Yesterday (yet another) friend passed away. As the story of most friends from high school goes, we lost touch in recent history. But memories of him are like the freshly-cut grass adjacent to the diamond where we played high school baseball. He was a much better player than me. He had natural talent.
Friends’ reactions are as radical and varied as our personalities were back then. Some make jokes his death was a planned hoax, to see if people still cared. Others smashed empty bottles of freshly guzzled alcohol against the indifferent ground. Me, I’m writing this…
“Halbert’s such a femme for having this CD,” Gary remarked as he placed Deep Blue Something into the carousel player.
“And yet, you’re playing it.” I sarcastically remarked in my head disguised behind an overgrown head of hair that was too far to fit in the seventies but close enough to the teen spirit of the nineties.
“Hey, what do you think about me and Marissa? Do you think she would go for me?”
“Sure, Gary, I think any girl would go for you. You’re a genuine guy and you have a personality most hope for,” I encouraged.
“Yeah, but I’m fat.”
Gary had a way of cutting through the oozy, grime of formality. He had emotional intelligence in a time before my college Psych classes would introduce me to E.I.
A la my teen self, I was fiercely sensitive first and an optimistic-realist second.
“We’re all different shapes and sizes inside and out. I’m sensitive. Mook is smart. John is strong. You have personality. It’s your strong suit. Play the hand to your strengths.”
I was impressed with the agility my intuition awarded the response. Later, I found it a blessed curse to allow my intuition to speak so freely. Sometimes, it makes me appear genius, and other times, an asshole.
She said, I think I remember the film…
The mid-nineties ballad played through the speakers as Gary unabashedly echoed the lyrics. Of course, I knew the song. And, I kinda liked it. But I was sixteen, and such things were not admitted. Perhaps blanketed by a more audible shower stream or while driving in the car with the windows up, yet certainly not in front of another male peer. Such an Achilles’ heel was better left covered in male snickers.
“Well, the other guys are downstairs. We’ll probably be leaving for the party soon. Is your mom still going to pick us up out front?”
Oh, the irony of going to a party yet void of a driver’s license. We’d later have Gary’s mom, a sweet cherub-faced woman, drop us off a quarter mile from the party’s front door, a safe distance from humiliation but close enough as not to make it appear we had to walk.
“Hold on. I wanna play the song again. Don’t tell anyone,” Gary urged.
“You have problems, dude,” I stated, yet not completely abhorred by the idea of hearing it again. It had a good melody and it seemed to set Gary at ease about talking of Marissa.
“She’s going to be there with Stacy. I need to think of something pimp to say now so it seems smooth in front of her.”
As mentioned, Gary was ‘people smart,’ a quality I learned to admire about him in retrospect. Then, I just thought he thought too much. Now, I know he had a knack for seeing what was not immediately observable yet emotionally palpable.
“Talk about her interests,” I advised.
It was a tactic I learned from being friendly with females. Having girls talk about their interests was doubly-rewarding; you didn’t have to nervously peruse your brain for things to say, and you winded up appearing thoughtful and interested. I may have been guilty of not talking to many girls, but I did know how to advise others on how to do it.
“She goes to dance class, and I’m pretty sure I overheard her mention being in a fashion show in a few weeks. Talk to her about those topics.”
“Pensabene, you’re a genius!”
Gary was a natural baseball player but I was quite the Cyrano in the making.
As Breakfast at Tiffany’s reached its final crescendos (for the second time), Gary’s confidence filled with the air of my encouragement and lent wisdom.
“Thanks for listening, dude. And, don’t tell anyone I put the song on repeat,” Gary sentenced me to silence with a steel gaze.
I won’t get to have those reassuring conversations with you again in this life, my friend. But, I keep you in words and heart. And, such a memory that fades only to rekindle like the grass lining baseball diamonds…well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.