We were friends, weren’t we? I’ve had longer conversations with strangers but that’s not the point. They weren’t you.
When he and I reconnected on Facebook in 2009, thirty years had passed us. In a message, he gave the CliffsNotes version of his life. A single paragraph told me about his wife, his kids, pets, house, career, travel. That paragraph totaled 120 words—four words for every year since high school. (I think, four words: You are my friend.) Zoom. Thirty years pass, just like that.
To catch up on my life, he read every blog post I had written, spanning two years. It was a patient and generous thing to do. He said he shared my love for maps, writing, “I, too, want to know ‘where I stand,’ so to speak, and even take it further: I like to have thermometers, barometers, clocks, etc., where I can further assess my time and space.”
Time and space = everything.
I can remember the first time we met. We sat next to each other in Algebra A, 1975, ninth grade. We scribbled notes and drawings on a piece of purple-stained mimeograph paper, passing it back and forth, a copy for me and a copy for him. I could not concentrate on the equations scrawled across the chalkboard. He had hiccups all the time. Hic. Hic. Hic. Me, doubled over the side of my desk, laughing. That’s what I remember: You made me laugh. He was a gangly, 15-year-old boy with broad swimmer shoulders and chlorine-streaked hair that shimmered like a new penny; a boy who hiccupped compulsively. He made that year bearable.
We never shared a class or, really, any time together after that. I went to the alternative school and he went to main campus. Time and space.
He said his last memory of me was our graduation. It was like this: “…We had just finished the ceremony; I walked into what I remember to be a virtually empty lobby. You had just done the same, from the opposite side, and you hugged me. Having spent four years…in anonymity, to say the least, you made my day. I’ve always wanted to thank you for that.”
The sadness behind his thank-you—this belief that no one knew him—still steals my breath. You were my friend.
All I remember about graduation is being ashamed of my shoes. My fucking shoes. So today I exchange my memory for his. I make it my own: we were kind to each other when the reality of all that we would leave behind and all that we would find ahead smacked us across the face.
His last message to me was in 2011, in reference to a blog post I had written: “Keep exploring the cracks and fissures, Meg. Keep exploring the cracks and fissures…” I thanked him for that. I wished him a happy birthday every couple of years when the date came around, posts that sit without comment on his page. Our friendship dissolved into time and space again.
I didn’t know that he had been sick, didn’t know that he was dying. We had not invested in our friendship the kind of capital that is entitled to share such private experiences. I learned today that he had died last week, surrounded by loved ones.
I put this memory here: on a map, marking a moment and place. I say, “Thank you for your kindness.”
One time, long ago, we were friends.