He was one of those friends with whom you passed ungainly (and often unseemly) formative years. He’s heard all of your hare-brained schemes and you, his. He’s seen you at your best and your worst. He’s seen you full-of-yourself and he’s seen you utterly depleted. He’s seen you in love and lovesick. You shared long hours at crappy, part-time jobs with him and brilliant days at favorite fishing spots. Your senses of humor and taste in most things melded–especially beer and music. Eventually, your lives gained enough traction to move you in different directions.
You didn’t stay in touch, yet you still know him to his core. His strengths. His weaknesses. Everything that’s beautiful about him. Everything that’s maddening about him. The thought of him makes you smile and you know that, 20 years from now, it still will.
His creativity seemed effortless. Playing with a camera, or paint or a piece of wood he could suddenly produce something that had simple genius in it. “Cool, huh?” he’d say. The discovery was all he seemed to need. There was no urge to turn it into something epic or even saleable. He found joy simply and easily.
You shared a love of nature, but while you needed to know it, he needed only to be in it. As the two of you entered your 20s, these differences began to feed a vaguely hostile competition. It made it easier for us to leave one another behind.
On a day when your life is crowded with drama–at work and at home–you get the news that he is dying. It is like an unexpected thunderclap that stiffens your back and leaves you unable to think beyond the moment.
You want to get to him to share your memories… Working together… Fishing together… Summer days in Brigantine… Racing the MGB… His thrifty dad’s wildly indignant horror at finding us drinking “Dollar a bottle beer!”
But it’s too late. He’s too sick and begs the visit off.
Just a few weeks later you learn he’s gone. As you reflect on losing one of your oldest friends, you hope that he knew how much you admired his artistic spirit, his deep sense of fairness, his honesty and his intolerance of pretentiousness. And you realize how rare such a friend is, and how big a part they play in who you are.