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Losing a friend from days of cool past

My senior year in high school I took 10 weeks of English from a teacher whose obituary was in the local newspaper yesterday. I don’t remember anything about his classes; all I remember was that I enjoyed those 10 weeks, and back then, during my rebel without a clue days, this was rare.

One of his sons, Mark, and I had been friends since seventh grade—not fast, best friends, but pretty close. Our paths diverged after high school, as was the case with me and most of my classmates, but I saw him at two high school reunions: our 25th year and our 40th. It didn’t take much for us to fall into a comfortable conversational groove.

In reading his father’s obituary yesterday, I learned Mark had died last year. I kept re-reading the obituary, hoping I had misread it, but eventually it sank in.

Even though we were the same age—in fact, I was one day older—I looked up to him in school. For starters, he was cool. He wore a derby hat from time to time—have you ever seen anyone wear a derby?—and looked good in it. He had hip, round, gold wire-framed glasses, and back then, wire-framed glasses were the essence of cool. He listened to better music. He was self-assured. He was smarter than I was, even though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. The thing I envied the most was that he was good with girls. I was so shy that talking to a girl’s shadow was about the best I could do.

My favorite story about Mark was when we both were hired to work in our town’s new McDonald’s. This was in 1972, our senior spring in high school, and like Mark, my hair was long. The supervisor at McDonald’s told us we had to get our hair cut, so I did, so extremely that a friend told me he thought I was joining the Marines. Mark, though, bought a wig that made it look like he had shorter hair because he could tuck his real hair under it. His cool remained intact. Me? I had to walk around campus my first semester in college looking decidedly unhip when compared to the guys who had hair that made them look like Leon Russell or Robert Plant, or guys who wore big Afros and Izros.

I am seeing an increasing number of former high school classmates’ obituaries in the paper. Some of them prompt an “oh, I see so-and-so died.” Other produce an emphatic “what?!” And then there’s a much smaller number of names whose deaths feel like a loss. This was the case with Mark, even though I had only seen him twice since we graduated.

I looked up his obituary online yesterday. It included a photo, and he looked 99 percent like he did in high school. That’s how I’ll remember him.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2016 04:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this entry, and that powerful message about fear and living.
Jun. 3rd, 2016 08:18 pm (UTC)
And thank you for reading.
Jun. 4th, 2016 06:54 am (UTC)
I have never coped with loss very well. Your thoughts reassure me that I'm not alone. Mark was cool and smart and confident. I didn't know him well, but a piece of me went with him. I'm trying to understand the sadness I feel as these pieces of my life erode away. It would seem to be a natural progression that I should pass through easily. But, with each memory that moves on my heart beats slower.
Jun. 4th, 2016 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Loss
"Cool and smart and confident" is a perfect description. Perfect. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Jun. 5th, 2016 01:48 am (UTC)
Re: Loss
I was so focused on your description of Mark that I neglected to say that what you wrote didn't waste a word. It's at the three-way intersection of wistful, haunting and poignant. Nicely done.
Jun. 5th, 2016 02:24 pm (UTC)
These moments are a gift of review. Reminders of our mortality to be sure, but also a time to reframe in joy our effect on the planet.
Jun. 6th, 2016 02:05 am (UTC)
It's like I said to my brother-in-law (a high school classmate) tonight: "People are dying who have never died before."
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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