Monday, October 01, 2012
In my life I have been fortunate to have a core group of friends whom I have known since I was twelve or thirteen years old. Mike, Rick, Bruce, Rich, all of us with the common ground of Eby's Pines in Bristol, Indiana, and the roller skating rink where we met. We skated together, laughed together, hung out together. We built a litany of memories, catch-phrases, habits and stories. Bruce was the eldest of us, and had completed his military service before I met him. Rick, Mike, and Rich all went off to the Navy and Marine Corps in time, but they all returned to our little area when their enlistments were ended.
There were marriages and divorces among the group, relationships made and broken, children born, parents lost. Each time a new person cycled into the group, we all tried to welcome them with best wishes for our friends, and I'd like to think that we've remained friendly with any who have left...with one exception. One of the guys began dating a young woman who was...ummm...'different'. We all treated her as best we could, but there came an evening when he told the group that he'd broken up with her. I remember the laughter that grew as one of us said, "I never really liked her, anyway," and another said, "Well, neither did I...", and another, "I was only polite to her because I thought everyone else liked her," and every one of us agreed. The look on the guy's face as the admissions were made was priceless...and then he said, "Well, I only dated her for so long because I thought YOU GUYS all liked her!", and we dissolved into hysterical laughter. That's real friendship!
As we went along, new friends came in and out of our little circle. Dawn, Diane, Dara, Kenny, a few others, the Redmons, Bardos, Baileys, the Miller 'kids', and more, but the core of my group was always Mike, Rick, Bruce, Rich, Becky and then Tom and Michelle, who became as essential as the original bunch. For awhile, several of us had MGs: Bruce and Tom each had MGBs, Mike and I had Midgets, Rick had a Morris, and we spent many hours driving, picnicking, and of course, working on the damned things, because there is always something wrong with an MG.
We had periods where we all practically lived in one another's pockets, constantly together or planning the next gathering, and too-long times, sometimes whole years, when we did not see or hear from one another at all. The time always came, though, when we'd begin to pine for our friends, and we would make some phone calls, get together, and every time it was as if we'd been apart for only a few minutes, and we wondered how we'd managed without one another.
Rick was the first to move away, just a couple of hours but still too far to make regular contact. Tom and Kenny moved to Florida, and I thought that my heart would break. Mike was next, again just an hour or so, but still too far. Bruce had very bad knees that forced him into early retirement, and then began having heart troubles that kept him at home much of the time. Michelle went to Germany for three years. Rich had a motorcycle accident, and spent several months healing, finances grew difficult, my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer, our son began having serious problems with his life and marriages, I found myself reeling from the deaths of my sister and two very dear friends in a fairly short time (Tom was one of those), and I pulled away, into myself, and shut out much of the outside world...including my friends. We all grew apart once again.
One of the things that bothers me is that there are few pictures of these dear friends together. We were all so very busy just living, being together, running our lives...and I don't think any of us thought to bring along a camera. Tom was a photographer, as was Bruce, but cameras were rarely present when we were together. I so wish that I had thought to capture the images of us as we were, as we are, as we have been. I carry them in my heart, but it would be comforting to have something to hold, to be able to see those dear friends, to rest a hand aside the photo of a face that is now heartbreakingly absent, to remember the glory of our youth and the poignant beauty of our aging selves.
The last time we saw Bruce, he told us that his heart was so badly damaged that he had been put on the waiting list for a transplant. Last Friday, his time ran out. His heart just could not wait any longer and he passed on in the company of his sister and with none of his friends nearby. We had let him slip from our lives these past few years, and it will be a long time before I can forgive myself for that. He must have thought that we just did not care any more.
I am telling you today: do not waste time. Life is short. Love one another. Stay in touch. This is the singular most important thing that I have to say.
We will miss Bruce terribly. To those of you who remain, know that I love you all and that you are very, very precious to me.