It was early January, the holidays had ended and I had just returned to school. I was settling in for the night after the eight hour trip to Tallahassee and put on an obscure album I had just bought over the vacation or maybe it was a Christmas gift, regardless there was a knock at my door.
It was a neighbor I had never met before. He moved in while I was away and was wondering if that was The Kostars I was listening to? It was. The odds of anyone being able to recognize this band were incredibly small, maybe one in several hundred million. We talked about how awesome they were, then finally I invited the guy in. It’s funny the little details I can remember, like I was wearing a robe. but I can’t remember his name. Was it Ken? Maybe, it was Ken.
Ken was super excited about starting college. He grew up in a small town and couldn’t wait to start his life. We talked about music and ourselves and I guess it was infectious that moving out on your own feeling because our conversation wouldn’t end until finally it did.
The semester started and days or maybe weeks passed where I didn’t see him. I had been there three years and already had my routines with friends and a girlfriend and classes I went to and pickup basketball games to play and when I finally hit a dead moment I knocked on Ken’s door.
Only it wasn’t Ken who answered. It was a long haired Asian guy with his shirt off. Did I have the wrong door? No, I lived in the corner apartment, his was the only one next to mine. “Is Ken here?” I asked.
“No, he’s not.”
“OK.” I said as I remembered Ken specifically saying he lived alone. “Tell him his neighbor stopped by.”
I was confused, but didn’t give it much mind and then a couple days later Ken knocked at my door. He was a little distraught. His car had been towed away and he spent the night in jail.
“What happened?” I asked.
He was vague. He had been at the local coffee house and an argument ensued. He wasn’t forthcoming with the details, but the police were called and none of it was making much sense, so I thought I’d ask something with which he could provide a more definitive answer. “Who was that guy in your apartment?”
“That’s my brother. He and Mom came into town after my arrest.” Turned out Ken was half Chinese and he looked more like his Caucasian Dad, so that provided one explanation. He asked if I’d like to hang out with his family for the day. The Mom was really nice. She worked at Winn Dixie and insisted she buy us both groceries with her employee discount. She didn’t seem overly concerned about her son, though she did keep saying she was glad he found such a good friend already. “It’s good, you can check up on him.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her our friendship was only one conversation old.
When I had a moment alone with the brother I asked him, “What happened to Ken?”
“He’s reading books he shouldn’t be reading. It puts ideas into his head. He should come back home.”
I didn’t know what that meant. Was the family Christian fundamentalists who didn’t like books that didn’t spread the word? Again my memory is hazier than I would like about the specifics, but I do remember there was an ongoing debate about whether Ken should stay on his own or head back home. I was firmly on the side of him sticking it out. Surrender, is for the meek, nothing is gained by giving up, blah blah blah.
But my mind changed quickly as that night Ken knocked on my door again. I had no music on. Rather he wanted to show me a photograph he had. It was one of those color portraits they would take of you in high school and you would trade with your friends in exchange for theirs. It was of a pretty girl he named. “She is a good friend of mine.” he said, but it wasn’t the front of the photograph that concerned him, it was the back side that had the faded logo and name of the photo lab that developed it. He pointed at the logo and said, “These stars weren’t here before.”
It was a small thing. It wasn’t like he was talking about UFO abductions or yelling at voices. But he said it with enough certainty to make me realize his brain wasn’t wired the same as the rest of society. The next day on the walk back from class I saw his brother moving furniture out of the apartment.