Pick My Best Friend Growing Up?

Running through a recent setup for a site required answers to security questions.

Mother’s maiden name? No problem, although the “maiden” part brought a chuckle, I doubt my mother ever considered herself a maiden.

First Car? Again, easy.

Cumberland High School

Then came the tough one. Who was your best friend growing up?

Dead stop.

How the hell do I choose that? Perhaps I am more fortunate than most but for me this question does not have one answer. It has four. Each with their own justification for being the right one. Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island was a most fortunate thing for me.

For introducing me, at the tender age of 16, to the song Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond and a lifetime appreciation of music, I have a lifelong friend named Tony Afonso to thank.

For becoming my Latin Buddy in the eighth grade, driving my grade down as we struggled to pull his out of the negative numbers, I have a lifelong friend Ralph Ezovski. A mere ten years later, we were working plainclothes anti-crime assignments for the East Providence Police department and, much to our surprise, never needed Latin. Not once.

For pushing me to limits greater than I ever would have done on my own in school, I have a lifelong friend Cam Nixon.

And for his permanent smile and infectious sense of humor, I have a lifelong friend Clyde Haworth.

Each of these friends have molded my life in different ways. From the days of the Hurricane Brothers Bowling team (a fictional group we invented that never entered an actual bowling alley) to our maintaining a connection all these decades since eighth grade. Each has made an impact, and I consider them all best friends growing up.

The question troubled me. How do I choose?

I would choose another question. But before I did that, I wondered if I might face an even more troubling choice.

What if they asked Who is your favorite child? I mean how do I answer that? I only have one but still it might be at a moment when I’ve questioned that decision. (Just kidding Kelsey, you are my favorite. It wouldn’t be that hard a question.)

What if they asked what is your favorite color? How do you pick one color out of a rainbow when each is necessary for there to BE a rainbow?

What if they asked who is your favorite teacher? How do I pick one out of so many who taught me? Some I may not have appreciated then. Some I still have doubts. But I know each played a part. Although if forced to name names, Dan Walsh is right up in the top 30 or 40%. (I had to say that because he sometimes reads these rambling pieces.)

What if they asked what is your favorite time of the day, or time of the night, or favorite star in the sky, or season, or flavor of ice cream, or a favorite song, or favorite memory? How do I pick one thing out of a lifetime of experiences, places, people, or moments?

So, I decided my best friend’s name growing up is TonyRalphCamClyde and hit enter. The response brought a smile to my face.

Invalid answer, too many letters.

And right then I knew I’ve had a life worth living.

Passages

William Shakespeare said life is an “uncertain voyage,” and, as I add more days to my past, it seems the uncertainty grows.

Except for one thing.

timeThroughout this uncertain voyage, we share experiences. Often, we experience the most meaningful ones with good friends. It is in this friendship that life’s uncertainties can be managed and endured.

I have been most fortunate to have a group of friends I have remained close to since we first met in the 8th grade almost fifty years ago. The warranty on most things doesn’t last that long, yet we have.

Ralph Ezovski, Tony Afonso, Cam Nixon, Clyde Haworth, and I have almost five decades of being friends. During those many years, we’ve experienced the many stages of life.

High school with all it’s cusp-of-adulthood explorations of the trappings of life; girlfriends, surreptitious beers, parties, driver’s licenses, and graduation, followed by college and jobs and marriage and children and all the highs and lows of being human.

The one consistency of life is change. Nothing, no matter how permanent it may seem, remains the same.

The passing of one’s parents is one of those shared elements. For some, that experience came way too early. For others, it was spaced over the course of our friendship. Yet these shared experiences, whenever they occur, are the threads that hold the fabric of our lives together and bind us to each other.

One of the other realities of life is that parents of friends influence our lives even when we don’t realize it. How they raise their children, the expectations they set and the character they mold, affects us all. It is one of my great fortunes to have friends raised by kind, intelligent and most of all caring parents.

Firm when necessary, gentle when possible, and caring about us all.

One parent, Clyde’s father, recently passed away. He enjoyed a long and plentiful life enriched by his family and friends. His manner and example having an untold influence on this group of friends.

For that, we are all the better for it,

It is at these moments we reflect on such things. While no one can alter the passages of life, we can take time to appreciate how fortunate we are to experience them.

Friends are not something one collects or counts. Good friends make this uncertain voyage worth the journey.

Thanks for the (New) Memories

Nothing quite prepares you for your daughter’s marriage. No matter her age, how long she’s been together with her boyfriend/ soon-to-be husband, no matter how much you try to convince yourself you’re ready.

