Last week a friend left us. A very close friend. Yesterday I went to his funeral. His two brothers and so many other family and friends were there. He was a deeply spiritual person. One of a few I have known. He will be missed by all who knew him. I still haven’t gathered my thoughts of him enough to write how much he meant to me.
I originally planned to post another humor piece. But it seems so inappropriate today. Instead I am posting another piece. It is a piece I had posted several years ago on another blog in galaxy far away. Something autobiographical, which I don’t usually do here. It honors three friends I had in high school, three friends who changed my life.
Perhaps sometime in the future I may be able to set my memories of my friend down and post them. But today I would like to post this to honor all those who have loved and nurtured and cared about me as I worked my way to this particular time in my life.
It was early 1964, Fort Worth, Texas, JFK had just been assassinated a few months earlier. My family and I had just moved across town from Northside to Poly. I was in the tenth grade and I was a very insecure lonely kid. I don’t think I had one friend at Northside High School. How I survived that loneliness, that insecurity, I am not sure. I was out of my element there for the thirteen weeks or so I attended the school. I don’t know what got me through. Thank God for a wonderful imagination and lots of daydreaming and good books. Thank God for Euripides and Sophocles. Thank God for some damned good science fiction.
Then I moved to Polytechnic High with low expectations. In those days, my mother, my stepfather, my half-sister and I were a churchgoing folk. We found a church there in Poly. Church was the one place I felt home in those days. I began my usual habit of Sunday School and church services each Sunday. That first Sunday a tall blond haired kid a year older than me invited me to a baseball game the next Saturday afternoon. Not being a sports fellow I almost said no. I said okay instead.
That first Saturday afternoon baseball with the tall fellow from church changed my life. Until that moment in my history I had felt that I didn’t matter an iota. I had always been religious but I kept asking where are you, God. How come you made such an introvert, so insecure, so lonely. I am here to tell you that first Saturday changed my life. That tall blond-haired kid saw me and saw me for who I was and still cared about me. Cared about me a lot. Made me a part of a special gang of three friends, all a year older than me.
David was the tall blond haired kid. Bobbie Ann played cello and lived alone with her mother. She was more the mother and her mother was the daughter. Warren knew philosophy and religion and we spent a lot of late nights discussing life on other planets, speculating how and when we would make contact. He was into drama and taught me to love live theater. He also introduced me to Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” Bobbie Ann and Warren were dating.
For the next two years, the four of us were inseparable. David would show up at my house on Saturday morning and say, “Wanna go for a ride?” Of course, I wanted to go for a ride. Who wouldn’t want to go for a ride? Off I went, my mother entrusting me to my friends’ care, knowing I was in good hands. It would be Sunday night when next I walked through the front door. Many weeknights I was over at Bobbie Ann’s or B. A. as we called her, listening to music, playing games, just talking, talking about everything.
If I can dance at all, and I can’t dance, I learned it from David. We would be at a church dance and he would say to his girl friend of the moment, “Go dance with Don. He has two left feet but it’s okay. He’s a good learner. You’ll like it.” When you are a clumsy sixteen year old everybody sees as four-eyes, that can send you into the heavens. When I say David had a girl friend of the moment, I don’t mean he threw girl friends off as soon as he used them. He didn’t. He was always a perfect gentleman and ended his relationships with girls as friends. The thing was when David walked into a room the girls would go “ah.” He was drop dead handsome. But he had one hell of a kind heart.
My first date was with B.A. She had broken up with Warren six months earlier and we went to see Doctor Zhivago together. Afterward we went back to her apartment and she gave me a dancing lesson. It was her first year of college and I’m sure she was struggling with what she wanted out of life. The breakup with Warren hurt a lot. She smiled at me that night as she always smiled at me, one of the warmest smiles I can ever remember. She was my first love and I was out of my league, just a clumsy kid searching for a future.
Bobbie Ann had this VW Bug. A bunch of us would crawl into that thing and speed along on our way to wherever, just happy to be with each other. There was no better place in the world to be than to drive down to the Dairy Queen on Sunday night and have a banana split. One night the four of us and others were at a party. As a joke, Warren, David and I lifted that VW Bug and sat it in the waterless swimming pool. Where’s my bug? Bobbie asked. We don’t know. Of course, we did. When she found it, all she did was laugh.
Warren would regale me with tales of Broadway shows he had seen. Once a year he and his family were off to New York City. But when it came to discussing things that matter he always treated me as an equal. He introduced me to writers like Kierkegaard and Camus, to philosophers like Augustine and the poetry of Dante.
I graduated from high school, more comfortable in my own skin than I had thought possible two years earlier. I was still seventeen and searching. I went to a trade school sponsored with government money and finally got a job working in the warehouse at Montgomery Ward. That September, I turned 18. I signed up for the draft, but I didn’t wait for the postcard. I volunteered for the Air Force like my two older brothers. I was inducted on St. Patrick’s Day, 1967. it was right smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War and I just knew that if I went in the Army there was a Viet Cong with a bullet with my name on it.
It was March 16, 1967 and it was evening. We were sitting in front of the television watching Cronkite relay the latest news of Vietnam and Bobbie Kennedy and the latest NASA story. There was a knock at our front door.
“Go see who’s at the front door, Donald,” my mother called from the kitchen.
“Oh, do I have to,” I said and picked myself off the couch and opened the front door. There stood David with his big smile. Bobbie Ann and Warren were behind him and several others. I was shocked. “Why are you here?” I gasped.
“To see you off in proper style,” David smiled and pushed himself through the door and past me. It was one hell of a sendoff.
That was the last I saw of these three friends together. When I came home on leave after basic training, David and I went out to eat a couple of times. He told me about his life and I told him how scared I was. We laughed. Warren had joined a traveling theater troupe. He was in some place in California. The last I saw him was when he directed “Christ in the Concrete City.” I never saw B. A. again. Some years later someone at church told me she joined the Air Force and became a flight controller.
A lot of years have passed. Have made some efforts to contact the three. But never have made contact. Who knows? One of these days. Of that friendship, I wrote this poem:
The wind resonates purring
soon to be clawing and biting,
chill crackles the air,
and automobile engines chatter
on this night icy and cold
from the year’s first snow;
Bobbie Ann and David, Warren,
Susie and I, we band of five
inseparably cloister against
the meowing on its prowl,
scratching, raking its talons
against the side of the house.
And then the calm.
The snow calls
us from our stories, songs and games
to frolic in a niveous wonderworld
where we and other neighborhood kids
friskily pack and splatter
white balls of algidity while
missiles of ice hiss past.
A crash in the ear, a blast on the skin,
an ouch! and we slosh our retreat
to Bobbie Ann’s house,
hot chocolate and snow ice cream.