It's been awhile, I know. I'm pretty sure the last conversation we had was just in passing. Probably something like
"Hey, how's it going?"
The last "real" conversation we had was probably over 10 years ago. Maybe even closer to 15. I guess that at a certain point, living next door to someone doesn't necessarily keep a friendship going. At some point, life gets in the way, what with hobbies and school activities and dates and... You know. All that stuff.
I remember being kids together, though.
I remember spending hours running through the sprinkler and eating Popsicles at the yellow and orange plastic picnic table in my back yard (the same one we used as a platform to climb the tree, before we were tall enough to climb it on our own).
I remember digging in our parents' gardens, looking for worms. We'd put them in a bucket and at the end of the day, we'd put them back in the gardens. We never had a purpose. We never needed one!
I remember when I got chicken pox in Kindergarten. You and your sister were younger than I was, and your mom wouldn't let you into my yard to play with me since I was probably contagious. So instead you both blew bubbles from your yard into my yard so I could run around and try to pop them.
I remember putting two chairs together on my parents' porch, seat to seat, so we could lay down together. We were playing house and we were married, and even though it was completely innocent (because we were too young for it to be anything else), my parents made us put the chairs back and promise not to do it again.
I remember coming over to your house to play with your sister, and then winding up in the basement playing video games with you for hours. We were always closer in age anyway, I just think we figured at that age that boys went to play with boys and girls went to play with girls.
I remember the time you made up a song about your "thing" and pulled down your pants. Yep. Bet you wish I forgot about that one, huh?
I remember hours of SPUD in the street, playing until the street light came on. But not the electric hum. "The light's not on yet!" we'd always argue. It was only minutes until the light flickered to life, but those extra minutes were precious.
I remember losing my first tooth at your house. I was showing your sister how loose it was and it just plopped into my hand. I'm not even sure you were there for that.
I remember when I realized you had gotten really cute, and that's probably about when we stopped hanging out. I just didn't know how to act anymore, and I knew (thought, anyway) we were getting too old for worm hunting and blowing bubbles at each other.
I remember seeing you at school sometimes. You were always younger, so we never ran in the same circles, but we at least had the good mind to smile and nod in acknowledgment.
I remember seeing you walking past our house, heading to the park to shoot hoops (because you couldn't use ours anymore; the smiles and nods had mostly stopped). You'd dribble past the house - sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend - and my parents would wave to you. You were always so polite about it, greeting them in return. That was nice.
I remember when your dad died. A car accident. I remember being away at college when my parents called to tell me. I came home for the weekend so I could at least go to the visitation. Dad and I were never great at handling grief, and we quietly cracked morbid jokes to one another to ease the pain. We'd never see him as Uncle Sam at the annual 4th of July bike parade again. He'd never stop by to watch the Packers again. The concept was unreal.
I'll admit that I haven't given you a whole lot of thought since then. I heard you went to college, and I'm sure you did great. You were always popular, so I'm sure you had friends and girlfriends galore. Our parents still live next door to each other, but we may as well have been on different planets.
I would see you occasionally, out mowing the lawn or heading to the park with a basketball, but as adults, our polite salutations were just something we did. You could've been any other adult in the neighborhood. So could I.
Hey. It happens.
And then yesterday, the memories came flooding back as clearly as if it all happened yesterday. Funny how that happens, right? You don't realize what you remember until it just hits you.
Last night, I called my parents to ask if they had heard. My dad said, "I know we've always told you that life's not fair, but this is pushing it." My mom and I agreed. We didn't have adequate words, but we knew it didn't feel fair.
We can't imagine what your brother and sister are going through, but most of all, we cannot fathom what kind of Hell your mom is experiencing. She already lost her husband to a car accident. Now, she had lost her son the same way. Dad said, "If she didn't have two other children, I might have done her a favor and brought her a handgun, because I don't know how you get up the next day, and the day after..."
Your mom is a strong woman. I won't lie; sometimes, I wasn't a big fan of her. I'm sure you felt that way about my mom sometimes, too. It's just the way things go. But I do know she's strong, because she's been through Hell. But I can't imagine the strength it will take to get through this. I hope you help her, because she's going to need it. Your siblings can only do so much. Watch out for her, OK?
Well, I just wanted you to know that I'll miss you. It doesn't matter that we barely spoke anymore, or that it has been years since we were really friends. I'll miss you anyway. You gave me some great childhood memories that I will cherish as long as I can. I hope you recall them as fondly as I do.
Lots of other people will miss you, too, so I'll let them have their turn to tell you. Take care up there.
P.S. Tell your dad I said hi.