Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Early Morning Reflections of Friendships Gone By - Part 2

Due to things going on in my life, I found myself unable to sleep and reflecting back on old friendships.  Perhaps for some it would be best to use the term acquaintances.  Actually, my mind has gone all over the place, jumping back and forth in time from childhood and college years to today when most of my time is spent enjoying a British singer versus spending any time with people in the present.  The truth is that people aren't always around in your physical space.  In fact, my friends are spread out so it gets pretty lonely, and I suppose the truth is that right now there is just no one to talk to; hence, my openness here in a blog seldom read and most certainly not by anyone I actually know from my past.

In thinking back upon what was yesterday, my mind wanders to elementary school.  In my mom's day, that was a small class, one that kept in touch to their dying days -- literally.  They corresponded, phoned, and had yearly class reunions that most went to at least every few years.  In good times and bad, they were friends through the decades.  In my day, the class was much larger and the truth is that I probably wouldn't know any of my classmates if I saw them on the street today.  Still, I remember so many of them for various reasons.

Pat (as in Patrick, not Patricia) was our political wannabee.  He was always class something or another.  He actually ended up being the class president in high school.  I liked him and we had a good rapport.  A bit like Todd, who I wrote about in my previous post, the girls thought there was more there on my part.  Wrong again.  I just don't have problems being pals with the boys as much as with the girls.  I couldn't tell you a thing about him now except that he always wanted to be the leader, and I think his best friend was Russell, who was usually in the other class (there tended to be two classes in whatever level we were at as we ventured up from kindergarten through the sixth grade) and lived across the street from the school.

Trina is a gal I remember from the very early grades, though I really couldn't tell you a thing about her except that she was blonde and I remember playing at her house.  In fact, even though my brain recalls nearly nothing about her, I actually think about her every time I go by that house which is quite frequently.

My first experience with a classmate dying was with Bobby.  I recall that walking to school one day, a friend asked if I'd heard about Bobby.  I hadn't and she didn't tell me anything at all.  At school, we had just enough desks for each kid.  Everyone was there that day, except for Bobby.  The teacher told us that he had died.  Apparently, his father fell asleep at the wheel.  It was so eerie, seeing all those desks with kids sitting at them and then that one empty one.  There weren't counselors in the day to help kids deal with things like this.  The teacher said what was needed, and we moved on.  Sometime later a tree was planted and dedicated to Bobby.  The school is part of a park now.  I think the tree is still there with the plague, but whether it is or not, I still think about Bobby when I pass by.

Another gal, Liz, was my second experience with childhood death, though she didn't pass on back then.  As often happens, when you move up in grade to another school, you start to lose touch with those you'd known.  I don't really recall seeing Liz in junior high, but she was in my English class during our freshmen year of high school.  I remember being surprised at how she'd changed, personality-wise.  I had always liked her, but that year she was part of a group that really took advantage of the teacher.  It was comical in a cruel sense.  This group of students were always rattling this woman, claiming she hadn't given us homework or done this or that when I knew she had.  I truly was surprised by Liz being a part of that, and she was, quite actively, but maybe she had a reason.  As it turns out, she had leukemia and died.  At one point, early the next year, I found a pass of hers at school.  I have no clue why it was there so long after her passing or why I was the one to find it, but I think somewhere in my mounds of junk from yesteryear, I still have it.  I couldn't throw it away.  We weren't really friends, but I knew her.  She's part of that past that is hard to forget in spite of how long ago it was.

There was sadly another tragedy born of elementary school, and this one I know I will never forget.  There was one boy, Tony, who was part of our class early on.  Then his family moved to Thailand for a time, but he came back.  Another boy, Ed, I remember as being a pain in the butt.  Boys were boys, but whereas Pat, for example, had a bit more decorum in his youth, some of the other boys were just the usual brats who picked on girls.  I was picked on a lot.  I'll be kind and use the word chubby, but it resulted in my having a hard time as a youngster.  Ed was part of the teasing group.  Nico and others were part of that, too.  I suppose it was an early version of bullying, but I don't know that I'd ever use that word.  It was just kids being their cruelest.  At any rate, Ed and Tony were friends and stayed friends as I understand it.

Fast forward to high school.  I was always in the advanced English class and in one of these was another boy named Jeff.  I liked him, too.  He was nice and cordial.  I really didn't know him much outside of class, but we talked just the tiniest bit and had a good time in class.  Ed and Tony were here and there, doing their thing.  Another kid named Tim was our age and in the mix.  Then there was a new student, Steve, who I knew through the school newspaper.  If memory serves, the paper did a story on Steve as a new kid on campus.  There are two other students part of this story, but I didn't know them because they went to a Catholic school.

Well, one day I was outside in my backyard and I heard the biggest, ugliest noise.  It was horrid.  I knew.   I just knew.  I'm a few blocks away from what you would call a main street.  Four lanes of traffic, two going each direction, with a 40mph speed limit.  There had been an accident.  I was certain of it.  Part of me wanted to get in the car and go check it out, but I didn't.  I heard the sirens, lots of them.  I knew.  I just knew.

That night, I refused to watch the news.  I didn't want to know yet.  Perhaps I needed prep time.  The next morning, I went outside and picked up the morning newspaper.  Back then, newspapers reigned supreme, and we had a thriving morning and evening paper.  I took it inside and stared at it, still folded.  I knew.  I just knew that when I opened it up, I was going to see faces, faces I knew.  I was right, and I did.