You aren’t.

The first time you see her dressed in her wedding gown before the ceremony your heart rate begins to climb. The memories of her years growing up come flooding in, images of an infant, a toddler, her first day at school, all compete for attention.

But this is just a warm up.

As I stood outside the room, greeting the many guests as they arrived for the ceremony, the adrenaline added to the experience. Seeing friends, some of whom I’ve known for more than fifty years, brought back my own memories of those long ago days, our own progression through life’s many stages, and the paths that brought us together.

Our many conversations of what we believed lay in store for us replayed in my mind. How innocent and hopeful we were and how fortunate we are to have remained friends all these years.

As all the guests gathered for the ceremony, we lined up outside. The bridesmaids and groomsmen precede us as the crowd grows in anticipation.

And then, that moment when it all becomes real. The music begins, the doors open, and the crowd stands. Nothing can prepare you for this moment.

My daughter, no longer that little girl reaching up to hold my hand, stands between her mother and I. The three of us, once alone together, now to be forever altered.

Kelsey is beyond radiant, beyond pretty, beyond stunning.

She is not just beautiful; she is beauty itself holding onto our arms as she walks in.

The ceremony, a creative masterpiece by our friend Glen Peck, incorporating words from the Velveteen Rabbit and vows from the 12th century adds to the magic.

But no words can truly capture the feeling in my heart as this all takes place. This picture comes close.

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But even that is just lines and shadows of how I felt at that moment.

To all of you who were there, to all of you who wanted to be there, and to all of you who have been part of Kelsey’s life, thank for the memories, both old and new, and here’s to many more.

 

 

Appreciating the Magic of Memory

Most people misunderstand how memory works. We think of it as a recording of our daily lives. It is not. It is a compendium of images, sounds, smells, and tastes; voices, conversations, laughter, and feelings; moments of ecstasy and sorrow, joy and tears, the common and the unique.

We don’t record our memories, we ingest them. They become the spark that lights up the synapses and neurons of our brain.

It is why the smell of freshly mowed grass sparks a memory of Little League baseball game from long ago.

It is why the sight of a school bus triggers the echoes of a loud end-of-school song sung endlessly home on the last day of fourth grade.

It is how the taste of cranberry sauce ignites the memory of a conversation with a long dead grandfather.

It is why we recall all the words of a song we haven’t heard in years when we see the ocean.

It is how we remember voices of friends and the experiences we shared.

Our memories aren’t part of us. Our memories are us. They make us what we are today and how we will change tomorrow.

It is one of the things which defines our individuality. Even those seemingly shared experiences; first love, graduation, flying on a plane, catching the final out of a championship game are seen in our own unique way.

I had a moment today to lie in the grass with my daughter’s dog and just watch the clouds wink in and out of formation. Taking on shapes. Morphing into creatures or food or faces.

Something I recall doing often in my youth.

With all the distractions in the world, I do not think we take enough time to simply look up at the clouds. To watch a wind-blown spider web jump in and out of visibility. To see sunlight catching the needles of a pine tree, changing the hue through the whole spectrum of green.

When was the last time you took a moment to lie in the grass and look at the sky?

When was the last time you listened to the memories in your mind as they linked and jumped and danced in your brain?

When was the last time you took a moment to listen to yourself breath? Let the sun warm your face? Felt the breeze wash over you?

Don’t think you have time for such things? All too soon, you may find you were right.

Dilemma

This is from a series of short stories I am working on. Posted here for your reading pleasure and review.  All comments welcome.

My cell rang. I didn’t recognize the number. Thought about ignoring it, then decided to give the telemarketer some shit.

“Hello.”

“Tommy, AJ.”

“AJ? What’s this a new phone?”

“I need your help.” AJ’s tone imparted a more serious patina to the four simple words.

“You always need my help,” I answered. “What is it this time, you get thrown out again?”

“Come outside, I’m parked in the lot across the street.

“Why are you parked across the street?” I asked. Silence. After a moment, I realized he’d ended the call.

Grabbing my jacket, I walked to the door. “Where are you off to?” my wife asked.

“I don’t know. That was AJ, said he needs help with something.”

My wife put her hands on her hips, “Tommy, I don’t care what he’s done this time, no money. Promise me.”

I smiled, “No money, I learned my lesson with his last scam,” I opened the door, the cool fall air rushing in. “I’ll be right back.”

Walking down the driveway, I looked across the street. AJ was leaning against the hood of his car, arms folded around himself, staring at the ground. As I got closer, he heard my footsteps and stood.

I’ve read that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. AJ’s body was telling me this was not one of his ordinary, self-created problems.

