We gather in phases. This starts in our childhood and evolves as we grow. We start with birthday parties until eventually, you’re too old for clowns and balloons and birthdays just become birthdays. The next phase comes with communions and confirmations and things like that. Then we go through our little graduation get-togethers that happen at grade school. Then there’s middle school. Then there is the age of sweet-sixteens and proms. And then we spread out a little bit.
High school ends like a chapter in a book and suddenly, ideas like Mr. McLellan’s shop class or Driver’s Education and the glory days and the crazy nights are only a memory.
Some of the high school sweethearts gave it a shot. They married young but most of them split up shortly after. There are only a few like, say, Kerri and Doug. They have stayed together since junior high. They have kids. I mention Kerri and Doug because these are two people who I seldom mention but often regard for reasons of my own. I admire them. But otherwise, most of us split apart. And not just those who were in love or supposedly in love. Even friends split apart, which is not to say this was planned or bad. No, this was just life.
No one plans to split or break ties. Hell, when we were young, we thought we would be friends forever. My guess is we all grow. Sometimes, we just grow in different directions. And we go and we move. We live and we learn. We gather with the best of intentions and hope to see one another soon. We have dreams for ourselves but dreams change. Or better yet, dreams evolve and the past can dissipate.
I can remember the phase where we were finding jobs and looking for careers. This was hard for me. I never had the high school experience. I missed out on those times.
My college experience was limited to two semesters, which neither went very well for me.
Meanwhile, we were at the phase where everyone was getting degrees and finding apartments.
I was going to weddings and dressing like a grownup. There were a few weddings that I was part of. I was in wedding parties, posing for pictures and wearing a tux. I was at a few bachelor parties that come with details that I cannot mention. And there was something about this too. Not the bachelor party but the time of life. There was something partly intimidating and slightly sad, slightly lonesome, and partly enough to make me wonder about me and the rest of my life.
I have memories of the morning after wedding receptions. We celebrated until sunrise and then it was time to go our own separate ways. There were a few times when I hopped in my car, still dressed in my tux and found myself at the beach. I watched the waves fold into the sand and listened to the sound of the ocean and the gulls flying around calling to each other overhead. I wondered where or if I would find myself. What was I going to do? Where would I live? What happens in this game if you end up alone?
Then the wedding phase switched and suddenly, we went back to birthday parties again. This time the parties were for kids. And this was like, wow, really? Each time I hear a name from my past, I still regard them by their nickname but we’re grown now. I say we are grown but the names and nicknames of my friends will always keep a youthful regard in my memory.
I think about the things we used to do. I think about some of my crazier friends who obviously remain nameless (ah, but you know who you are). I think of how they lived and what they did and now they’re parents and people who work for a living.
The diaper phase went on for a while. Then it was communions and confirmations and then sadly, parents passed away. You meet up. You gather with old friends. You hug your old pastimes and shed a tear. You say things like, “Your Father was one of a kind” and “I’m sorry for your loss.”
We learn as we grow. We learn that life is eventual and inevitable but above all, we learn more about love. We learn the value of someone’s voice. We learn that time on this earth is finite and limited but things like Mom’s cooking or the memories of us from when we were kids, these things will live on forever. I swear they will.
I still have dreams of times when I walked the streets in my crazy little town. And sometimes, we get together. My old friends . . . sometimes we gather for an occasion. Come to think of it, I miss hosting charity functions because they turned out to be mini high school reunions.
We’ve all changed. We’ve all grown. We have families. Some lost hair, which I am thankful to say that I still have mine. I’m grateful to say that I aged well. My weight went up and the pounds from the great pandemic came on because (of course) what else was there to do but eat? How else do you deal with life when the entire world shuts down and you’re told to stay indoors because there’s a big bad virus out there?
I never thought that I would grow so old. I’m not old but I’m not so young anymore either. I have had to say goodbye to some of my friends. Some died young and in the battlegrounds of a different epidemic. I saw some of the greatest people lose their life to an addiction. I saw them live almost lifelessly until finally, their eyes shut for the last time.
There were car accidents and fires and in the end, all that was left was a name that vanished into a whisper.
It was strange to consider but this was another phase.
Such is life, or so they say.
I have friends with kids that have kids. They’re grandparents now. They have gray hair and me, I’m like “When did this happen?”
So much has gone on since we played kickball in the back of our grade school. A lot has happened since high school. Plenty went on after college and there’s more to come. At least, I hope so.
I suppose I write this as a recording of my love for my friends. This is a dedication to the times we spent together. But more, this is written as a memorial too.
This is a statement that we lived. We laughed and of course, we howled and we danced. We were the princes and princesses of our little town and legends in our own minds.
I think back to the times when I was lost and standing on the beach. The shirt beneath my jacket was untucked. My tie blew in the wind. I was in a tuxedo after someone’s wedding. It’s amazing to think about who I was. I lived in the basement of my Aunt’s home. I drove a beat up, four-door blue Chevy. It was as loud as ever and perhaps the least sexy car out of anyone I knew. I say this because this is true but still, sexy or not, I learned to make use of that back seat.
All of my friends had new cars. But not me. They had cool and flashy things. But not me. I was in a transitional period. I was broke. I was wondering if or when my time would come. I was lost yet there were times when I was perfectly disconnected and happily uninvolved.
There was a conversation I had with someone from the town. He looked at me and said, “Who knew?” Then he laughed and remembered the time when I was slouched at the side of the Meadow Dairy. I was in a bad way. My eyes were half shut like window shades lowered to half-mast.
He told me, “I saw you on the news.”
I thanked him.
I didn’t know he had a daughter that was in treatment for substance abuse disorder.
“Keep doing what you do,” he said.
“It means more to people than you think.”
I wish our gatherings took place for different reasons. I wish there were more times when we got together just for the sake of catching up. I wish it wasn’t at funerals and I wish we didn’t have to say things like, “I hope the next time we see each other is for a better reason.” But time hits us all. Life gets in the way. Everyone is busy with their own thing and sadly, life happens and we find ourselves gathered again and saying the same damned thing.
Before the next phase of my life when retirement comes, I want to create options for myself to choose my path and set my ending somewhere beautiful. I want to look back and say that yes, I tore it up. I lived. I laughed. I danced a bit. I loved with all I had. I sang some songs and romanced as much as I could. I want to say that I did it. I want to believe that I did it all and my heart can be at peace and satisfied.
I understand that the outcomes are out of my control. But the one thing I can say that I have perfected in my life is that I lived persistently. I never quit. I kept going and I have managed to create success for myself.
There are people out there in this world who were second moms and second fathers to me. There were people who loved me like family. There are and will always be my brothers from different mothers (and sisters from different misters) and there will always be a place in my heart for my friends, my loved ones and the people from my past.
I love them all. There are some that I love from a distance because of their life choices. Some I have to love in memory due to cancers and heart attacks. And some of my old friends just disappeared into the vapor of distance and time but still, my memory is full.
And so is my heart.
It’s sad sometimes when we part ways.
But I remember us well.
I remember what we did.
. . . . we survived.