Ed and Steve, idiots that they were, were drag racing down that street.  At the same time, Tony, Jeff, Tim, and the two Catholic brothers were in a stationwagon heading for a local park.  Ed's car hit them at a ridiculously high rate of speed.  Ed and Steve were fine.  They went on to live their lives, though I don't know what has become of them.  I heard that Ed's girlfriend at the time didn't want to have anything to do with him after the crash, but I don't know if that was fact or fiction.  What I do know is that only Tim survived of the boys in the stationwagon. Ed's and Steve's actions had resulted in the death of four others, including Tony.  I remember the memorial service that had people standing outside because it was so full.  The priest told us that it was easy to hate and hard to forgive.  Boy was he right.  I don't think I've ever forgiven Ed and Steve for being so irresponsible.  At the same time, Ed has to live with knowing he killed one of his best friends, and I don't know how you live with something like that.

I think about that crash and those boys often because I live so close to where it happened.  For a long time, I couldn't drive over the exact spot.  It just hurt and it took what feels like forever for the skid marks to go away.  Signs of the crash remained for a very long time, too.  It's not that I was really close to any of them, but I knew them, and I'd grown up with a couple of them.  Hopefully, Ed and Steve got their acts together and have done things to, well, they can't make up for it, but maybe to show they understand the preciousness of life now.

Bobby, Liz, and Tony: gone but not forgotten.

Then there was Peggy.  She was my best friend during those elementary school years.  I don't really know why except that we lived on the same block.  We did play and do things all the time, but she was much more intellectual than I ever was.  I used to climb the tree in front of her house, which was probably the only tree I ever climbed in my life and it was a challenge for me even then.  She loved to read.  Her family would go to the library every week and bring home boxes of books.  In class one time she had to be called several times to the reading circle because she was so involved in a book she was reading at her desk.  It was pretty funny.  We went to movies a lot together and also to the state fair every year.  In fact, one of the best days happened the year that we went to see a Doris Day film called Where Were You When the Lights Went Out.  That night we went to the fair and, yep, the lights went out and the ride we were on powered down.  We had the best time just screaming the name of that movie in the dark, and when the ride kicked on again, we had a super long ride to make up for the downtime.

Peggy's family owned a huge trailer, one of those big silver things that set in their driveway and blocked the view up and down the street.  Some folks on the block didn't like that.  I didn't care.  They would travel a lot during the summers and such, and Peggy would always write me.  I think I still have a letter she wrote when they were in Hershey, Pennsylvania one year.

It was a great time, having Peggy for a best friend back then, but we grew up.  I don't recall seeing her much in junior high, but we had a French class together in high school.  One of my big thrills was getting a better grade than she did on a test.  I laughed, but it was just one of those fun moments because she really was smarter.  She graduated a year early, went on to college, and got married from what I heard.  I only saw her one more time when she came home.  Eventually, her parents died.  Her sister lived in the house for a while and then sold it, but the house remains “Peggy's” to me.  I guess you could say that my friendship with Peggy was really my first one to be lost.  It was a childhood thing, doomed by age and interests in different areas.  Still, I can't help but wonder what she's up to, if she still married, if she had kids, and what she ended up doing as a career. I'm pretty sure it's been varied.  As I said, she was smart.

There were other kids in our class, of course.  Mike was a Jehovah Witness and never could participate in parties, except for the last one when we actually asked his parents to let him be a part of it.  They agreed, and it was fun that he was finally able to be present and enjoy one of the events.  Janice was Jewish, so we did have a class with some variables in it.  I don't think we talked about either much, and I certainly didn't think about it.  Nowadays it just makes for funny tidbits that remain in my brain.  Tierney was another one who I remember more fondly for when we were older and I used to bump into her at the grocery store.  She'd changed and for the better.  If I remember right it was the Campfire Girls or Bluebirds that Susan was involved with and that I did for a very short period of time.  Her mom was a leader, I think.  I have a picture in a frame made of popsicle sticks around here somewhere.  There was Stacey, too, who I ended up having a bit of contact with after the age of the Internet, but I don't pay for website usage so have no clue what happened to her now, either.  Other names float across my mind, curiosity present for what became of them and even how they look back upon their time in elementary school.

What's the point of all of this?  Frankly, I have no idea.  I saw some of these kids and others from our class in high school, but we all ran in different circles.  I admit to being the most curious about Pat and if he ever managed to be elected to a political office or what he did in life as well as Peggy.  She's the lost one, the first to disappear from my life, though certainly not the last.  I could call Peggy to chat, to play, to go to the movies, or do whatever it was we did back then, and she called me for the same thing.  We were back and forth at each other's homes frequently.  I miss that, having someone to call and do things with.  It's a luxury that many people take for granted.

Whether it's a childhood friendship as existed with Peggy or a young adult thing such as that with Todd, relationships should be nurtured or they dry up.  Keeping a friendship is hard work.  I used to work at them a lot, but stuff happened that disillusioned me.  I actually have become jaded quite a bit, and that was due to my own stupidity later on in life, after the addition of a computer.  It's a story I probably won't share and it may have been the most hurtful of all.  In the end, I wish some things had been different when I was a kid.  My insecurities increased with each age for all kinds of reasons.  It didn't help that I was constantly teased. If I could change something, that would probably be it.  Even so, we are who we are.  It just would have been nice to still be friends with some of those kids from way back when instead of having nothing but a vague image of who they were.

To my classmates of those innocent and early days of life, hello, and I hope all is well.  I hope we have all learned to make better choices than some of those made back then and that our awareness and tolerance is broader and stronger than some of what I experienced.  To Peggy, while I'm certain our interests and paths are and have been extremely different, it was much fun having a best friend to share life with, so thank you.

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