Old Friends

My Dear Old Friends,

It’s been a long time since we were all together in the same place at the same time. It’s been even longer since we were the kids from the town, the kids we were, the kids we used to be, and doing the things we used to do.

I drove by yesterday. I drove passed the old hometown. I thought of you all and how we used to howl and scream and run around as if tomorrow was no such thing. I remember the night at the park. I remember the summertime when every night was one big dance. And oh, we danced. We danced in different ways. We danced with different ingredients; and sometimes we laughed with Lucy in the skies; sometimes we drank, like the times we stole beers or swiped a bottle from someplace  or the times we had someone buy is booze, like Pee-Wee.
Remember him?
He used to ride around on that crazy bicycle. Then somehow, Pee-Wee ended up with a driver’s license.

I remember when our intentions changed. This is when our intensity changed too.
I recall this when I see the kids of today. I watch them grow. I see them living so differently but yet, the truth is the game is still the same. They just have different toys now. That’s all.

I drove passed the park yesterday. I thought of Tommy. I thought about a dream I had after he passed.
Tommy was young again, full of charisma, crazy as ever (like we used to be) and happy to be free. I prefer to see him this way. Tommy, I mean. I prefer to see him as I remember, young and full of personality.

I loved him . . .

I thought about a night I spent sitting on a roof with Randy. We drank for a few hours talking about this thing we call life.
God, we were so young and so sure we knew what we were talking about. We planned our great escape, Randy and me.
We swore we knew what we were doing. But then I think about Anthony and what he told me.

We were just babies. We were guppies. We were little fish in a big pond that was about to get much bigger.

I love them both . . .

I think of Dorian. And I think of him often because the last time I saw him, well, I never knew this would be the last time I saw him.
Then again, I suppose this is how it goes when we see people for the last time. No one ever knows.
Does one?

I thought about you, Mike. I thought about the crazy times and the longhaired days. I thought about the last time we spoke.
It was the reunion, I think.
No?

I thought of Paulie and the time we met up for a sandwich.
Clinton and me did the same thing at the same place for the same reason.
See, this was not just any sandwich. No, this was a sandwich from Fig’s Deli. It was the Big Guy sandwich. Everyone from the town knew about this sandwich.

There is something to be said about old friends getting together. To me, I say this is us defying the odds. To me, I say this is us gathering to say how we survived. I say it’s like a statement, which says, “Hello world. It’s us again. Remember?”

I was out by the old town for a quick familiar drive to see all the changes and realize how everything is actually the same. I swear, no matter how many stores change; no matter who moves out or who moves in, the sky over our town will always look the same to me.
I am grateful for this.

I drove by my childhood home specifically for a reason.
See, I never expected this to be me. But yet (of course) here I am.
I am decades older.
I never thought it would be me, heading to a meeting with Town Officials, State Assemblymen and Councilmen, and preparing for a discussion on wellness in schools.
I drove by my old home to say, “I did it Mom. It’s me.”
I drove passed to say hello to The Old Man and let him know I was in town.

Wish you were here to see this Pop. Maybe if I can pull off my trick, some of the kids and their dads might not have to go through what we went through together.
Know what I mean?

In my last presentation, I screamed to the crowd,
“I was that kid!”
And I was.
I was scared as ever, always trying to prove myself, always trying to fit, always trying to invent myself, always looking for an angle, and always looking for a solution to the endless questions that unraveled in my head.

I decided to involve myself with wellness for a reason. I got into it because of you, my old dear friends, because I remember.
I remember the hurt ones. I remember their stories. I remember the late night phone calls, deep in mid-sleep, and listening to the pain of my friends and wishing I could be more helpful.

I remember the victories. I remember those who decided to defy the odds and create miracles with their lives. And me, I just want to be more like them.

I remember Brian. He passed a few days before his birthday. I always regretted not responding to the message he sent me the day before he died. This created a phobia for me, which is why I always respond to messages because I don’t ever want to feel that kind of regret again.
This is also why I make sure to say I love you before hanging up from a phone call. It’s why I hug you before we head of in separate directions. This way at least you’ll know my prayers are always on your side.

I saw Brett a few months before he passed. I kept to myself because I held my old feelings.
Rather than let the past be the past, I missed an opportunity to hug my friend one last time before he left.

And Joe, the last time I presented in a classroom, I carried a piece of paper with your name written on it. I wrote the name Sophia down too.
And you know why.

I passed the funeral homes of our town and thought about the people I had to visit there. I drove through the old streets and saw our memories to affirm that yes, we were all friends.

We grow. We age.
And if we are lucky, we live.

I am home now and awake before the dawn. I am in my loft and waiting for the sunrise. I am thinking of you all, my dear old friends. I am thinking of the ones I speak with and the ones that I hold close to my heart.

I understand our interpretations and our memories are different.
I get that.
I get the fact that we all had our own things going on.
You had yours and I had mine.
I’m not sure why things go the way they do. I’m not sure how we take these positions in life.
I certainly never thought I would be a speaker of any kind. I never thought anyone would be interested in what I have to say.
And it’s not that I say much.
I just tell about us. I talk about what I learned from you. I talk about the Moms that went home to an empty bedroom. I talk about the children that lost their parents. I talk about the fact that people can and do improve.

If I could tell the young me anything, I would tell me this isn’t you. I would let me know that none of this stuff is real. I would say, “It’s in your head.”
If I could go back and see you, I would say the same thing. I would tell you that I miss you and that I love you, and more importantly, I would say there are no friends like old friends. Please remember that

And someday, I know we will see each other again

God Bless

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