Saturday, April 20, 2013

Old Friends, Young Me

Frank is still the same: charming, witty, self-effacing. Roger is dead. What a shock that was. Roger was the folk-guitar player with blond good looks who got all the girls (especially the ones I wanted). I hope it won’t sound too insensitive, especially since I have been looking for him for twenty years to catch up, to say how disappointed I am that I will not now be able to see if Roger had gotten fat and bald.

Joe is still the same too. But then I knew that. I’ve kept up with Joe over the years. He’s a mirror of me, or maybe I should say a mirror to me. It’s the ones I haven’t seen since I was eighteen or twenty who fascinate me. What would they think of me now? What would I think of them?
I’m not sure I want to know the answers to those questions. I have a big high-school class reunion coming up. I’m not going. I have a conflict, and it’s a long way to travel. Even if I could go, though, I’m not sure I would.
My reluctance is something of a mystery to me. I’m dying to know about my classmates. I really did look for Roger on and off for twenty years. No one knew where he was. Live fast, love hard, disappear young; that’s how legends are made. I’d been looking for Frank too, in the same casual way our relationship blossomed when we went off to college together and wandered down similar dark corridors from which it took each of us a while to find our way back.
I had better luck finding Frank than Roger. Frank and I have been trading emails for the last two days, long chatty missives, onions peeling. It’s hard to say how much joy those emails have brought me. I wanted to know about his life. He told me. I told him what I was doing. But for me it wasn’t really about the facts, it was about the subtext: I miss you, man. I miss those days. I miss us.
We knew each other when we were uncertain and full of hope. We watched each other form, like glittering crystals in a clear liquid that the moment before could have flowed in any direction. We could see that crystallization in each other better than we could see it in ourselves. We could see the beauty in each other before we could see it in ourselves.
In one of his emails, Frank reminded me that he was a strong young man. He knows this because late one night he hoisted me over his shoulder and carried me up three flights of stairs in our freshman dorm. I don’t remember the specific circumstances that called forth that heroic feat, but I can imagine them. Frank taught me that A-1 sauce tastes great on French fries.
If I went back to our class reunion, Frank might be there. Other friends would certainly be there. It would be nice to see them, to have a drink with them, clap each other on the back, kid around, but somehow I think it would not be as nice as those emails.
In his written words I can hear the Frank who went off to college with me. I can see him sitting across a plate of soggy French fries, bobbing his head the way he used to do, regaling me, as he would put it, with some hilarious story or another, usually at his own expense. And on the other side of that table, I can feel myself sitting there. I can feel my anticipation as he speaks. I can feel my own conversational gears whirring. It is dim in that room over that plate of fries, but we are bright with the life in us. Our futures are before us. We know that, even if we don’t know precisely what that means.
I love that illusion. I’m not sure I want to give it up for ten minutes at a cocktail party where everyone is trying to cram their longing into the same tiny space. If Frank and I can’t be in each other’s lives---and we live too far apart for that---I want to be who we were. Besides, I’m sure he couldn’t carry me up three flights of stairs anymore.
We are not who we were when we were eighteen, but the ways in which we shaped one another live on in each of us. That’s something like immortality.


  1. I love this. I think there is something about passing years that makes us think more about those we knew. When we are busy be getting our career started, raising our family, just too busy being busy we don't take the time. Time passes by so quickly. What happened to all those old friends we didn't keep in touch with? Fortunately, with the help of the internet, we are able to track people down with relative ease. Great post!

  2. Fabulous Mac, just fabulous!! Yours and Dad's friends were bigger than life. Charismatic characters every one. But you'll never convince me that Roger is dead.
    I'm sure he's changed his name, purchased a little Island somewhere in the South seas, and is providing constant entertainment to a bevy of beauties. Wonderful writng.

  3. Oh, thanks, David. Your generous comment made me smile as much as Frank's emails. Of course, both of you know too much...

    And I hope you're right about Roger. As Grandma might say, let's just say that's what happened.

  4. Wonder what ever happened to the 'Eddie Haskell' in your group. One Bruce Piper?