This weekend, the ashes of one of my closest high school friends / old boyfriend were scattered in the ocean near where we grew up. And as friends and family gathered on a beach yesterday to remember the fun and joy he brought to others, I’m reminded all too poignantly that sometimes neither age nor experience, success nor family, love nor friends, have anything to do with how we leave this world.
There was a beach memorial service that I couldn’t attend with the people whose lives my friend touched. Of those that I know, I haven’t seen many of them in more than two decades. I wish I had been able to join. And as I see the pictures both of the memorial service and of our high school years that my friends keep posting, I think how it’s amazing that despite three thousand miles and two decades, it’s actually so easy to slip back into the days of our youth.
Once there was a boy who could make an awkward, teenage girl feel loved as one only does during adolescent relationships. Who helped teach her how to have fun and live carefree. To laugh and find the amusement in most situations. To take a joke, even when it was at her expense as long as it was in good fun.
I don’t really remember now who broke up with whom or why. But we stayed friends long after we were no longer a couple – as friends often do when they’re running with the same group. We drifted apart naturally, and after graduation, drifted apart for good.
We connected again briefly somehow in the days of AOL and Instant Messenger, some 8 or 10 years later. We sent each other pictures of what we looked like, and I remember thinking he looked exactly the same. He remarked that my smile was the one he remembered – one that infected everyone around them. He had never told me that before, and it filled me with warmth that he remembered me so fondly. We chatted once in a while through AOL, but again quickly drifted apart.
Then came the days of Facebook and reconnection via that medium. The connection was relatively shallow after the initial reconnect, as it often is. A series of mutual likes and birthday greetings, but not much else. We chatted for real a few years ago when my company was acquired by the company he worked at. And that’s the last real connection he and I had.
Facebook has a funny way of keeping ties open that would otherwise have long since fallen apart. I’m glad that I heard this when I did, though the knowledge brings me no joy. There’s comfort in the solidarity of friendships of yesteryear – comfort in communal grieving. No one else can understand how despite the distance of years, miles, and circumstance what news of a death come too soon and so unexpectedly can affect you. We all have our people for whom this is true. But unless you were part of that long ago time, you can sympathize, but not truly understand.
I wish this weekend I had been able to say goodbye in person to this boy who helped me through the rough years of adolescence. I wish I had said thank you.
Once there was a boy, who could make an awkward teenage girl laugh. Thanks for the memories. May your spirit fly high, the laughter stay strong, and the memories you created last forever.