Earlier this year, I changed career paths, moving my family from southern Virginia to southeastern Pennsylvania. I suppose in quieter moments, it was inevitable to look back and see what has gotten me to this point in my life.
With the horror in Paris this month, I found myself thinking about the fragility of life and the people in our past who have affected who we’ve become in the present. While I have reconnected with several people from my youth via social media, there are people who, for whatever reason, I am no longer in touch with, but they remain as distinct threads in the tapestry of my earlier days.
In fact, when I stop to think about it, I realize that none of my current friendships began before 1980. This is mostly a consequence of moving from Southside Richmond to eastern Henrico County in February of that year. I was in 5th grade at the time.
Below are 5 people I’d like to see again. I met three of them before 1980. Alphabetically…
In the year or so before the move, I became friends with Maricel. He was a guy that everyone seemed to like. He had a great laugh and was as fast as bullet on the playground. In the fall of 1979, we were on the same pee-wee football team. If memory serves, he was both a running back and a defensive back (I was merely a second-string defensive lineman).
I still remember one football game in which we played the Broad Rock Rams, who were considered to be the toughest team in the league. Late in the 4th quarter, with no score, our team managed to drive down to the Rams’ goal line, but we could not convert on 4th and goal. On the following series, our team stopped the Rams’ running back (or maybe it was their quarterback) behind his goal line. We won the game 2-0, and I remember our team congratulating Maricel as he returned to the sideline after the safety. I don’t remember if he actually made the tackle, but I know he was part of the defense.
My last day at that elementary school in Richmond, there was a going away party for me. I was picked up by my mother at the end of the day, but before leaving, I stayed in the classroom as successive groups of my classmates were dismissed to the buses. A few seconds after Maricel’s group had been dismissed, I ran outside to chase him down, and I gave him a hug before he got on the bus. I never saw him again. Given he is African-American, I now think about the symbolism of that moment, and how when we were younger, that it didn’t seem to matter.
While attending that elementary school in 4th and 5th grade, I was in the gifted program with a few other kids. There was one other student in an accelerated math program with me, Lisa Branch. At that time, I thought we were a couple of kids who were just a little different that the rest of our classmates. As a result, we got along quite well. So well in fact, that I remember a fair bit of good-natured teasing by some of the students that Lisa and I were a couple. She is the only other person I remember in that gifted program, and I remember her having more confidence than a lot of the other kids. I cannot help but wonder what path she took through adolescence and adulthood.
Immediately after our family moved in 1980, I found myself in a new elementary school, knowing no one. The first friend I made was Russell Tilley. He and I shared the same off-the-wall sense of humor, and in the closing months of 5th grade, he would often get disciplined for some of his silly, but harmless indiscretions. We remained good friends through middle school, and I distinctly remember the two of us coming up with a juvenile poem to describe our 7th grade teachers. I can still quote it (just not here).
I may never have laughed as much or as uncontrollably as when he and I hung out together. One event comes to mind: We were walking through the hall one morning in 7th grade, just trying to make each other laugh. And I don’t even remember how the subject got started, but he said, “You gotta be careful of that radioactive waste.” By coincidence, he began that sentence just as we walked by the closed door to the teachers’ lounge. And as he finished the sentence, our biology teacher opened the door and appeared. He and I paused, looked at each other, and laughed hysterically for what seemed like 10 minutes as we continued down the hallway.
In high school, our different academic paths caused us to drift apart, but I never forgot how much better I felt in a new environment because of his friendship. I last saw him in 1997 at a 10-year high school reunion. I hope he still has that sense of humor.
Frederik and I met as freshmen at Penn State in 1987. He was born in West Germany, with his family emigrating to Virginia Beach when he was young. While he was more adventurous than me, we got along very well, sharing a love of Virginia, and commiserating about being in a place that was 300+ miles away from home. We often carpooled back to Virginia and had great talks about Europe, Virginia, and of course… girls.
In the 1988-89 academic year, we shared an apartment, which tested our friendship, but it persevered. He went on to join the Penn State International Student Council and I moved into my meteorology coursework. We mutually decided sharing an apartment the next year wasn’t the best idea, nonetheless, I always valued his European view on the world. I remember how excited he was when West Germany won the World Cup in 1990 and how emotional he was when Germany reunified later that year.
After the Berlin Wall fell, he briefly visited his home country, and when he returned, he gave me a small concrete rock. I was awestruck when he told me it was a piece of the Berlin Wall, and I still have it to this day. We communicated more sporadically with time as our paths diverged, and I haven’t seen him since the early ’90s.
When I was living in South Richmond in the late ’70s, Michael and his family lived about 4 houses away. I remember playing on competing Manchester Optimist Little League teams in 1978. There was a small area of woods adjacent to his backyard, and we would go exploring back there once in while, looking for caterpillars, like many other 8-year old boys would do. Mike was the last of 3 friends in that old neighborhood who all moved away before my family followed suit. Ironically, his family moved to the Roanoke Valley in 1979, a place that I would later call home from 1995-2003.
Who knows. Perhaps I will see them again. Life has a way of dealing the unexpected.