Monday, January 03, 2005

 

In Which Old Acquaintance Are Not Forgot...

I met Chris when I was 2, and I swear I almost remember it. We went to pre-school, kindergarten and grades 1-3 together. Because we were hip-deep in the energy crisis, our moms decided to carpool, so we always rode to school and back together (we both lived way out in the sticks, much too far for a bus to come haul us), which meant that we spent a lot of after-school hours together too, usually at his farm, playing GI Joe, or living out the lives of our heroes, Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto from Emergency!

Later, when I moved away, Chris was the first person to send me a letter, and I probably still have it somewhere. His family came to visit us (and it was a long damn drive) wherever we lived. And whenever we came back to New England, we always spent a good chunk of time on their farm.

By high school, I pretty much lost touch with Chris, and by college, a weird kind of role reversal took place. My brother had by that time moved back to our old home state and he--who as a kid could never stand to be around the two of us--found out he had a lot in common with my old pal and they became good friends. I was glad to hear it of course, because our families have always been such good friends and it seemed right that the connection should be maintained. And yet, some part of me, some 7 year old part would occasionally begrudge my brother. Chris is MY friend, MINE! he'd shout.

And he still is. While I left home and lived in about 14 different places in 5 years and got married and had kids, Chris has so far remained a bachelor and bought a house not far from his family's farm and became a real-life Roy DeSoto, working for the local fire department. That wasn't the only childhood fantasy he got to live out. What he had in common with my brother was a love of firearms, which for Chris went much deeper (my brother's just a gun nut, and not always a safe one, but that's a random anecdote for another day). Chris went through ROTC in college and joined the National Guard. We grew up to be about as different as we could be. And yet, he's still my friend. More than that, he's my family. When he came to my wedding, we hadn't seen each other in years, but he traveled over 1000 miles to be there. I remember seeing him out on the dance floor at one point, cutting the rug a little awkwardly with a girl I'd gone to college with (this is why everyone should get married at least once: your wedding is like seeing all your favorite characters from all your favorite books, movies and comics, all together in the same room, interacting. It's the ultimate crossover event of your life. I digress). I remember thinking how ungainly Chris looked out there; and chalked it up to the fact that I had never seen him dance before. I didn't find out til later that Chris had broken his foot a few days earlier. And still he came and danced at my wedding.

Just before Thanksgiving, his guard unit was activated. Just after Christmas, he shipped out for Kuwait. He'll be starting his New Year in Iraq.

My mom called tonight to tell me. My poor mom. She's still great pals with Chris' mom, and thinks of him as her own son too. "It's like one of you going," she said despairingly. And I know it's not bad news, exactly. There are friends and families of soldiers who have received much worse news, to be sure. But it was sobering information to me, nonetheless. And I asked my mom for Chris' email, mailing address, contact info, anything.

My wife, I think, was a bit baffled. She knows I haven't seen Chris since our wedding. She knows we don't call or write to each other. We are not, in the strictest definition, friendly. But he's still my friend. And it bothers me that I sit here in my warm home, with my wife and kids close by, every comfort at my fingertips, while my friend is going off into harm's way. And at this moment it seems to me a letter is the least I owe the man who danced at my wedding with a broken foot.

Smart-ass remarks about my sad, wonderful life to resume later this week...

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

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