Had you asked me in 1981 I would have said that we’d be lifelong buddies. Curtis was the best friend an eleven year old boy could have. He was a 15 minute bicycle ride from my house, we were 26 days apart in age (me being older), and we pretty much liked the exact same things. With him having a brother a bit older and we both having younger sisters we were as close to siblings as you could be without having the same mom and dad.
Our days of yore were spent riding bikes, playing Army or ninja, racing matchbox cars, and learning about pornography. Norman Rockefeller couldn’t have painted a more charming example of boyhood.
And we remained inseparable until we moved into high school, then as if by some cosmic force our gravitational fields began to pull apart. I had found my way into the land of band geek-dom and for reasons still unknown to me the Latin club. Combined these two activities sent my teenage years careening off towards band camps, choir rehearsals and prose contests. And sufficed to say, Curtis’s path took a drastically different direction towards carpentry and engineering. Now with freshly printed drivers licenses in hand and beater trucks we were a four minute ride from one another but it might as well been halfway around the globe. Our friendship had been diminished to a casual throw of the hand out the driver’s window as we passed each other heading to see our ‘other’ friends.
Then before I knew it the acknowledgments ceased, our paths rarely crossed, and the bond once thought unbreakable became no more. I moved on to college, finals, and fraternity parties while he got married, had babies, and started building houses. Curtis was now a responsible taxpaying contributor to society and I was the university punk who had to ask his parents for beer money.
Over the last 23 years I have laid eyes on my childhood friend one time as we awkwardly caught up on a decade’s worth of life in under eight minutes amid the ruckus of former classmates celebrating our ten-year graduation from Algebra and Biology homework. Our friendship was perfect example of what happens to many when ways go different directions and life gets in the way.
As I look back I have been fortunate to savor the close friendship of a few wonderful people. My common folly with each was a conviction that our bond would last forever. That the closeness shared would continue as we moved into those next phases of our journey. But life soon made me realize my naivety and over time I have come to understand that friendships are very much like waves crashing on the shore; they remain only for a moment and then return from where they came never to be seen again.
The year was 2003, I was married and we had just moved into our dream home. Though we had amassed all the trappings that a young 30-something couple could hope for inside I felt something missing. For the previous 10 years I had focused on career and getting that family going. I had moved away from my original hometown and had voluntarily, though unintentionally, severed ties with old friends because of distance, responsibilities and new competing priorities. Then one day I woke to find myself with no male friend that I could relate to and I distinctly remember lamenting
“I don’t have any best friends”.
I had accumulated a rolodex full of business contacts and a few mandated guy friends, those that come as the by-product of stay-at-home moms and play dates, but I had no true friendships. I had no companionship of guys that knew me and my history. I desperately missed just hanging with other dudes I had commonality with, talking about what guys talk about, and doing what guys do with nothing to prove. Instead my male bonding time had been relegated to couples’ dinners, business happy hours, and five minute conversations during the exchange of a borrowed leaf-blower.
When I divorced a year later I found myself in the unfortunate position of having no male friends for support. My divorce case was similar to many , I got the car and she kept the girl-friends and their husbands. Sides had been chosen and I got the short end of the stick; it would be several years before I was able to lay claim to another true friendship. Then Joseph entered my life at a time when I had just broken off a long-term relationship and was feeling completely lost. Of a different ethnicity and background his perspective, guidance and companionship was exactly what I needed. He became my running partner, shrink, and personal shopper. If I wasn’t working or with my kids we were usually together. Our conversations centered around everything from women and dating to religion and we seemed to share a transparency that most men find uncomfortable. Then one day, after about two years, he up and vanished. Just like a wave that rushes back to the sea all that remained of our friendship was faint footsteps in the sand.
His sudden departure now convinced me that people are often put into our lives for a reason and season. Without this understanding I believe his absence would be much more difficult, I still miss my friend. I’m now convinced that people can be put in our lives simply so we can learn and grow from them and it might be years after they are gone before we truly understand and appreciate what their presence meant. As I look back on my friendship with Joe I now realize that without his companionship and support I could not have grown in certain areas of my life.
I reacquainted myself with Curtis recently when I discovered he had a Facebook account. He has aged gracefully, with two beautiful almost grown children, and still flashes that proverbial grin on command. Now we are two different people and I wonder if we would have anything in common any more? But for a season he was my brother and occupied a central role in my childhood and for that I will forever be grateful.
To this day it is still a mystery to what happened with Joe, sometimes I wonder if he was really ever there and if I did something to run him off. My only regret is that he’ll never know how he impacted my life and helped me grow as a person. But wherever he is I hope that he’s happy and healthy.
The notion that friendships can be so temporary is admittedly a depressing thought. To put effort and time into something that could disappear at any moment makes me wonder why even bother? But my responsibility is not to attempt to control the friendship but to appreciate it while it’s there and let it go when necessary. But then, when the timing is right, be ready to ride the next wave that comes in.
Photo credit: Anandude25′s via Flickr