Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Did Not See It Coming

I am still processing. Please forgive me if I process at your expense. I just received some strange but sad news about a childhood friend and current neighbor. And it seems to be one of those events in which you ask, "How did it come to this?"

For me, the summer after high school was as fun as I'd hoped it would be. Graduation parties, working all day and hanging out with friends all night. I don't think I slept until Christmas. I remember in particular, a day trip to the shore with a friend. We left before dawn, and watched as the first rays of the sun cast themselves across the sand and onto our toes. We laid out in the sun until our skin was as close to 911 as we could get. We walked the boards, ate, talked and checked out all the cute guys. On the way home, in my four, or five-tone Chevy Nova with every window down, our hair flying wildly, and big blue dice bouncing and rocking from the rearview mirror, we sang each song that came on the radio at the top of our lungs. Nights later, we would walk the neighborhood at dark, talking about the latest on General Hospital, wishing we were old enough to "go clubbing," and planning our next adventure. As these things go, adulthood came knocking; I found myself working three jobs, loving the money, making new friends and not knowing or caring too much about the neighborhood anymore. I think one last excursion took us to a bar where we could get served -- not because we looked so much older, but because many in our area were notoriously lax in those days; we were nineteen or twenty then.

Years later, I moved back to my old neighborhood. I found my friend was still there, living in her parents house, working full-time, and I assumed, stashing away a pretty good nest egg for herself. I was less than financially comfortable, in a crumbling marriage, carrying enough baggage for a lifetime of weekenders, and raising two small children. I envied her. I remembered what it was like when I worked and saved, spent my money on what I wanted. I remembered what it was like to have few bills, and be able to treat not only myself, but my mom to some of the things we'd never had before. "She can travel. She can go out with friends. She can have whatever career she chooses." That grass is always greener.

Fast forward to this very moment. I have learned that my friend has been alone -- apparently very alone -- for the past few years. Her mother, and as far as I know her best friend, passed. Whether all of this has been brewing since then, I can't say, but my friend had a complete breakdown. She has been living a life that, sitting in the driver's seat, watching her hair flap crazily in the wind all those years ago, I would never have imagined for either of us. When things like this happen, we look desperately for a cause or explanation. Sometimes we find it; sometimes we don't. I know we'd lost touch long ago. I know even if there were "signs," I never would have seen them. Do I feel a bit of guilt? Sure. She was no longer my friend, but she is still my neighbor. "If I'd just popped in to say 'hello'..." But that relies way too heavily on knowledge I did not have, and gives my role way more credit than I deserve. The best conclusion at which I can arrive is:

You just never know. Whatever that means. "You just never know, so live each day as if it were your last." "You just never know, so don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today." "You just never know, so don't hesitate to reach out -- in friendship or in desperation."

'cause you just never know.

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