An old high school acquaintance passed away suddenly during the holidays. I’m at the age that this will happen with increasing frequency - until I get to being the next one on the list. I’d only seen him once since high school, after I got out of the military, and I didn’t catch him at a good time in his life. We got back in touch this last year through Facebook and he seemed better, but the etherealness of Facebook will never be the same as meeting face to face.
A year younger than me, he and I had been pretty tight in high school for about two to three years, a lifetime at that age. We had a falling out between my junior and senior year that happened during a keg party in someone’s field one summer evening. Whatever took place seemed hugely important at the time. Not surprising really. Teenage years have colors that are blindingly vibrant, rock music that speaks philosophy, and the emotional gage permanently pegged in the red or just past it. Living the soap opera.
I remember parts of that night but thirty-plus years later the details are hazy. I don’t even think we exchanged words. I simply overheard him talking to another friend and they didn’t speak kindly of me. Thirty years later that happens daily, more or less. I’m a bartender and not a very good one insofar as the thought goes that the client is always right. I can get away with it because I'm also the owner. I’m not rude but I return the same respect given. I’m also not much to chitchat about weather, sports, or politics so the social butterflies aren’t too impressed with me. Couple of years shy of fifty and I’m okay with not making new friends. Call me cranky.
Back at seventeen though, everything had to be blown up into epic proportions. Listening to the Cure and other angst-ridden bands didn’t help. But it bothers me that I can’t remember what they said that upset me so. I’m sure it wasn’t a big deal - just kids voicing. Evidently it was a big deal to my seventeen year old self. I dropped out of football, started working extra hours at my job in another town, and shied away from many of my hometown friends. And now I can’t remember why.
One positive aspect; it made me comfortable with my own company and being by myself. I distinctly remember many teenage nights just hating being home and not out with my friends. My evening job helped give me an excuse to get out. That desire, that need for social contact was a crazy itch I could not scratch enough. It’s a funny thing really. Anyone who knows me now would say would never believe I was once like that. Work, family obligations, and being male have been shown to impede making friends as one gets older. I could work at it but I simply prefer being by myself. I appreciate my solitude but don't consider myself anti-social. Maybe working with the public seven days a week for the last ten years has something to do with it.
I haven’t thought about that summer for years but now I wonder what it would be like to see and hear it again - a retro-active out of body experience - to see if any of it is remotely close to what I remember. Maybe it’s better not knowing. Memories are reshaped and changed with time as those errors made in sight, sound, and expectations expand out like a wave from their origin. They get so far away from you and the truth as time passes that it’s close to impossible to pull them back to remember them properly. The future can be changed by altering your views of the past but that also has a flip side; changing your future can also alter views of your past.
I’ve noticed we tend to remember details of emotionally charged moments better than the daily rituals and rhythms of life too. I wonder if shown a video tape of them, even years later, whether you’d recollect aspects of even the most mundane of days, scratched somewhere in that disc in your head. Are those memories there? Remembered at all or even correctly? Capricious and self-serving hard drives, infinitely useful but full of faults and bugs. That’s our condition.
Funny how we adapt to technology. I just returned from a trip back home after not seeing my siblings for some time and I couldn’t help but notice (since I am the old crony behind the times without a cell phone *GASP*) how everyone bows their heads down to their miniature TV screens as soon as they stop moving. I wonder if we’ll eventually forget how to have simple conversations.
Think about those grudges you’re holding. Are they worth it? I let my irritation float away a long time ago and I haven’t missed it. I hope my friend has found peace, where ever he is at. He wasn’t a bad person back then. None of us were - our paths divided and that’s the way it was. Still, I would have liked to talked to him before he left this world; reminisce our collective memories, reshape and solidify them so as to set eyes and ears and heart on them one last time. Maybe gain some understanding. We all lose our grip on them eventually and they are forgotten forever. Dust to dust, floating out there somewhere.
And yet, the one thing people won’t ever forget is how to argue.
Regardless of how it’s done.