Monday, November 24, 2008

Opportunity Lost

I don't know what prompted me to check up on him yesterday. I just had the feeling that I should. I did that periodically with him. Just to see how his career was going. He and I were never close friends. In fact, I never had any close friends growing up. I was a loner. But he lived down the street and around the corner from me through elementary, junior high, and high school, and we spent a fair amount of time together playing playground football and basketball and walking home from school discussing music, politics, religion, school, classmates, the Vietnam War, "recreational" drugs, and whatever else caught our attention through the wild and crazy times of the mid to late 60's and early 70's.

Once, in our early teens, we were throwing rocks at each other, the way rambunctious boys like to do or, at least, we did, and I hit him with a big rock in the head just above or below the eye. He ran into his house crying. He and I were lucky I didn't blind him or worse. But he didn't hold it against me. I could have been the one hit instead of him.

One day, as we were boarding the school bus, he was the one who told me that Jimi Hendrix had died. I wasn't as familiar with Hendrix back then as he was, but I still remember feeling sad that such a famous musician had died so young and so pointlessly.

For a few years back then, I fancied myself a reasonably smart guy. Then, in high school, I found out who the really smart people were, and I wasn't one of them. But my friend was. I first became aware of this when we took a physiology class together in our junior year. He excelled; I struggled to memorize the locations of the organs we had to identify on the human cadavers on which we were tested. He and I both wrote term papers on sleep. But his was much better than mine. As I recall, he even secured an interview with William Dement at nearby Stanford University. I simply paraphrased books and magazines from the school library.

After high school, I saw my friend only one time. It was a year or two after graduation. It was a summer afternoon. I was visiting my old elementary school to shoot some baskets, check out the old neighborhood, and see if anyone I knew came by. I was hoping most of all to see my old friend. And I was happy when he did come by and we talked for awhile.

My memory is fuzzy about details. It always has been. But I think he sat and played a guitar. I do recall us talking a little about John McLaughlin. I had recently discovered him and was eager to sing his praises. I think my friend had heard of him but wasn't familiar with his music. I felt sad when we parted company, like I was losing one of my only connections, tenuous as it was, with the past.

I didn't attend our 30th high school class reunion, but my friend did. Had I gone, he was the one I'd have most wanted to sit down and talk with. For I had Googled him off and on over the years, and I would have loved to hear firsthand about his work. Until yesterday, I had this fantasy that I would finally become enough of a success in life to attend my fortieth or perhaps I'd have to wait until my fiftieth class reunion, and my friend would be there, and we could have that talk I'd been wanting to have with him for decades.

But I found out yesterday that I'll never get that chance. My friend died last year. I don't know how he died. I just know that if I ever do attend one of my future class reunions, he won't be there. That means I probably won't attend.

I dreamed about him last night. I seldom remember dreams very well, and last night's is no exception. But I do remember that Steve and I were on a bus together. It was evening. We were on our way home but got off early to eat at a restaurant. At least I thought he was going to join me at the restaurant so we could eat and talk and catch up on old and not-so-old times. But he declined to go in the restaurant with me. He just said "bye" and took off walking. I went in the restaurant, disappointed, but I couldn't eat. I came out and gazed up the street, hoping to see my friend. He was gone from sight.

I wonder how many people with whom I used to play sports during recess or after school or sit in class have walked up that road and disappeared forever, except, perhaps, from my dreams. And I wonder if anyone from my distant past thinks of me the way I did of my friend and hopes to meet me at the next class reunion and reminisce with me about old times, and if I should go on the off chance that someone does, before there are no more chances.


Vol said...

Posts like this are why I read blogs. You so eloquently wrote, things I have wondered myself. Although it sounds so cliche, I'm sorry for your loss.

Mary Lois said...

Beautiful, Steve! There are so many reasons to cherish every minute we have on earth, and it's difficult to grasp the changes that are happening every day. The older we get, the more we realize that life is finite and our friends are leaving us while we contemplate the very fact.

Your dream spelled it all out well.

Nagarjuna said...

I thank you both for your comments. Life IS so precious. I value mine and my friendships all the more now. And my dreams.