There are no friends like old friends. Above anything I know as fact; I know this is certainly true. There are no friends like old friends. There is no one else in the world like the kids from the neighborhood. I know this. I know this as well as I know my own blood that moves through my body. No matter where we go in life, how far we move away, what we turned into, or how successful we become—old friends will always be old friends. They will always have a piece of our heart. They will always matter and when we are older; when we look back at ourselves and the life we lived; when we need a laugh or whenever we feel the need for a fresh breath of nostalgia, our old friends and the things we did together will always finda way to surface.
I know this is true. I am certain of this because I can say, wholeheartedly, that on some of my tougher occasions, I was struggling with my demons and felt alone when out of nowhere, an old friend unexpectedly and yet somehow instinctively popped up to disprove my theories of loneliness.
I can’t remember the last time we were all together or at the same place at the same time. I’m not even sure how we as a group started out. Maybe this is a simple case of geographical luck. Maybe if we lived someplace else with different influences and different friends; maybe we would be completely different people. Nevertheless, this was us. We were the crazy ones. We were the loud ones—the defiant ones. We were the kids that dared the edge. We lived as fast as we possibly could. We ran when we could and hid when we had to. Above all, we were so perfectly young and so wonderfully untouched by life’s reality. We had no idea what was in store for us. We certainly had no thoughts on the future. To us, our future was no further than the moment. Everything we lived for was right there and right then.
I met Mike the first day in first grade. Safe to say, Mike was my first friend. He was very tall, blue-eyed, slightly freckled, and blonde haired. I am not sure what we said to each other. I cannot say whether I remember Mike specifically on my first day. I can only say I was not ready for school or schoolteachers like Mrs. Letterman.
Mrs. Letterman was an older woman. She was grandmotherly in looks and dress. I assume she appeared nice at first. I was a little excited to start school. In my efforts to be prepared, I decided to sharpen one of the pencils my mother gave me in a little blue pouch. There were pencils, erasers, a small ruler, and a pencil sharpener. I could not spell or write my name, but goddammit, if I needed to learn how, at least I had the pencils to write it down.
Mrs. Letterman walked back toward my desk. I recall the room we were in. I recall the maroon checkerboard tiles on the floor, the windows, which tilted outward, were partially opened. The walls were cinderblock and panted what my mind’s eye remembers as taupe or something closer to a light buckskin, or tan.
It was early in the day. I had not met anyone yet. I had not even spoken to anyone yet. When Mrs. Letterman arrived by the side of my desk, she noticed that I was diligently trying to prepare myself with a sharpened pencil. The only problem with this is I was allowing my pencil shavings to fall to the floor.
This caused Mrs. Letterman to scream at me. This was my first reprimand as a student. This was also the first time I responded in a way that resulted in a phone call home to my parents.
After being shouted at and commanded to go up to the front of the classroom, retrieve the wastebasket next to the teacher’s desk, and then return to my area and clean the pencil shavings, I was sidetracked by my schoolteacher’s loud tone.
Enraged, I jumped on Mrs. Letterman’s desk and began kicking the books from her desk and on to the floor. U shouted back at her, “Why are you yelling at me?!”
Safe to say, I never liked school. I never liked it from day one and my friend Mike was there to see why.
I’m not sure if I remember any friends before Mike. I know I had them. I know I had a sleepover at a boy’s house from kindergarten class. I’m not sure how this happened or why. I know he was in my kindergarten class. I know he seemed odd to me. I also know he wet the bed. I found this out the night I stayed for a sleep-over. Come morning, the boy was petrified. He asked me to pee on the same wet spot.
I had never known anyone to wet the bed. I had never done it. I felt bad for this boy. He was standing on the bed, nervously, in his one-piece, blue pajama outfit with feet on them.
After pleading with me to pee on the wet spot, I did as the boy asked and peed on the wet spot. About this time, the boy’s mother decided to walk in the bedroom. And yes, the timing could not have been more perfect. The mother walked in to find her son, standing next to me on the bed. And me, I was standing next to her son with my little manhood poking out and peeing on the wet spot. I have no other memories of that boy or his mother. I only remember when the mother came into the room, the boy screamed out, “Look Mom, he’s peeing on my bed!” Needless to say, I was never invited back there again.
I am not sure when life changes. I am not sure if it changes when the hallways we walked through became bigger, or when classes became harder. Maybe life changed when we were introduced to the different social structures. The cool kids became the cool kids; jocks became jocks, and me—I was one of the longhaired kids. I was one in the denim jacket, a pack of Marlboro Reds tucked in my inside pocket.
