September 1982 brought the beginning of my last year of high school (and as far as I was concerned, the last year of school for me, period). Coming as it did in the wake of my first trip to New York and Guru's kind words to me, it should have been a happy time. But it wasn't.
With the start of our senior year, Charlie -- like his brother Dave -- began drifting away from the Center.
The rule about speaking to "ex-disciples" as they were known was simple: don't. The rule was explicit -- I had both read it in more than one of Guru's books and heard him say so himself. So, I acted accordingly.
As a practical matter, I don't think I shared any classes with Charlie. He was a bright student, while I was anything but. I did see him in the halls between classes, though. When I did, I'd say hello, but nothing more. It would take another eight years before I realized what an asshole I'd been to Charlie, and took steps to repair the damage.
In the meantime, however, I hoped that I'd never fall from grace myself. In the Center rhetoric, that's exactly what happened when a disciple left. For one reason or another -- whether personal weakness or the influence of some unseen hostile force -- a person who left the Center had "fallen." And in some occult way, ex-disciples were secretly contagious. To "mix" with then meant to court one's spiritual doom.
While I was then an extremely motivated disciple -- like I expect most new disciples were -- I was also a 17 year-old jock at heart. When I sat down to meditate I was all business, but once we left the meditation room, I loved mischief (particularly using the license of youth to push the buttons of my adult brother and sister disciples). That said, the idea of leaving the Center scared me.
It must have scared Guru, too. Back in the day, he belonged to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. At the age of 33, he left the Ashram to start his own career, to the chagrin of some of those then in charge of Sri Aurobindo's legacy. Guru was no doubt aware of how it felt to be ostracized from some of those he'd once thought were friends.
Eight years later, when I myself was on the way out and was being ostracized by people I long thought were friends, I came to regret my treatment of Charlie. I made it a priority to seek him out and apologize. (I also made it a point to remind myself going forward never to abandon a friend again.)
Since the first day I met him, Charlie was a class act. He went on to attend U.C. Berkeley and is now a successful architect. We still keep in touch by email. He's married to a wonderful (and beautiful) woman named Karen and has three kids, the youngest -- almost a year old now -- named Joseph.