s obvious that she wants him to ask her out, but Peacock continues to lean against the wall and look at her with an uncertain smile on his face. He never gets around to calling her up. A few months later he mentions that he’s in a close friendship with a woman who is engaged to get married. The day of the nuptials is coming up soon, and Peacock is upset because he knows that she would be much happier with him. And to make matters worse, the bride-to-be has just unexpectedly ended their friendly visits. A few years later he tries to charm the girlfriend of his roommate, Jack, and doesn’t understand when Jack takes determined steps to keep him away from his future wife. Peacock is sure that things would be much better, all the way around, if the better man won the lady.
Summer 1981: Peacock sits in a straight backed chair at a table near the front door of his rental house on Alberta St. I carry boxes down the stairs, cross behind him, and take them out to my Pinto wagon. He glares at my back when I walk out and at a point slightly to the left of my nose when I walk back in. When I stop and try to explain my reasons for moving he refuses to respond. After I carry my last load to my car I make one more attempt to salvage what is left of our friendship. He crosses his arms and sneers while I try to get through to him. I lose my temper, bend down and shout in his ear, “You never listen, you self-righteous prick!” I want to force him to break his silence, to hit me if necessary. A fistfight would be a better way of ending things. But he stays rooted to his seat, and I stomp out.
Summer 1995: I’m watching my daughter play on a swing set in a park a few blocks away from Peacock’s rental house in Kettering. Peacock has made the effort to rekindle our friendship after an estrangement of 10 years. We trade visits when he passes through Orlando and I come to Kettering to see my family. He seems to like my children, and we speak to each other with nearly the same friendliness and ease that we enjoyed back when we first met. He remembers incidents from the past that I can barely recall. He knows the names of a few of my girlfriends at the University of Dayton that have faded from my memory. It appears that he lived my life with greater intensity during those years than I did.
The conversation takes an unpleasant turn, however, when he brings up a few arguments that we had back then. He wants me to apologize and admit my fault, and I do that up to a point. He takes no responsibility for his part in our disagreements. We fall into an uneasy lull and watch Annie slide down a slide. He breaks the silence when he mentions that he is a member of a struggling congregation in downtown Dayton. He is proud that he tithes ten percent of his income and sits on one of the parish committees. They couldn’t do without him.
Christmas 1997: I’m sitting on a sofa at my parents’ house. The high fever that struck me on Christmas Day has abated, but I’m still weak. Peacock shows up with a box of fancy nuts and gives them to my parents. He talks with them in an animated way and pointedly ignores me. When he glances in my direction he has a sneer on his face that looks familiar.
I send him a card and letter on his birthday a few months later and he doesn’t acknowledge them. I never hear from him again. He has finally had his fill of me and has decided to move on.