This morning, an obituary ran in my local paper. It was for a friend of mine. He died far too young. He is the 14th person to die from my high school graduating class. This alone is sad enough, but his is a story of what could have been, what should have been.
I won’t say his name, because that’s of concern to no one here. We had known each other since the first day of kindergarten. We went to school together every year after that. We lived in the same poorer neighborhood and would spend after school hours playing. When we were little, we would walk down to the local bodega and buy candy - Lemonheads, Cherry Clans, Atomic Warheads, and Red Hots. We’d eat them while reading comic books. He was a big Marvel fan. He loved the Hulk. I always leaned towards DC, so we’d have discussions about who could beat up whom and which heroes were better.
He had three older brothers and one older sister. We learned how to swear from those siblings. Sadly, he moved to another part of town, but that didn’t stop our friendship. It continued on through elementary, then middle, then high school. While we eventually ran with different crews of people, he and I were always friends. We shared a common childhood.
This guy was very, very smart - the kind of guy who could be anything he wanted to be. While test performances are the benchmark for judging aptitude, he wasn’t that guy. He was, however, possessed of a keen mind and sharp wit. He was a very fun person and very well rounded. We played high school football and basketball together, but he was also completely at home on a snowboard or a skateboard. He could shred a mountain and a half pipe. He was fun loving, a hell raiser, willing to go all out for whatever we were doing, and he was a very dedicated and loyal friend.
We sort of lost touch in college. From what I understand, this is where his life took a darker turn. According to friends, too many drugs took their toll, and he was never the same after that. I used to tend bar, and I had both day and night shifts. One afternoon he came in, and he didn’t recognize me. I knew exactly who he was though. He was rummaging through his pockets for some change, just enough to buy a glass of draft beer. I immediately told him who I was, and there was a flicker of recognition in his eyes, but they soon glassed back over and he receded back into the world that was now inside his head. Every Wednesday he would come in, and every Wednesday I would pour him a few glasses of draft beer, and we would talk as best we could. That was the last I saw of him. This was 1999.
When I heard of his passing, I was immediately brought back to kindergarten. I remembered playing, growing up together, playing sports, and laughing - always laughing. It’s important that those are my primary recollections, because I don’t like to think of him in his later years. While that is just as much a part of who he was, it’s the part upon which I don’t want to focus.
He was my friend. He will be missed.