My friend died. He was my childhood friend. We hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. He died of sudden heart failure. He was thirty-nine. Full stop.
When he was seven, I was Luke and he was Bo. We made his living-room couch into the General Lee. When he was eight, I was Luke and he was Darth. We made the school bus the Millennium Falcon. We’d stand in the bus’s exhaust cloud, and pretend we were on Dagobah. He called me a tomboy. He hated it when I called him a tomgirl. His mother called us turkeys.
He had the the first horse I ever rode, the first piano I ever played–the first guitar, the first video game, the first Dungeons and Dragons adventure. He exposed me to fried bologna, cap smoke, chicken pox. We kissed once, on accident, delighted and disgusted. Later on, the girl down the street made us have a wedding, and we sealed it all by clasping hands and shrieking, “Wonder Twin Powers, activate!” We were delighted. She was disgusted. We jumped in his pool. It was the first backyard pool I’d ever been in. His parents later built a pool house, and to celebrate, they made a pool-house shaped cake, and there were tiny Tootsie Rolls in the cake toilet. Brent had blue swim trunks and knobby knees, and whenever he got cold from the water, he’d just hold his towel in front of him and shiver. He dove into the pool to save my sister, who was two, when she fell in. We were all nearby; she would have been fine–but he was so proud that he saved her. He loved my sister, all of her chubby happy. He would stand behind her, and she would babble, and he would laugh silently, over her head.
He moved to Iowa when I was nine. I moved to Florida when I was ten. He started to think about how he wanted to style his hair. He became supremely athletic–a star athlete in an Iowa town. I don’t know which sports–baseball, basketball, butterfly. We’d lost touch. His family visited us twice in Florida. His sister gave me a t-shirt from the University of Iowa. Who knew I would move to Iowa City? Who knew any of this?
Brent played baseball for UNI. He married young. We became distant Facebook friends. I once saw a picture of his son, a blond child in a green field. He and his wife had three children; the oldest is eleven. I don’t know what else. I think that for a while he kept bees. Facebook rarely lets you know much. But he said to me in a post once, he said, “Can you guess what team I mean when I call them the Battle Cats?” And I knew who they were; they were the ’84 Tigers–because that’s when we were eight and nine, pitcher and catcher, Bill Maxwell and Ralph, spying on his grandma while she watched The Price is Right, pissing off a neighbor named Imogene when we ate from her garden’s strawberry patch. For a while, Brent was the first cousin I never had. Now his memory is both incomplete and indelible. It isn’t fresh enough for me truly to grieve him; I am not the person to console. But I feel that part of my mundane and lively childhood has been brought still. Part of this life doesn’t seem right. And despite all else–and despite the whimper in such a belated objection–I always thought I would see him again.
(Originally posted June 1, 2015)