This morning I spoke with the Paul Pfeiffer to my Kevin Arnold (if I could use a Wonder Years reference). Actually, I’m probably the Paul to his Kevin, because if they made a TV show about our childhood, I imagine it would probably focus on him… but now we are arguing semantics. The fact is, if you are telling a story about me from my own personal wonder years, you have to include him and vice versa. But for the purposes of today’s story, I’ll call him Kevin.
Before I go into detail about our conversation, let me give you some background. During my high school days I was probably popular. I say “probably” because I never considered myself popular (actually I considered myself a loser who was terrified of girls, teachers and my father). However, looking back and comparing how easy my high school experience was when compared to others…I didn’t dislike anyone and I am unaware of any enemies, so I guess that makes me at least mid-level popular.
In high school, you sort of are who your friends are. There were many people I was friends with, but really there were only five guys I considered my actual true friends. One of them was killed so let’s call it four. There are on this planet four human males I consider to be crucial to the shaping of my existence, for dictating who I would become, and who I am today. We had the traditional friendship, the vulnerable kind where they knew everything about me, and I them, including the most embarrassing and shameful parts. When you can sit in the same room with a guy and attempt to watch the scrambled soft core “Action Channel” together…that is the highest or deepest level of friendship. Your friends matter.
You move on, though. You go to college, you get married, you have kids. Your interests change, your surroundings change, your friends change. And it’s ok, because that is the same life we all face. But you never forget. You never lose those feelings for the ones who got you through.
Anyway, “Kevin” and I were talking, reminiscing as we tend to do. We live on opposite sides of the world and only see each other once or twice a year, but the natural rhythms, the laughter, and the roles we each play in one another’s lives come as naturally to us as tears to a military funeral. Our conversation this morning, though, went to a new place of shared guilt and regret for what growing up does to a man.
One of the friends from the above named group of four lost his father to cancer last year. Incidentally, this father was among the villagers responsible for raising me. He was my first basketball coach. I watched my first R-rated movie (The Silence of the Lambs) in his den, unbeknownst to him. He went from basketball coach to basketball fan, watching and cheering for me as I played up through the school system. He bought a pool table, and at once became equal parts billiards coach/billiards heckler to our group of friends. He was the “buddy’s dad” who owned a golf cart and would buy us pizza pretty much whenever we wanted it. He was a pillar in the foundation holding up the walls of my youth. And he was ravaged and decimated by stupid, heartless cancer.
During our conversation this morning, Kevin asked me if I had spoken to our friend since his dad passed. I crinkled my brow, thinking back to the funeral I didn’t attend, and responded, “No, I texted him my condolences when his dad died. That’s the last I’ve spoken to him.” Kevin admitted he had left our friend a voicemail, but that was the extent of his reaching out. There was a brief pause in our conversation as we both attempted to come to terms with our shame, and then I cracked a joke to avoid bursting into tears. We spoke for a few minutes longer and ended the call.
All day I’ve been thinking about that conversation. It has distracted me. This is what I’ve become? Now I’m the guy who sends a text to one of my closest, most valuable friends when he goes through the pain of losing his father? Are the rest of us this cold, or is it just me? Once again, the convenience of technology has allowed for me to fake actual human interaction, while completely avoiding it. Shame on me.
There are moments in life that matter. Our friends matter. I have failed a good friend of mine during one of these moments. This happened a year ago. To call him now would be pointless and awkward. I need to find a way to make it up to him, to show him that regardless of what happens or the distance between us (figuratively and literally), I still care. I just don’t know how. Dave, if you ever read this…I’m sorry, man. I failed as a friend.