Geez I hope my blog isn't turning into a toney obituary column. Reflecting upon that possibility, I can't really see it happening, since I don't have that many friends as close as Geoff Feiler was. Geoff took off away from this earth on Sunday, and it's a measure of how distant we had become (though I just Skype-chatted with him a couple weeks ago) that I didn't discover he'd left until yesterday, when I was copied on an email discussing pictures for a memorial gathering--scheduled for Saturday in Anchorage, Alaska.
I'd talked with Steve, another close/distant old friend over the weekend and knew Geoff was in dire straits, lungs collapsed, not much hope for a transplant, at ICU in Providence Hospital there in Anchorage hanging on with assisted breathing, and had him in my thoughts all week. Now to learn he left without my having a chance to give him a proper goodbye.
When Geoff came to Hillwood High School for his 10th grade year, I was already practicing social networking out of the box. I recall an intense sit-in-the-middle-of-the-room-and-let-the-group-talk-about-you session at dear departed Albert Gaines's home during one writer's group meeting my senior year of high school. A comment someone made was they felt I wasn't committed to the group, that I seemed equally committed to fraternity friends, music friends, "greasers," jocks, and nerds. I can tell you right now that was a very true observation, and because I knew it was true I carry it with me to this day. Some might say that's a character flaw, but I would say it's just an indication of my core solitude. I joke that I was left too long, too often, alone in a baby playpen very young, but that's not really a joke, is it.
Anyway, Geoff on the scene, I introduced myself to him the first day, brought him into the fold of Sigma Phi Omega, the national high school fraternity (read "social gang") I had somehow gotten into, double-dating with him, and working with him at a burger joint called "Burger Chef," located at the highway 70/100 split in the building that is now Sportsman's Grill. We got into a modicum of trouble, really culminating when we were each called separately into the principal's office to explain why we were sitting in a car in the high school parking lot on Prom Night when an empty beer can was tossed out the car window. Mr. Garriott (sp?), our famous one-armed principal, received separate identical accounts from us: We were waiting for our dates (with whom we'd actually spent the entire night on a blanket under the stars in Percy Warner Park) in the car (they wanted to see the decorations and make an appearance so they could describe the Prom to their parents) and we found the empty can on the ground by the car, and Geoff picked it up to throw it away then realized if he was caught walking to the trash can he'd be in trouble, so he tossed it away. I still remember the teacher, heck I think it was Gaines but it may have been Schumaker, leaning into our car asking us what we were doing. He reported the incident and there we were being grilled separately. Here's my point: WE HAD NOT DISCUSSED A COVER STORY. We came to identical stories as if we were one mind.
In a sense, at that time, we were.
A quick note: the age to consume alcohol had been 18 up until the beginning of the year 1968, when legislation reverted it to 21. Geoff and I were so nearly 18 that we felt cheated by "The Man" and that we were justified in having a couple beers on our prom night--it was 1968, remember, and we were the Revolution. Kids don't try this at home. It's not 1968 anymore. It never will be.
A couple years later I'd dropped out of college, hacked at a snotty creative writing professor who wouldn't let sophomore me into a writing class for juniors, and I'd gotten married. We lived in a house in East Knoxville, and Geoff moved in to help with the rent. He brought with him a 7 foot boa constrictor who got along quite nicely with my two cats. I was working in the library and I'm not sure what Geoff was doing, maybe working in the campus faculty food facility. One week he announced he was going to Alaska and off he went, snake, military ambulance from WWII, earthly belongings, and all.
Several years later, divorced and raucous, I joined Steve in Knoxville, we traveled to Nashville to see John Prine before heading off, and Steve and I drove to Anchorage. That's another story. But the reason we went there was to visit Geoff. I ended up staying in Alaska for 6 years, playing music, acting some, and enjoying my young adulthood immeasurably. Steve never left.
I could and may likely write more, but I won't do it here. This ain't no obit column. I told my dear wife Lee Ann and my dear son Colin that I hope I get a lot more practice with this grief thing, as I continue to survive my friends. Whether that prediction is a prescient one remains unclear. I'll just keep truckin', the way Geoff did 'til the end.
The obit is here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/adn/obituary.aspx?n=geoffrey-feiler&pid=139270316
And here is a pic from our class reunion in 2008, with Geoff down front and me 'way up in the back. It was a fun time and I'm glad we did it. Otherwise...well, I'm glad we did it. Thanks to Mike Hickey for the stellar group photo.