Someone I'd known since childhood just passed away far too soon. Details are pending and making anything google searchable is always risky, so hence his forthcoming anonymity.
It’s actually hard to think about my relationship with this friend without acknowledging a beginning when we were kind of dicks to each other - trading insults, some weak attempts at physical posturing. That was middle school, though, and everyone’s a dick in middle school when we’re less human, more just confused, kid-shaped vessels of bubbling hormones, competing for safety in the pack.
Of course, part of the beauty of growing up is recognizing that everyone experiences their own misery in those years. Hopefully, it passes, and if you're so inclined you get to appreciate the person underneath.
I remember him most from band – he played trombone, but was gleefully loud whether he had instrument up to his mouth or not. Particularly in high school, pep band I think, he’d give me props if I did something cool playing the drums, and we’d share some laughs every now and again. We didn’t have much in common, but, after the struggles to get along in middle school, he turned out to be a surprisingly fun dude. He was popular, more so than me. The people I liked most liked him, and anyone cool enough for them was definitely good enough for me.
I barely saw him after high school. We connected on Facebook at some point, but never talked. The next I’d see him was our 10-year reunion. The great joy of that occasion was the evaporation of boundaries, the equanimity between formerly divided cliques and classes. The sense that so much of the drama and B.S. of school was just silliness and it’s ten years later and fuck it – let’s just all have a beer together and laugh. He manned the bar and probably should’ve cut me off because I got absolutely blasted. But god damn it was a great party and he imbued it with pulsing, boisterous life, pouring drink after drink, driving conversation.
A few years later when visiting my family, I took my wife – then my girlfriend – to a local dive. She was born and raised in Manhattan, and I wanted her to experience a proper slice of life from my hometown, cowboy boots and rodeo talk and all.
I saw him there, across the bar. He and I did that thing where you make eye contact real quick and then look away and pretend not to see each other. He had people around him; maybe he wanted to stay engaged with them. Or maybe a ‘stop-and-chat’ with an old high school friend seemed like too much effort, and, like I said, true closeness always eluded us.
When I consider it now, I think I felt too nervous to talk to him, too afraid of rejection of even a mild display of Cro-Magnon affection. I liked him, I admired his fearlessness with people in ways that I’m fearful. I wanted to introduce him to the woman who would become my wife. But with his booming laughter, in his element surrounded by friends, he still seemed popular and I felt the echoes of being a downcast, insecure teen.
I wish that I had dug a just a little bit deeper, and found the courage to talk that night. We grew up, if not quite together, then something close to it, intersecting with each other's lives off and on since childhood. Even if just a handshake and best wishes until the next reunion, he wouldn’t have suffered for a moment of camaraderie, and we all deserve a reminder when we are good people in each other’s eyes.