Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stories to be told

1984. I was a sophomore in high school, half way to my 16th birthday. I'd become editor of the school newspaper rather quickly and suddenly, so I spent all of my lunch hours in the Journalism room, working on the next edition. Alone. I always was a bit on the fringes.

One day, the door to the darkroom opened. The boy who stepped out seemed to be as surprised to see me as I was to see him. Apparently, he thought he was spending his lunch hours alone, too.

And thus, one of the greatest friendships of my life began.

Twenty-two years later, we stood at the door to that room and looked through the window. Behind us stood his wife and my kids. "That's where it started," we said, smiling at the memory.

Many stories filled those intervening years.

Back in 1984, we were complete nerds.  Okay, we still are, but we were teenage nerds.  I remember that he had a party and my folks were very concerned about this boy inviting me to a boy-girl party. Yeah, I know; it screams "overprotective."  They were.  So, they pulled up outside the party house to drop me off. 

"Whose car is that?" my dad asked, pointing to the old, yellow bug.

"That's his car," I said.  Then, we spotted my nerdy friend coming to greet me.  My dad seemed to relax on the idea that this guy was going to maul me at any moment.

That year, he wrote in my yearbook: "By next year, I'll get my braces off, change my name, and clear up my face! You'll never recognize me!"

We spent lots of time together during high school.  We watched endless marathons of Ernest movies and commercial reels ("KnowwhatImean, Vern?").  All the Monty Python we could get our hands on.  We sought out the most off-beat music, and he even made some of his own.  I wrote an article about his garage band.  

One evening, his mom asked me to join them for card game night.  I said, "I'm really bad at card games."  She said that was nonsense and dealt me a hand.

A few minutes later, she said, "You weren't kidding, were you?"  Yep, I was that bad.  Still am.  But I'll kick your ass at a word game.

Right after high school, he auditioned for and earned a spot in a touring musical company.  I got postcards from all over the world.  Funny thing was that the postcards were often of little podunk airports, in the middle of nowhere.  

One day, I got a postcard with a Garfield the Cat cartoon on it.  But the captions were all in German.  I stared at the picture and finally said aloud, "I don't know what this says!"  I flipped it over to see my friend's handwriting: "You don't know what this says, do you?"  He signed it, "All feet are the same!"

When he got home, we had a big celebration, and he showed all of his slides from the road.  It was bittersweet, though.  He'd decided to go away to college.  

I missed him terribly, but visited now and again.  Of course, he came home for visits, too.  And it seemed we developed a pattern: when one of us became romantically interested in the other, the other one would be dating someone.  Back and forth we went, for years.

We loved the movie Labyrinth.  We'd throw quotes at each other all the time.  I loved it when I'd come home and find a message on my answering machine (yes, this was before cell phones):

"One door leads to the castle at the center of the labyrinth.  The other door leads to...bum, bum, bum, bum...certain death.  Ooooooo...." Click.

He had his grandmother make some vests for him.  They had four buttons and three button holes.  Their entire purpose was for people to say to him, "Look, you're unbuttoned," so he could reply, "Dangit!  I lost another buttonhole!"

Delightful silliness.

I have a series of pictures from one of his trips home.  He decided to replace the brake system on his VW van himself.  He and another friend bought a "For Dummies" book on VW maintenance and set to work. I took pictures of them getting covered in grease and dirt, in their shorts and long tube socks.  What's funny about the pictures is that once they took the socks off, you could see they were clean from the knees down.  

They decided to rinse off.  As they dragged out the hose, they spotted me with the camera.  You could see the collective lightbulbs come on, and I knew I was in for a soaking.  Suddenly, his mom burst from the front door.  "Blogget!  Blogget!  Come quick!  I need your help at the store!"

And so she saved me from a royal drenching.

Going to the store with his mom was always an interesting time.  She kept this mental stash of mysteries and puzzles for us to solve as we shopped.  Definitely kept us entertained and out of trouble.  Clever woman.

So, eventually, we married other people.  On my wedding day, his mother came to me and said, "We always thought it would be you and our boy!"  What do you say to that?

He once came to visit me when I lived in Missouri.  My daughter was a baby, and I wasn't in the best place physically or emotionally.  The pregnancy had been rough, and my marriage was beginning to fall apart.  I've always regretted that he had to see me like that.

We've kept in touch, and I'm friends with his wife.  He founded a successful computer company.  About a year ago, he became ill.  Cancer.  He keeps everyone informed of his treatments and progress through a blog.  When his illness keeps him awake, we play word games via our phones.  I thought I should feel bad about mercilessly kicking his can at the games, but he wouldn't want me to go easy on him. He started new treatments recently, with chemo and radiation, and sounds positive on most days.

You know, maybe it's the writer in me, but I tend to see life and death in stories.  Those to be told, those being told, and those that have been told.

He had an oncologist appointment the other day, and decided it was time to be honest with everyone.  So, I learned the raw truth today.

He's going on hospice care.  He's visited a cemetery.  His story's end will come in a matter of weeks.  They're trying to make him comfortable.

At this moment, I can't wrap my head around the idea of a world without my friend in it, without his words and his thoughts and his heart.  I remember so much, and I feel desperate to cling to it all.  I want to say that it's not fair, but I know the answer to that.  Nothing is fair.  I don't want to lose him.  I don't want his wife to lose him.  I don't want his mother to lose him.

Repeatedly over the last couple of days, I've heard the song "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor.  It's one that always stabs at my heart because of one line:  "...But I always thought that I'd see you again."  It reminds me of my cousin, who was lost almost 21 years ago.  Now, it seems like it was warning of another such loss coming - I always thought I'd see him again, and I doubt I will.

Jacob tells me, "Don't grieve yet."  But I'm in shock.  The memories are coming fast, and I want to experience and express them all.  My dear friend. We're in each other's hearts.  He loves silly things, like three-button hole vests.  He loves yellow.  And I want to tell his story, and never forget.

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