Monday, January 05, 2015
My best friend died Saturday.
I need to clarify. He wasn't my current best friend; that title goes to my wife. He hadn't been my best friend for... a long time. But we grew up together, in the same two-family house in Lower Mills. We went through every grade in school together (with the exception of one year in different junior highs) and graduated in the same class from what was then Boston Tech. Until we were both in our thirties and had been married a few years, we still lived in that same childhood home (our parents long gone from the property, via death and divorce, we had stayed.)
We stopped being what I'd call “best” friends in our early teens. We still spent lots of time together – still friends – but not “best”. In my later teen years, I started to split my time between the old gang and another group from different neighborhoods. I felt more liked in the new group, started to drift from some in the old. Living in the same house kept us in contact for many years, but we grew apart.
In my twenties, I had problems. So did he. Lots of them were similar (family disasters, substances, etc., and I won't go into detail) but we mostly worked them out separately. We didn't talk a lot about them, even though we both knew and we both lived in the same house. We just weren't that sort of close anymore. If push came to shove, I know he would have been there for me and I would have been there for him.
Time passed and we both married. He had two sons, then he and his family moved from our childhood home a few months before my wife and I did the same. That was the last I really saw of him until his older brother's death eight or nine years later.
I went to the wake, we met up again under those bad circumstances, made a promise to get together for dinner someday. The exchanged phone numbers were never called. I think it was just discomfort, a grown unfamiliarity, since – I only know this for sure concerning me, of course – so much had changed and we really weren't keen on reliving the past with anybody, let alone a person who knew so much of it intimately.
And maybe ten years since that wake - Saturday, as I write – word comes from another childhood friend that my old friend is gone.
The easy thing to write would be some platitude about never allowing your friends to get away, to never lose sight of your friendships because friendships are sacred. There's truth in that, and if you can hold onto them you should, of course. But sometimes that doesn't happen and it's not because of an argument or something else big and easily seen. Sometimes life just flows one way for you and another way for someone else. When you were younger and playing baseball and street hockey; riding your bikes and sharing comic books and loving the same TV shows; going to mass and confession together (where you pretty much confessed the same sins); seeing Red Sox games at Fenway with your dads and the Enchanted Village at Christmas with your moms; building a fort in your backyard and hooking school and maybe even running in tandem from the cops once or twice, you never think it will happen. But it does.
More's the pity, of course. True best friends are rare, no matter when or for how long. You were mine when we were kids, Stephen. For that, I'll always love you.