“Hey man, what’s up?”

“Tom, Tommy,” AJ stuttered, glancing around. “I need help buddy. Big time. Can you take a ride with me?”

I saw something in his eyes I’d never seen before, genuine fear. This was a man who once took on three bikers in a bar and got his ass kicked. He returned two days later looking for the three bikers. The same thing happened. He went back several more times, but the bikers never showed up again.

They must have recognized crazy.

AJ wasn’t afraid of anything.

“A ride, where?”

“Please man, just come with me.” His body language now in full alarm mode.

“Ah, okay. Let me call Karen. Tell her I’ll be gone for a bit. Where we going anyway?”

“No,” AJ shouted, then glanced around. “No calls.”

“No calls?” I replied. “If you want me to go with you I will after I call my wife. A philosophy you should have adopted years ago. Saved yourself a ton of trouble.”

I could see AJ’s mind racing as he paced back and forth. “Okay, tell her I need help moving something, that’s all.”

I stood there a moment, holding my phone, studying my now frantic friend. Shaking my head, I pushed the call button. “Hey, it’s me. AJ needs me to help him move something. What? I don’t know, hang on,” holding the phone away from my ear I said. “She wants to know what you need moved. How long will it take?”

AJ threw his arm up, slapping them back to his side. “I don’t know, something heavy. You’ll be back in, ah, a couple of hours.”

“There’s a bunch of stuff, I guess. Won’t take long,” listening to her response I smiled at AJ. “Yeah I know; I don’t have any money anyway. I’ll call on the way back.” I walked to the passenger side. “Okay AJ, tell me the story. What’d you do?”

“First, turn off your cell.”

“I’m not turning off my cell, asshole. What is this about?”

“Look, trust me on this. You’ll understand shortly,” pointing with his hand at my phone. “Turn it off and pull the battery. Then I’ll tell you what this is about.”

*****

“You what?” I said, shaking my head and looking out the window. “I don’t believe this. You’re kidding,” trying to gauge the look on his face.

“I’ll show you,” he said as we pulled into a dirt road used by off-road vehicles.

“You can’t drive this thing down here,” I said, my hand on the dash as AJ dodged the ruts and dips in the dirt track.

“Yes I can, I checked this out before.”

“You checked this out… I don’t believe this.”

Checking the rearview mirror, AJ drove several hundred yards. Making sure we were far beyond the houses bordering the property.

“Ready?”

“AJ, please tell me this is all bullshit.”

“Look,” he said, opening the door.

I watched as he walked around to the back of the car, motioning for me to join him

I opened the door, put one foot on the ground, glanced over my right shoulder at AJ as he looked all around the area.

I got out and stood next to him.

“Ready?”

I laughed. “Okay, you got me. What’s the joke?”

I heard the click of the trunk release, watching as it popped up. AJ reached over, opening the trunk.

As I looked in, my mind went into denial.

I looked from the trunk to AJ and back. Voices in my head screamed, ‘Run, you idiot, run.” But my legs remained paralyzed in place. I tried to speak, but my throat was sand. I tasted the adrenaline rushing through my body. The fight or flight response to my brain’s recognizing a problem.

A big problem.

“I had to do it, Tommy. He beat her, put her in the hospital, he molested my granddaughter.”

Words eluded me. I backed away, trying to absorb the reality.

“Tommy, I need you to help me here. I need help getting rid of it.”

For fifty years, AJ had been my best friend. We had grown from GI Joes and baseball to girls and beer to married with kids, together. We’d spent twenty years together as cops, righting wrongs, trying to make a difference.

He’d been there when my first wife died of cancer. He held me in his arms, covered in my blood from the bullet wound in my arm, when they drove me to the hospital.

Never leaving my side.

But this? This was beyond it all. This was too much. I knew the stories. The hospital visits to his daughter. The on again off again boyfriend sliding through the system.

But this? They say friends will be there when you most need them. But this?

As my heart rate slowed, the rationale me resumed control. The panic passed and the realization of the choice I faced came clear.

I knew what I had to do.

I looked at my friend. The tears welled up, the emotions uncontrollable. I took a deep breath and walked back to the car.

“AJ, I’m sorry.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, walking to the side of the car, away from my best friend.

His eyes showed regret as the enormity of what he asked, what he’d done, set in.

I tossed the phone on the seat. Reaching into the back seat, I grabbed the two shovels and the bag of lime.  I’d spotted them when I got in the car. Hoping I was wrong.

Walking to AJ, I handed him a shovel.

“That’s what friends are for.”