In junior high and through high school, I had a friend, actually I had a few friends and a number of acquaintances, one of them, for lack of a better term, I suppose I would have to call my best friend. His name was Istaak. He was as certifiably cracked and broken as anyone I have met since, which is to say he was one of the sanest people I have ever known. He told many stories, I imagine some of them were true. One of those stories he related to me sitting atop an electrical tower, about two hundred feet above the earth, on a scrap of plywood we managed to haul up there and tie down. The wind rocking us over the trees below.
He told me his parents came from the “old world”. From someplace called Slovania or Slovakia, I know, but I’m pretty sure he said it was Slovania. He told me his father was in the resistance movement during WWII, was captured and interred in a prisoner of war camp by the Nazis. He told me he escaped on a pair of skis he’d fashioned from a couple of barrel staves, schussing off into the Alps and fending off the blood thirsty German Shepherds the guards loosed on him by punching them in their mouth as they sprang for the kill, thrusting his fist down their throats and snapping their necks. He told me he had the scars to prove it. He told me his father used to hit him in the head with a metal rake. And the wind rocked on.
So when I called home, my parents home, from a phone booth in Ontonagon, and was told that Istaak had jumped from an electric tower the day before, and flew about two hundred feet to Earth and death, the goodness of life faded instantly. It was my first encounter with mortality as a young adult, as a person that was suddenly able to comprehend and confront its permanence. I remember the funeral. I remember hooking up with some mutual friends for a kind of wake, among them, a guy we called Duster. Duster would play a prominent role in my story in the coming years. I don’t remember the drive back to Waukesha, leaving the comfort and the goodness I’d found in the octagon cabin and Lake Superior. I don’t remember much of the entire next month, consumed as I was by guilt and grief I suppose. I remember the last time I talked to Istaak and he told me of this strange sensation he was feeling in his tongue and in his head. His brother Matt was there and laughed at him and poked fun at his older brother. I figured this was simply another odd twist in the writhing, fantastical path of my “best friend”. Perhaps it was something more. And the wind rocks on.
I would return to the great north woods of Ontonagon in the months that followed, but somehow it would never be the same. It would never hold the same spell on an innocent flat-lander from Wisconsin. The octagon cabin was gone, chilly winds had started blowing, and Scott had gone one step too far into the mysteries of Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan, the “teachings”. His “quest for knowledge” had run him up, taken him around the bend, never to entirely return. Eventually, I beat a hasty retreat, Stella Blue on my shoulder (a cat I had found on my hitch hike up there), thumb in the air, and I like to think, the wind at my back.