A vow to be stoned as the new century rolled in

THERE were only a few minutes left of the 1970s. Patrick and I were sharing a peaceful New Year's Eve joint in a friend's backyard at quiet Hervey Bay.

We were 21, two of the little town's bright and shiny minds, the world at our feet, the stars in our sights. Where would we be, we wondered, come the 21st century? What would we be like? Would we follow the generational pattern of wild youth becomes tame middle-aged man becomes conservative old man?

So we made a pact that night, Patrick and I. In fear of turning into our parents, we vowed that each of us, no matter where we were, would be stoned as the 21st century rolled in.

But Patrick hesitated. He turned to me under the unnaturally bright stars and said, very seriously: "Does it have to be just grass?"

No, Patrick was never going to be the mild middle-ager I seem to have become. He made it to the 21st century all right, still untamed. But then the 20th century - and the human immunovirus - caught up with him. Patrick was cremated a few hours before I wrote this.

Pat was the "bad company" of my youth, hedonistic to the core, dangerous to be with. I sat, all in black, in a chapel that afternoon being surprised by 20-year-old memories.

Walking in an inner-Brisbane street, stiff-legged and trying to look natural, as a police car kerb-crawled beside us, the officers wondering whether the obvious burning joint in Pat's hand was worth the paperwork. Apparently, it wasn't.

Stepping from a hotel car park through broken glass to his flat at the grubby "Pink Palace" (inner-city units when they were sleazy, not fashionable) and opening the door to be stunned by a tropical paradise inside. Patrick, it seemed, went on nightly pot plant raids in the suburbs. He was particularly fond of bromeliads.

Soon-to-be Doctor Pat telling me he'd get me any drugs I wanted. Anything.

Telling Patrick I wasn't interested in addictive drugs, sending him into fits of laughter because I still drank alcohol and so was talking bullshit. He was right, of course.

Using fake IDs to get into happy hour at a uni club then driving home, rat-faced drunk but somehow surviving.

All too scary for this little clergyman's son. Without any conscious decision, I drifted away and pretty much lost contact with Patrick. Somewhere in that time, he graduated as a doctor, came out, and became HIV-positive. Not necessarily in that order. I carried on my journalistic career, making safe, sometimes smart, choices. Married, bred. Got a bit of arthritis.

I ran into Pat before the end, at an art gallery opening for a mutual friend. It was the first time I knew he was dying. He was wasting, shaking, weakly coughing. Still laughing, as sardonic and charismatic as ever. I said goodbye that night, gave him a hug and a kiss. He died a year later, still laughing at the world.

I said goodbye again as the chalk blue curtains closed before the coffin, which was adorned with a healthy bromeliad and Pat's sequined dancing cap. And I wondered why I didn't feel guilty about not chasing him up in that last year.

But Patrick lived by his own rules, and with the consequences of his own decisions. And he was always gently impatient with my relative timidity. He would have had little time for middle-aged me, preoccupied with my children and with my job and with spending as much time as possible with my wife.

And really, I had said goodbye years before, knowing without knowing that, to survive, I would have to turn into my father a little bit.

I don't know about Pat, but I wasn't stoned when the 21st century rolled in. I had a quiet drink, watched the fireworks with my children, and tucked them into bed. Then I went to bed and lay awake a long, long time.