Sunday, March 4, 2012

Missing a friend

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college I struck up quite an unexpected friendship.

It started in a class, when I turned to the senior sitting next to me and commented, "I heard you were feeling artistic this weekend."

My roommate was dating one of his fraternity brothers and she came back from a party at their house and reported that this guy had taken to spray painting some of their walls on Saturday night, just... because.

I certainly knew who he was before that class. He had a larger than life personality and was known by everyone on the campus. He had no clue who I was, other than the girl who sat next to him three mornings a week for a few weeks at that point.

Somehow that simple sentence during a lull before class began one Monday morning opened the door to a strong friendship. We started studying and working on projects for the class together. I received an open invitation to parties at his fraternity house, as he was confused why I wasn't there to witness his artistic endeavors with my roommate. Coincidence threw us together for an admissions recruiting event in his hometown, and then because we had so much fun, we volunteered to do another together a few weeks later in Northern Virginia.

Looking back I'd say it was during those two road trips that I got to know the real him. The performance personality that people saw most of the time was evident during our presentation, but the person behind the persona was who I got to talk to during our drives to and from campus. It's also where several absolutely pointless inside jokes began that still come back to me every single time I drive that stretch of I-95.

By the end of the semester we were talking or spending time together daily, but I still saw it as connected to our class. When it ended, I figured the friendship would end.

I was wrong.

We stayed close that spring, taking a few more road trips together, spending lots of time with our fairly large group of mutual friends, getting to know each other's families and just becoming pretty integral parts of each other's lives.

He graduated that spring and I thought our friendship would end once he left campus.

I was wrong.

Over the next few years our friendship grew stronger and he truly became my best friend. He didn't always get me, the whole Men are from Mars, Women from Venus thing I suppose, but he really tried, and wanted to know what was going on, support me when I needed it and vice versa. And during that time, there was lots of need for that support. Graduating from college and starting a grown up life, serious illness among family members, death of grandparents - we shared all of those things together and were there for each other.

I couldn't fathom that there'd be time when we wouldn't be in each other's lives.

I was wrong.

About a year after I graduated from college we started to drift apart. Our friendship became pretty unbalanced and for a while, I told him I didn't want to be in his life anymore. That lasted a few years (and one absolutely ridiculous 'hiding behind a poll in a shopping center to avoid running into him' moment. What can I say, I panicked and just didn't want to deal). And then, out of the blue, we started talking again.

That became the pattern (though without the drama) over the past decade we'd been in touch on and off. Each time we'd end up back in each others lives it would feel exactly the same - the banter would pick up in the same place, we'd catch up on each others families, reminisce over old times, find out what the other was up to and be in touch for a few months and then... time would go by again.

He still popped into my head often - a song or a place or a line from a movie would trigger a funny memory. He was no longer part of my daily life, but I knew without a doubt, if I needed him, he would have been there for me. That I was still important to him as he was to me, and that not being in touch at the moment was just a temporary thing.

I was wrong.

Last April I got a shocking phone call, that he died. It was somewhat sudden, medical complications from a prior surgery. He had been sick, but seemed to be improving. And then, he was gone.

I still think about him all of the time. And because we hadn't talked recently, it almost doesn't seem real still. I forget sometimes that I can't just pick up the phone or send an email and bring him back into my life.

I know things were never going to be the way they were in college. Life gets in the way. Those inseparable friendships from your early 20s just don't work the same way when you're in your mid-30s.

But I also know, how much it sucks to lose that sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, it could have been that way again.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really lovely tribute to a friend. I'm so sorry you lost him.