I suppose the way I saw things changed when I saw the way our social structures changed. And as geographic luck would have it, I became friends with those who were a lot like me. They had the same thoughts. We liked the same music and we did the same things. Yes, we were the wild ones. We were the kids on the roof of the school, smoking cigarettes, or passing a joint around in a circle. We were the kids—the misunderstood and the capriciously wild.
I often think about my friends from the old neighborhood. I think about the different groups and names. I think about the places in my town, which are not unlike the places in any town. We had our hangouts. We had our playgrounds behind schools, we had empty parking lots, vacant lots, and hell, we even had an old cemetery where we used to visit and sit between the graves that were hidden by a series of shrubs and bushes. We had The Stores. We had The Wiz, which was a video arcade. We had a place called Foosball on East Meadow Avenue, and then of course, we had the park on Prospect,
Same as I think of Mike, I think about Fred. I think of Randy and his white van, or any of the other work vans we stole together. I think about a van ride through the neighborhood, with Joe in the back and throwing medical supplies and hand-trucks out of the van while speeding through the side streets. I think of how we were later pulled over, but after this, my memory is too hazy.
I think about PeeWee, the town’s suspected pedophile and nutcase, and the time Napo decided to surf on top of PeeWee’s car, denting the roof, and causing enough attention that the police came and nearly took Peewee away.
We had bottle rocket and roman candle fights in the summer. We lit fires in the vacant lots during the winter. We knew where to go and what to do. Above all, we knew everyone. We might not have all liked each other. However, should someone come in from another town; whether we liked each other or not, I came from a town where we took care of our own.(at least I’d like to believe it was this way)
I think about the girls I knew and the girls I tried to know a bit more closely. I think about the laughs we had. I think about Pete, Anthony, and Lavelle. I think about Craig too and the motorcycle accident that took him away at a young age. Then I think of Dorian. His was a loss that hit me hardest. Or maybe Tommy—maybe Tommy’s loss hit me hardest because he had a chance to change. Too bad Tommy never took it. I think of Brett and then I am reminded of the word cancer. Then I think of Chris, and I am reminded of suicide as well as the destruction it does to families. Then I think of Paul. I think of Paul and I feel a sense of my faith is restored.
I feel this way because the last we saw each other, Paul and I met early in front of a deli known as Fig’s. I miss that place. I miss Paul too, but I am satisfied with the fact that he is well. Football season is among us, and well. Both Paul and I root for the same team. When I met up with Paul we stood together, eating one of Fig’s famous breakfast sandwiches. This sandwich was my favorite. It was called The Big Guy and it was literally stuffed with everything that clogs or hardens the arteries. Paul and I stood together like two soldiers that had not seen each other since their years of battle. I suppose, suffice enough, it is good to see that not everyone fell down the dark holes of failure, drug addiction, and depression.
And Anthony—Anthony is doing well too. He makes me proud. He also makes me laugh because of all my crazy times in life; Anthony was there to witness some of the craziest.
I think of where we’ve all gone and what we’ve all gone through. I look back at who we were and how crazy we behaved. And now look at us. Here we are. (Somehow) Most of us are adults now. I’m a Dad. I’m a homeowner. I also have a fear of kids like I was and behave as I did living anywhere near my home or attempting to ever date my daughter.
There are no friends like old friends. I repeat this because it worth repeating. My old friends know me well. They know the deep dark secrets that no one else will ever know. There is a common bond between us. There is something unbreakable. Every so often, I am reminded how important this bond truly is. I am reminded when unexpectedly, and almost instinctually, an old friend of mine reaches out to say, “I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
Their timing is perfect. Of course, their words of encouragement are perfect. I am proud of who I am. Most of all, I am proud of where I come from. And those that know me will know exactly why
I look back and who we were. I’m not sure how it all began or who became friends with who first. I’m not sure who lost their virginity first. I think this title might have gone to me (at least this was so in my closer circle of friends)
I can’t what happened after Mike fell off a Pogo stick in Myles’ backyard. I can’t say why Vin decided to see if he could drink an entire bottle of vodka and ended up with alcohol poisoning. I can’t say where Mecca is or when I’ll see Desio again. I can’t say why Anthony and I lost touch over the years. I can only say that I am grateful that every once in a while, something miraculous happens and we are all somehow connected again.
I still can’t say I remember the last time we were all in the same room together. It would be nice to see though. Old friends getting together; sort of brings a rush of warmth to the heart.