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We’re all allowed to dream of the next time

I was thinking about someone I used to know today as I was driving to work. Mostly, I was thinking, it’s been almost twenty years since I’ve seen him, and in this day and age, with social media and such, it’s funny when someone just drops off the face of the earth, you know? And he did. And I still miss him. Twenty years later. Funny, right? Twenty years, and I still remember the time I spent with him like it was yesterday, like I’ll turn around someday and there he’ll be.

I don’t know what brought him to mind, I mean, today of all days. He pops in, now and then. I don’t know how better to explain it. Twenty years is a long time, and I can’t say I think of him every single day. That would be lunacy, wouldn’t it? But some days he’d fresher than others, and then some days it’s like I’m drowning in him. And today it’s an especially watery day, for no reason in particular, really.

He was someone I was friends with when I was just graduating high school. Our families had recently become friends, so it was one of those “we got thrown together and expected to socialize” things. Those never work out. I was, if it’s even possible, even more antisocial then than I am now. And even worse, he was this totally popular kid, so of course I went into it thinking, oh, great, he’s going to be an ass. Only he wasn’t. He was just the nicest, most intelligent, most thoughtful guy. A poet. A musician. A dreamer. So funny. So kind. And we had the best conversations, and just spent hours laughing and listening to hours upon hours of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and sharing things that, upon retrospect, it was strange that we shared, because we hadn’t known each other very long. It was just one of those friendships that clicked, you know? And I think when you’re that young (I was seventeen at the time) you think those kind of friendships will always happen, that you have just a lifetime of those friendships to look forward to, that things will only get easier, friendship-wise, from there. Only they don’t. They’re kind of precious things, and should be really celebrated when they come into your life. And held onto. Really just held onto with all you’ve got.

He was having a really hard time with some things, when I moved away for college. It was one of the biggest worries I had as I left, leaving him behind. He was a year younger, so had another year of school before he could leave for college. He was planning to attend the same university I was, and we were both excited about this prospect. I wrote to him a lot, for a while, even though I was very, very bad, once I got to college and discovered the wonders of underage drinking, about keeping in touch with people. He responded a few times. His letters were sad, and short, and I couldn’t see him in the words. Do you remember doing that, back in the days of real letters, written with real pen and ink on real paper? Looking for the person you loved in the strokes of the penmanship and the scribbled-out bits and what was said and what was left out? I was worried.

He visited once, on a college tour with his mother, and I got to see him for a bit. He seemed…quiet. And lost. And sad. Not quite there. Distant. My heart ached for him. I wanted him to see how wonderful the college was, how much fun we’d have once he got there. I talked it up, the things we could do, the friends I’d made, how freeing it was to be out of our small, suffocating town and somewhere where no one knew who I was, how it could be the same for him, how he could reinvent himself, once he was there. He smiled, but it was a shadow of the smiles we used to share, and I had a very, very bad feeling about…something. I wasn’t sure what. Just something. I told him to please, please call me, write me, whatever he needed, if he needed me, for anything. He promised he would.

A few weeks later I got the call he’d run away from home. California, my mom told me. There were more problems going on in his life than even I’d been aware of. So, rather than hurt himself – which he’d come close to doing, a number of times, something I knew, but he promised me it was in the past – he removed himself from the situation, without even sticking around to graduate from high school, without even waiting it out to see what college had to offer. He got as far away from the East Coast as he could without leaving the country. Gone. Just, gone.

I never heard from him again.

I heard he had a child, very young, just a year or so later. So that kid would be – good gracious, eighteen now? Really? Older than I was when I even met him? Time really is a thief, isn’t it.

Every year or so, sit down and crack my knuckles and flex my Google muscles and search and search and search, looking for a trail. I’ve never found anything. Not here in New York, not in California (which might not even be where he ended up, it might just have been a way station, I don’t even know that much) not the name I’d heard he gave his son, not anything. I can find his brothers and his sister, I can find his parents, I can find other people walking around with his name that don’t wear his face. But not him. And I can’t contact his family about him, for various reasons not blogworthy. I’ve asked my parents. They think he got into drugs, fell in with a bad crowd (are there really such things, outside of movies of the week? Bad crowds?), but that’s really all they know about it. My father went so far as to say he wouldn’t be surprised to hear he’d died. I won’t even consider that. I can’t. I just know he’s disappeared into the ether. He’s a ghost. He’s a figment of my teenage imagination. And even if I found him, he wouldn’t still be that boy. That boy died out, twenty years ago. That boy got hurt so badly he took off and left himself behind, reinvented himself somewhere else from the ground up. He’s a man, somewhere; a man I don’t know anymore. A stranger. A stranger who might not even remember me, honestly. I might be the only one carrying around this slip of friendship like a tiny tattered flag.

