Tod Settle is dead.
I knew him, though not well, and I hadn’t seen him since 1987? Maybe 1988? He died in December, 2020.
During the summer of 1982, I marched with a drum corps based in Houston, the Nighthawks. The corps wasn’t great but we were sincere and genuine and we had fun during an incredibly difficult inaugural marching season. Tod marched, too. That’s how we met. A good looking kid, with California-style blow-dried hair and a giant, gentle grin but with eyes that could flash as dark as a West Texas storm.
He played the vibraphone and understand this: marching vibes was a helluva thing to carry. Incredibly heavy and not particularly mobile. He carried those things, playing a fairly complex series of tunes while executing some decently complicated marching steps.
He and I spent some good time together that summer, laughing and comparing our high school band programs. I came out of Lee High School and he came out of Clear Lake High School and we forever argued over whose band was better.
The next summer, I think we hooked up at West Texas State University band camp. I say I think because I seem to have memories of being in one of the concert bands with him, but the memories are hazy and half-formed so they might be crap. It’s entirely possible that, because I only knew him a little but wanted to know him better, I’m projecting him into things I think he would have enjoyed.
Later, we definitely hung out at Texas Tech. I have no idea if he was in the music program or what he studied. I can’t remember how we stumbled into each other but for a few months, we were fairly close. By which I mean we grabbed burgers and beer, went to clubs, Fat Dawgs springs to mind, and spent lotta money at Players. It was a standard, shitty strip club and he told me his girlfriend danced there.
There are no memories after that so I assume, as with so many friends from one’s past, he and I simply faded into the threads that make up the ‘used to be.’
Occasionally, I’d wonder where he went and what he did, but I never looked. There are a number of people in my past like that; people who were once friends, even incredibly intimate friends and who I would desperately love to see again, but who I know have traversed a foreign path that might have left them, metaphorically, in a completely different world.
A foreign path, something unknown and perhaps even exotic, isn’t a bad thing. After all, two of my greatest friends ever, Bradley Crowley and Tammy Adair each took a path different than mine, wildly different from each other, and I still love them fiercely.
Regardless of Tod’s journey, for a brief few moments he and I were on the exact same page, narrow though that page was. We were enamored of the grandeur of music and enthralled with power of marching bands and drum corps. If it was music on a field, it was us.
That’s a fairly short page to read from, but isn’t that most childhood friendships?
I had an elementary school friend who was, I thought at the time, the greatest thing ever. We spent the nights at each other’s houses constantly, walked to and from school every day, though I lived a couple miles further from school than he did. I went with his family on a long weekend once. We were inseparable.
Until we weren’t.
I discovered music in early elementary school, and by 5th grade had my first drum. In 7th grade, I joined beginning percussion, and by high school, me, Brad, and Tammy were as deep into bands and music as it was possible to be. This other friend also discovered music and took beginning brass but wasn’t as serious and by 9th grade had dropped it for standard West Texas boy stuff: football, shop, metal shop.
We faded and he went to the military while I became a writer. Years later, after he’d retired from a police agency, we reconnected and I was excited to find he had a couple of my books. But what I discovered was that his path had taken him further and further from my own path. I had lunch with him and a friend of his in 2015 and they joked about ‘hadji’ stores, by which they meant convenience stores run by ‘the other,’ be they Indian or Pakistani or Arabic or some other flavor of brown-skin.
At that moment, eating really good Tex-Mex, it was as though part of my childhood instantly withered away. Or maybe that I realized part of my childhood had been in a hall of mirrors and this friend wasn’t where I had thought he’d been. His path had led him to racism and an intensely harsh view of criminality, of poverty and social justice, of politics, of the world and our place in it.
That friend is still alive and I wish him a long, long life, but the smashing of a facet of my childhood was the same with him as it was when I discovered Tod had died, and when Tammy died suddenly in September, 2021, though that hurt was much deeper and will last much longer.
When the atomic bombs went off in Japan, there were shadows in the aftermath. Shadows of cars and bicycles, of telephone poles, of people. The intense light from the bombs bleached out what they hit. When that light hit bodies, the concrete or mortar or whatever behind them didn’t get bleached, leaving the shadows. Those shadows are a perfect illustration of what used to be there, of what once was.
I texted Brad and told him about Tod. He hadn’t known Tod but had been almost as close to Tammy as I had been, and he said, “We’re too young to be dropping like this.”
He’s right, of course. We both understand death does not count years but simply takes who it wants. Or that the bad luck floating around the universe has to land on someone, depending on how you look at things, but it’s a shock to the system nevertheless.
What has struck me most, as selfish as it is, is not that they’re missing, but what their missing has plucked out of my past. Select parts of my childhood have just gone missing, as though I’m wandering through a gigantic warehouse with a hundred-million items, relics of a childhood I both loved and hated, and I can’t find some of them. I’ll look and look, and look again, but they won’t be there.
It doesn’t matter how long it had been since the last time I’d taken them out to play with them, I won’t be able to again and that’s just heavy in my soul.