For me, sometimes the mere act of writing a blog post is enough and I don’t feel the need to hit the “Publish” button. I wrote this on Friday. It’s still very much in my thoughts, no matter how much I try to distract myself with other stuff. So I figured I’d come back to it and share with everyone.
I have mixed feelings about writing about this. I don’t have any special insight or anything unique to offer about this. But …
The guy who was my best friend in high school died yesterday. Cancer. He leaves behind a wife (whom I’ve known as long as I’ve known him) and two kids. His battle with cancer took years, much of which were spent in extreme pain. I’m told that he gave up on the cancer medication a few months ago, perhaps giving in to what he saw as inevitable. I don’t know. I do know that when his wife sent out an email at the beginning of the week saying that he was back in the hospital, I didn’t have a good feeling about it.
Jimmy and I were inseparable for three years. He’s the guy I spent every Saturday record shopping with, the guy I went to all those concerts at the Fillmore and Madison Square Garden and all those other places with. We went to the movies together and we went to Washington D.C. to protest the Vietnam war together and did road trips to Florida together.
I guess it’s kind of like the Springsteen song Bobby Jean – “we liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes; we told each other we were the wildest things we’d ever seen.” As a matter of fact, a lot of the musicians I like, I heard them for the first time on his record player.
There were some differences between us. I was an only child; he had an older brother and sister. I came from an apartment in the Bronx; he lived in a brownstone just off 5th Avenue in the 70s. But that was never noted; there was no “class difference” between us that I was aware of. Probably we spent every weekend together. Usually I’d stay over at his place during the weekends, especially if we had concert tickets.
Here’s a memory I probably shouldn’t share but what the hell. One day his father walked in on us while we were smoking weed in his bedroom. I almost had a heart attack but Jimmy just held the joint up and asked his father if he wanted some. Later, there would be summer days sitting on the rooftop – him, his parents, his brother and his wife, his sister and her husband, passing joints around and letting the days go blissfully by.
I also remember, many years later, when his first son was a year or two old, being down in Florida and for some reason deciding to teach the kid to do a Ricky Ricardo impression, which he nailed. I think they decided to keep me away from the kids after that.
He had these antique swords hanging on the wall in his bedroom. We used to get stoned and then have sword fights. I’d always lose. I think there were more than a few weekends when I’d go back home on a Sunday and my parents probably wondered about all the scratches on my arms and legs.
High school finished, college came. I stayed in New York and later went to Boston while he went to Washington D.C. There was no Internet, no Facebook, no mobile phones – we stayed friends but slowly drifted apart. On the other hand, it was at a party at my place that he hooked up with the girl he ended up marrying – well, we’d known her for years, but I think that was the night they first noticed each other in a romantic sense. Actually his wedding and mine (well, my first) were just a few weeks apart. He moved to Florida, years later I moved to Hong Kong. He had two sons and a thriving business down there.
The last time I saw him was, I think, two years ago. It was probably the first time we’d seen each other in 15 or 20 years. I was in New York visiting my mom and he was in New York for medical treatments and we spent an afternoon together. He wasn’t much for internet stuff, for writing emails or for being on Facebook. So we had a lot of catching up to do. He was still the same Jimmy that I knew from all those decades before, even if the cancer was taking its toll at that point.
Yesterday morning, soon after I got to work, I got an email from a mutual friend telling me the sad news. Of course I’m probably only feeling 1% of what his family is feeling but I spent the entire day feeling shell shocked. I went to lunch at a nearby bar in Wanchai and there were a few people there getting toasted early in the day and I really wanted to join in and blow off the day and not go back to the office. But I didn’t drink and I did go back to work. I suppose last night it would have been easy enough for me to head back to a bar and get wasted but I wasn’t in the mood to be in a place filled with loud music and happy people. I medicated myself by doing some shopping and then went home and tried to fill my evening with distractions.
I sent an email to his wife telling her the minor role I’d played in their getting together. She wrote back to say that it was funny, the rabbi had asked her how the two of them started and she couldn’t remember but then she got my email and remembered the party and that night.
Look, I know this is nothing unique. Everyone loses friends. And people die sooner than expected, sooner than they “should.” This is the first really close friend I’ve lost – and it won’t be the last. It’s been years since we were close, decades even, but I feel this gap that’s opened up with his loss.
Well, I’m not going to end this with anything like “at least his pain is over now”. I hope his family is okay.