But he’s a stranger with a little bit of my teenage heart walking around inside of him. And I’d like to find him. I’d like to let him know I’m sorry I didn’t do more, I’m sorry I had to leave just when things were at their worst, that I didn’t even know that they were at their worst because I was dealing with some worst of my own and was frighteningly self-centered due to that fact. I want to apologize for not being there. For not being the friend he needed. For missing the last twenty years of his joys and his heartbreaks. I want to let him know that I remember, and that I’ve always remembered, and that I’ve been carrying him around, everywhere I’ve gone, for two decades of my life. He saw the Pacific Ocean with me for the first time. He went to Italy with me. He was with me the night I found out Kurt Cobain died, and I sobbed, thinking of those nights spent talking and talking as Nevermind played on endless repeat in the background.

I miss my friend. Grown-up me misses him as much as teenage-me did, twenty years ago. Some things never quite leave you, you know?

I have this picture of him in my mind; he’s frozen in time, a perfect seventeen-year-old. And he’s laughing, and his eyes are shining, and the sun’s coming in behind him, and he’s lit like an actor on a stage. And he looks happy. So fleetingly, hauntingly happy. It’s how I choose to remember him, on the days he weighs most heavily on my heart. Days like today.

So let me be maudlin, just for a bit longer: Paul, you’ll always be that perfect seventeen-year-old to me. I’d say your whole name here, in the hope you’d find this and contact me and it’d be one of those stories you read about in the newspaper’s Lifestyle section, or something, but I don’t know that you aren’t hiding from that name behind another name, and I don’t want to hurt you any more than my neglect and inability to see your pain twenty years ago already did. I hope you’re well, and I hope you know more joy than anyone has the right to in their lives, and I hope you kicked your demons to the curb a long time ago, and stomped on them with a steel-toed boot for good measure. And someday, I hope to meet up with you again, and I hope when I do, we still have that weird one-in-a-million click, where people just are right together, you know? You don’t get it often. It’s a shame to let it go. It’s a shame to let it get lost. I want to mingle my laugh with yours again. I want to see you laugh again. I just want to see you. It’s something I want, almost more than anything else, some days. Today is one of those days.

I’m just missing my friend today, you know? Once in a while, it sneaks up on you. Even twenty years later. I’m willing to bet, twenty years from now, I’ll still have moments I’ll hear a breath of laughter and turn, quick, thinking it’s him, I’ll catch him, he’s there, he’s found me, I’ve found him, we’re found.

Happy weekend, everyone. Tell your people you love them, ok? I can pretty much guarantee that neither you, nor they, will ever ever ever regret either the telling or the hearing of it.

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

28 responses to “We’re all allowed to dream of the next time

  • Roz

    I hope that someday Paul finds this blog and contacts you.

    Like

  • sj

    God, this is so lovely.

    I hope he finds you, someday. I have friends like this that I still miss frequently. Sometimes the friends you have when you’re 17 are the best friends you’ll ever have. I wish I hadn’t been ridiculously selfish and self-centered when I was so young. I wish I knew how to even go about finding some of them. I hope they think of me with the same fondness with which I remember them.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you so much.

      I have to think they do. It can’t be a one-way street. All that love has to go somewhere. We’re holding half; I have to think they’re holding the other half, in their own way. At least I hope so.

      Like

  • Deborah Jackson

    I can certainly relate to everything you’ve said here. I once had a friend that I lost touch with. I once had a friend that I lost.

    I knew her in university. She was my best friend in our program. She’d been diagnosed very young with manic-depressive disorder, but seemed to have it under control for the most part. Two years into our program she got married and later had her first child. We grew apart as her husband and child took a significant portion of her time and energy. Eventually we lost touch.

