Little Bird

His dad called him Pablo; the rest of us just called him Paul. He was probably in the neighborhood of seven when I first met him and his family. New to town, they were frequent customers of the bookstore where I worked. Then his mom got a job at the bookstore, and in the way these things happen, we all became friends.

And we have all remained friends, through what a judge termed “the most amicable divorce” he’d ever seen, through Linda’s subsequent marriage and divorce, through Alan’s subsequent marriage, with incumbent step siblings and the arrival of the baby half-sister, beloved by everyone.

But Paul, one of the quiet ones in a family full of out-going performers, followed a rocky path. Early on he found Trouble, or it found him, and they became inseparable, no matter how much Paul tried.

Paul and his siblings grew up. He was always good-looking and charming, kindhearted and friendly, and it was hard to believe, particularly when he was surrounded by so many people who loved him whom he loved right back, but Trouble kept issuing a siren call he seemed compelled to heed. Even at a young age it found him, or he found it, and it just kept leading him farther along that rocky path.

I don’t know for sure when addiction sunk its tentacles deep inside him; I don’t even know if it fueled the petty theft issues, or if the thrill of illicit thieving gave way to the thrills of addiction. Either way, there was still this open honesty about Paul that never let him get very far without getting caught.

I think he tried to part ways with his demons many times, tussling with them far more than any of us will ever know. But he couldn’t find his way away from them, and his mother got to know him as an adult not through the lens with which she saw her other three children, but through the regimen and limitations of jail visits.

He did try; he met a caring, wonderful woman. She tried too. They had two children, a boy and a girl, each of them as cute and smart as their dad. And he tried, but Trouble dogged his every footstep until his wife couldn’t do it any longer and pulled away, taking the kids with her. When she went, she had the blessing and encouragement of Paul’s entire family.

Paul hit one of those bottoms in a hard, public way: the newspaper detailed his break-in of a local hardware store that featured Paul’s innate honesty. All police had to do was follow candy bar wrappers from the store to the doorstep where he had passed out.

After the news story came out, Linda showed up on our doorstep one evening. She had gone to the park near our house to aimlessly hit tennis balls at the backstop, saw our open door and came in. I was very angry at Paul that evening: his mother did not deserve heartbreak like this. She was particularly twisted into a knot because another mother’s son — someone she knew well — was in that same paper for achieving his rank of Eagle Scout and wearing a beribboned Scout sash that fell to his ankle.

Paul tried again. He undertook a serious, serious effort at sobriety. He got out of jail and moved back to Gunnison, living with his mother. His sponsor felt this time he was really going to part ways with Trouble; I think Paul dared feel some hope as well.

For all the confidence and charm Paul exuded, there was still a little boy lost in there. With invitations already in the mail for Lynn’s and my wedding, he worried to his mother that he might not be invited. She told him he could be her “plus one.” But the invitation arrived, addressed to both Linda and Paul. He was welcome, and wanted.

His ex-wife let the children come to Gunnison for visits. I put him to work at a small part-time job at the screen print shop, where he excelled with a minimum of instruction and no supervision. He did laugh, one day, because every time I came past him he was on his phone. He assured me, “I am working.” “I know you are,” I said. “I can see all the clean screens.”

He left the little job at Pat’s and ended up working for our contractor, where once again he excelled with a minimum of instruction and supervision. Dusty moved him up the pay scale faster than maybe any other employee he’d ever had.

Paul’s restless streak wouldn’t leave him, though. He wanted to go make the really big money in the oil fields, even though Dusty expressed concern about the rampant drug use prevalent in that workforce. But Paul went, still maintaining his address at his mother’s. She said he was an easy roommate, the quiet one in a family of extroverts.

And he tried. He gave up on the oil fields — I don’t know the reason — and moved to Grand Junction in order to be closer to his kids. And then he moved again, last year, to Rifle where they lived with their mom, so he could be closer still.

Yesterday, Linda got the call she had been bracing for for a long time: Trouble found Paul, or he found it, one last time — and this time Trouble won. Paul, charming Paul, her third child, father of two of her grandchildren, had died of an accidental overdose. He was 33.

Paul has been pulled away, this time with utter finality, from his children, from his ex-wife who has worked so hard to keep those children in his life, from his siblings, step siblings and half-sibling, from grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, from his dad who called him Pablo and his stepmom, and from his mom, a realist who never gave up on her son.

And from me. I grieve for his parents and siblings with whom I have been friends for a quarter-century, and for his children whom I saw a handful of times. And their mother, who strove so mightily to keep their father in their lives. Their loss is mine too, from the little boy in the bookstore to the conscientious worker in my shop to the man who tried, especially for his children, so, so hard to escape his dance with Trouble but never could, because he always found it, or it always found him.

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