There are special rules that will always apply to us. And to me, there will always be us and the way things used to be. We will always have this connection that runs a bit deeper than other people from our past. Yet, even them, they were a part of us too. And the town, the names, the stores, the parks and the memories, quiet as kept and just between us, are the threads that weave my memories together.
We will always be what we were, what we used to be, and what we are now. It was years ago, of course, which is more like decades now or maybe even lifetimes, but still, the same rules apply. The same truths and the same facts remain which is this: You never forget the kids from the neighborhood. You never forget who you grew up with.
You never forget who you spent time with, ate with or bled with. You never forget the walks or the bike rides from one side of the town to the other and you never forget the clotheslines in the backyards during springtime with sheets drying on the line. You never forget the purity of where we came from, even if things were impure to some degree, and you never forger things like Sunday dinners at a friend’s house or going to Pizza King on Hempstead Turnpike.
I will never forget the fairs and the places like Speno Park or St. Raphael’s. The stores by Jelly Bean, The Wiz on Front Street, or the foosball place on East Meadow Avenue. I’ll never forget the places in my town like the bowling alley or the people, like Crazy Mary and her shopping cart. Of course, I will always remember the parades through town, like the one on opening day of baseball season. I marched in that parade a few times.
This was our playground; the town, the streets, the places and the things we did were all part of this visceral experience that could come in no other way. I find myself sometimes, in dreams and flashes of old places where I was and who I was with was perfect to me, at least for the time. I was young as ever. Or better yet, I was unforgivably young and crazy, wild with long hair, and watching the town from the rooftop of the elementary school, screaming about my rebellions through an act of teenage drinking.
Although years have gone by and we’ve all grown older, still, the old rules apply. The old truths remain and the same sentiment continues when I say there are no friends like old friends.
This sentiment runs deeper than nostalgia. This is about the most important and most influential people in my life. Some of them are still around. Some are gone. Some are locked away in prisons or prisons of their own mind. Some have changed and some are moms and dads. Some are in the corporate world. Some are on one side of the law and some are on the other.
Whether good or bad, which there is no more good or bad in my opinion; these are the people I knew. I knew them the same as they knew about me. I hold their secrets the same as I hold mine; and rest assured, no one will ever know about their secrets from me.
I know about the nights and the times of abuse. I know about the life my friends never asked for and the life they endured.
I know about the way people tried to find peace and the different ways they tried to tolerate the violations. I know how they modified themselves and how they hid their scars.
In some cases, perhaps some of my friends were seen as the outcasts. Maybe they were the hoodlums or troublemakers of the town.
But I knew them differently. In fact, I can say that I knew them intimately. They were good boys. I remember them this way. I remember them as kids and back when kids used to wear their cub scouts uniform to school. I remember them in braces or when they lost a tooth in class.
I knew them before the trouble started. I knew them before they were older and the habits started. I knew them before the deaths and I knew them before the violence. I knew them before the bullets hit their flesh and I knew them when they underwent unthinkable backgrounds in abusive homes. I know about the times a friend of mine rolled in his bed and there was a needle there. The needle wasn’t his. I remember trying to consider a way to get him out of the house and maybe in mine. No one knew about this but me.
Very few knew about the depths of my secrets but some did. Some were there when it all went down. Some watched me almost die and some were still around to see me come back to life.
On a few occasions, I have been allowed to act as their voice and tell their stories. I tell this in anonymous ways of course, which is a right that has been passed to me by either them or their family members. I have been given this right to show their life in a different light.
I was allowed to read a bedtime story to a nine year-old girl who was and still is nothing short of beautiful. I told her little bedtime stories to help her sleep. This way she could get visits from Daddy because Daddy was never going to come home again.
Daddy passed away after an overdose on Christmas Eve.
I heard someone say they weren’t surprised. I heard them say this the same as they weren’t surprised with others on the list of friends that passed this way. They used the word “Junkies,” to which I was angry at first. Then I realized that no, this is not true. They weren’t junkies. They were my friends. They had something going on, yes, I admit this. But I knew them. I know where they came from. I knew what was behind their eyes and what they saw. I know what they felt and I know about their demons. I knew this because they told me so, and as a friend, I stood by; never judged, never shamed, I just stood by incase they needed anything from me.
The people I’m telling you about were influential to me because I knew them. I knew them, way back when. And I love them dearly. Although they may not tell you, I know about their tragedies and their losses. I know about their little kid brothers that died way too soon because of a haunting lifestyle that is equally deadly as it is tempting.
I was always sorry I couldn’t do more for them
These are the friends from my youth and my young adult life. These are the friends that I spent long hours with, listening to them talk about the world they live in, and submitting to their sad unfortunate truths and hurling themselves in long harangues or desperate speeches about the life they never had. I listened as they told me about the dreams they always wished they could have achieved, but yet, they never tried.
There are people that I visited in facilities and sadly, there are people I visited in jails. And for the record, I do not recall this as sadly because of their mistakes. No, moreover, I recall this as sad because sadly, I admit this was the last time I saw them alive.
Some of my friends have moved on to do incredible things. Some went on to be champions of the world. Some became teachers. Some became soldiers. Some are married to their high school sweethearts.
Some I humbly regard as my family, and some are even dearer than my family. I say this yet, we rarely speak or even speak at all.
Still, if needed, I would get out of bed for them in the middle of the night and race to them if they ever needed me.
We weren’t all bad. Not at all. Our town was no different from any other town. At least not really. We grew up in a good place.
We had our crowds and our cliques. We had it all. We were like any other place in this more-than-mildly dysfunctional world. Trust me, we were no different.
I can say that I am blessed. I am blessed to say this was me and yes, this was them. And yes, this is where I came from and this is who I grew up with.
Yes, I have had the chance to embrace old friends and hug them as if I could literally feel the last time we saw each other in my bones.
I have had the honor of officiating the wedding for one of my oldest friends. And some of our old friends were at the wedding, surprised to see me as the minister, laughing about the way we used to be, which was far from any ministerial practice I would offer today.
I write this with all the love I can offer to them; to my old friends, and to the old friends that are gone beyond flesh and live on through spirit. I will always honor them.
I think of what it would be like if we all just showed up at the park over on Prospect. What would it be like to see everyone and catch up to learn about them now, as they are and say, “Goddammit, man! It’s so good to see you.”
I am not posing as if I were popular or cool or as if I was flooded with friendships. Instead, I pose myself much differently now. I have been given the right to be who I am and remove my old ways to be as I am not.
And yes, safe to say, some of the people from my past wouldn’t even let me in their house, let alone allow me to call them a friend.
But the past is the past and in the here and now, I have been blessed with old friends becoming new ones and I have become part of their fight to live, to be healthy, and in some cases, to beat the odds and live cancer free.
For the record, you are all some of the most influential, inspirational and encouraging people in my life. With all my heart, I love you but above all, I thank you.
By the way, for the record,
It wasn’t me that lit the fire in St Raphael’s gym. Not saying I know who it was. I’m just saying it wasn’t me . . .
Those that know about this will laugh. Those that don’t will shake their head. And that’s fine. Besides, this was written for you.