    I learned she killed herself after the birth of her second child–postpartum depression. I cried, I brooded, I felt guilty. She was one of the best, one of the kindest to ever walk this earth.  Could I have helped? Probably not. Had I missed out on a few fragile years of friendship and laughter? Undoubtedly. Life is full of regrets. The fault wasn’t entirely mine, not keeping in touch, but I miss her in those bleak moments; I wish the world had kept her, cause she was special.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      I’m so sorry about your friend. So many of you have lost someone. I’m heartbroken for you all, and for myself, but I also feel a little less alone. Thank you all so much for that.

      Like

  • Rich Crete

    Great memory. I’m sure you were the best friend he had back then and he remembers you fondly as well.
    Please don’t beat your 17 year old self up for not having the wisdom you have today. (“I’m sorry I didn’t do more…I was self centered”) That’s not a fair standard or expectation.
    Thanks for sharing this with us, your mignons. (I still like the fancy french spelling better…makes me feel like the spendiest thing on the menu)

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you so much.

      I know. I know I was only 17, and I tend to forgive 17-year-olds a lot now. They’re just kids. But I do so wish I could fix it. Just go back, with grown-up-me knowledge, and sit him down and have a long talk with him. You know?

      Like

  • greengeekgirl

    Oh, oh. This post hurt my heart. And now I’m going to hijack your comments and tell a story because your story made me think so much of my friend, and now I am crying and missing my friend, too.

    When I was 15, and finding my place in my high school’s theater department, I got my first role as the cop in the play Girl Crazy. The guy who would become my new best friend was jealous, and that actually became kind of a theme–he would try out for roles and I would get the roles he wanted (with an appropriate gender-switch, of course). He didn’t seem to hold it against me, though. We became utterly inseparable through high school. I was the person he came out of the closet to. I took him to my senior prom.

    He was a year older than me, but stayed in town instead of going off to school–he had a sharp business mind but wasn’t terribly academic. I, however, was expected to go off to school and do Great Things with my life. He was upset that I was going off to school and leaving him. I tried to convince him to come with me, to get out of Owensboro and move somewhere where he could be himself. (You can’t–or couldn’t then, I don’t know about now–be openly gay easily in Owensboro.) We had a bittersweet last summer, as he was trying at the same time to have as much fun with me as possible but also to let go, and push me away.

    I moved up to school a week early for job training, and he got sick–he had strep and pneumonia both. The last time he called me, I had just gotten in from trudging across campus in the pouring rain to get dinner. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to eat my food and fuck around on the internet. I asked him if I could call him back, and he said no, I’m just going to bed. I think he was a little mad at me. A few days later, when I was headed back to Owensboro to get the rest of my things, I got a call that he was in a coma. And he died, from something utterly stupid. He was nineteen and otherwise totally healthy.

    Last August was ten years . . . yeah, it still sneaks up on me. I’ve never met another person like him. He was full of goodness.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      *hug*

      I’m so sorry about your friend. I’m glad you have the good memories.

      They do sneak up, don’t they? Twenty years, ten years. Like yesterday, sometimes.

      (You could NEVER hijack my comments! You can come on here and write a book. You have free reign.)

      Like

  • Unconfirmed Bachelorette

    Haunting post. So bittersweet. I hope he’s out there, and happy.

    Like

  • lahikmajoe

    Had a friend like that with whom I clicked. We had one magical summer when my girlfriend was out of the country.

    My friend & I hung out, she taught herself to play the guitar, and I did my very best to remember I had a girlfriend.

    It was never quite the same after that summer, but there was nothing like it for that one summer.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Memories like this are really just magic, aren’t they? I’m sure she remembers you as fondly as you remember her, too. I can’t believe connections like this are one-sided. They come around too seldom to be.

      Like

  • Bronwyn

    it had been a while since i thought of my friend like that… different circumstances, same click, same too-short time frame.

    thanks for reminding me! :D

    Like

  • Rod (@airigoagain)

    Hopefully some day you two cross paths again.
    I’ve only ever had one instant click friend but we seem to have lost touch, probably due to something I did.

    I’m probably not the best person to comment on a post about old friends.

    Good luck with your future searches. :)

    Like

  • Mer

    Haunting and lovely. Love you! It’s so sad to me that those “clicks” that we took for granted at much younger ages tend to happen with less frequency as we get older.

    Like

  • doesmybumlookbiginthis

    Aww this is so sweet, i really hope he sees this and contacts you, it’s lovely that after 20 years you still really care about him :) xx

    Like

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