One of the best-known, and certainly longest-running, series in the history of this blog was my 130 part series of 20th anniversaries of events between deciding to move to the Twin CIties in 1985, and my oldest child’s birth in 1991. The series took (doy) six years to write.
One of the characters that popped up was a roommate I had at the time. I gave him a pseudonym (as I did with a couple of the people that were, er, on the “colorful” side) – “Wyatt“. He had a thing for the ladies, was addicted to pretty much everything to which one could be addicted (and dealt in some of it vocationally), He gave off certain signs of mental illness, although I was pretty bad at noticing that kind of thing back then. Our roomate situation ended one night in 1988, when he shot up the house we rented in what I had ascribed to a cocaine-fueled frenzy.
I’ve neither talked with nor heard from “Wyatt” for over 30 years. I will confess, I googled him about ten years ago, and found from a few news stories – a break-in at a liquor store, a trial and sentence – that showed that his habits were keeping him in just as much trouble as they did when I knew him.
I also knew he had a father – a fairly wealthy man, a former Navy frogman who had done well in, I believe, real estate or insurance or something like that – and a mother. And I knew his family loved him, and spent a lot of money and, I suspect, a lot more effort and emotional energy, trying to get him on the right track – including sending him to treatment in Minnesota, which of course led him across my path in 1987.
And when I became a parent, his story – the whole family’s story, really – terrified me; it was possible, no matter how you loved your children, for the unreasoning, cackling spectre of mental illness and its sidekick, addiction, to take that kid from you no matter what you did and how hard you clung to the hope you could do something about it.
A bit of curious googling over the weekend brought it all back.
“Wyatt” had a real name. And he died in 2010 – ironically, not long after his departure from the series. Tragically, but not in the least bit surprisingly, he died of mixing drugs and booze.
And I’m going to admit – while my “Wyatt” tales in “Twenty Years Ago Today” were true down to the last comma and semicolon, they painted as one-dimensional a picture of him as one might expect someone who, twenty years later, was still kicking himself for letting that kind of dysfunction into his life, and the consequences it brought.
The article – featuring his parents, who have stayed involved in trying to help the mentally ill over the years – brings a human aspect to “Wyatt” – Wyeth – that I wasn’t ready to acknowledge when I wrote the series, over a decade ago.
My very belated condolences to everyone involved.