I am facebook friends with a man I have known since we were 15. Jim and I came to know each other first in band camp, where we two shy sophomores (in my high school sophomore year was the first year) sat across from each other each night at a picnic table in the camp mess hall--he the lone male in a rank of clarinetists, me the only xylophone player. We ate and drank kool-aid in silence. I never knew what to say to him, and I suppose he did not know what to say to me. He was cute and most of the clarinetists had crushes on him. I don’t think I did, but maybe I would have if I could have thought of something to say.
Not long after those weeks in band camp we found ourselves part of a group that hung out in the library. For some reason we drifted toward an AFS club, and we befriended the foreign exchange students. Before we knew it, we were throwing parties and hanging out at pizza places and making googly eyes at each other in marching band. He turned out to be quite popular and had a string of girlfriends that came in and out of his life. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded being one of them, but we had so much fun just hanging out together, and we had a little gang and we laughed so much I did not give it much thought.
When we went to college we visited each other. Michigan to Chicago, Chicago to Michigan. In the era before cell phones and email we sent letters and talked on the phone. He met my college friends and I met his. Summers we met up back at home--working together at the mall or ice cream stands or at a company in Cleveland that manufactured chemicals. We commuted together and went to bars after work.
Is it any surprise to the reader that my lifelong friend came out to me toward the end of our college careers? I was lucky not to have been one of a string of girlfriend relationships that never went anywhere, but a true friend. Jim has been in my life for thirty years and though we do not see each other often, as is the way of many old friends, I know he is there.
He is fortunate that he was coming out as the era of AIDs was in full force and the beginnings of understanding about transmission were emerging. By then he knew the importance of practicing safe sex. The bell curve of gay men who contracted AIDS bloomed just before he came out. I feel thankful that my generation missed the onslaught of death that faced people just a few years older than me.
Jim left Michigan for San Francisco and grad school. I left Chicago for Indiana and grad school. I have seen him throughout the years in our home town, at weddings and friendly gatherings and now on facebook.
He just posted on my FB wall: a comment about an article I posted about I-69. I posted a comment on his photos where is is working in China. When I saw his words across the years and miles I absolutely wanted to weep. There is no friend like an old friend. I treasure them, and him.