Jane, me, Bud, Chip, Jon and Jill – New Orleans, March 1987
All of the above were attending an event none of us ever dreamed we’d see: the marriage of Christopher “Chip” Chapman last night to anybody, let alone someone as cool as Cathie turned out to be. It is a testament to Cathie’s spirit that she fully “gets” Chip, because, well, he’s not always an easy sell. I always understood him to be something of an awkward genius, but it took a few more decades for the girls to catch on.
When Bud, Jon, Chip and I met each other in September of 1985, we had many things in common: a certain prep-school prissy-pants judgment of our surroundings, the love of good shit-talking, and a common inability to talk about any feelings. “Opening up to each other” wasn’t quite our style, even as my parents continued their horrible divorce, and all four of us churned through the insanity of ages 18 through 22. I think we sublimated our problems through rapid-fire rancor.
Chip, in particular, was easy to make fun of. When he took showers in the dorm, he would pace around the faucet, talking to himself, only getting wet occasionally and by accident. When he shaved, he’d leave a blood bath that would have the Resident Assistant making sure he was okay. He left his toothbrush bristles-down in his cup of loose change, and his towel had hardened in the shape of the door it hung on. In short, he was a mess.
But if you tried making fun of him, he would always counter with something much more funny and devastating about your particular peccadilloes, and god knows we had them to spare. He gave as good as he got, and in many ways, he knew how strange he was, and didn’t particularly give a shit. After looking in the mirror next to me in 1986, he proclaimed, “my hairline isn’t receding, it’s RETREATING!” And retreat it did.
After Chip graduated Carolina, he spent two years in Washington D.C., where he got a Real Job™ and an apartment. Not so coincidentally, these were two of my least favorite years in North Carolina, and I was sublimely relieved when he came back to stay.
One of the first weekends he was back, we went for a long walk around Chapel Hill, talking about all modes of philosophy and what the hell we were going to do with our lives. The next day, he left a message on my machine, actually thanking me for doing that with him. This was not something us too-cool-for-school boys would ever have done before, but I realized he was growing up faster than me.
He was the first of us to really begin questioning his life and doing something about it. His depression led him to Buddhism five years before I tried it; he was searching around for answers to the Big Questions when I was still making fun of people for believing there were any Big Questions. He obsessed over every new reading, and there were days in the Pink House when I would get my monthly dose of philosophy just by poring through his leftovers.
As Bud so eloquently said last night, Chip’s search led, in some way, to finding Cathie. Like I said a few weeks ago, we are all dorks, we are all very special, and you better get on it, because there are only a few of us left. The Chipper is off the market, and those of us in his greater penumbra are breathing sighs of happiness and relief.