Originally posted July 14, 2014. I normally do this Wednesdays, but today’s the anniversary, and it’s my blog, my rules.
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when
day is gone.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly
down the ways,
Of happy times, and laughing times, and
bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to
dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave when life is
That poem is framed on top of my dresser, my wife having given it to me, I’m guessing for a wedding anniversary. It was on the cards handed to mourners at the funeral of my best friend Chuck, who died 10 years ago.
Chuck was 31. It was cancer. The last time I saw him alive was the previous October. He was undergoing treatment in Boston, and so my wife and I went to visit. We watched the Yankees-Red Sox playoff game (the one where Pedro threw Zimmer on the ground) with his mother and sister. He was like he always was … jovial, upbeat, ready with a wisecrack at any moment.
When I started this here place to share musings about life, I borrowed a phrase from another one of my high school friends, “life’s rich pageant.” Chuck’s life was not only a rich pageant, but it was one where everyone was invited, and everyone was treated like the guest of honor.
When you grow up in a small town, not only does everyone know everyone else, but the kids are likely to have gone to school together pretty much from the first day of school to graduation. At least that’s how it was where I grew up; the members of my senior class who had gone to our school since the beginning posed for a picture in one of the kindergarten classrooms, and it was just about half of us.
Because he went to kindergarten in the morning and I went in the afternoon, I don’t think I actually met Chuck until first grade, but the next 25 years were full of classroom cutups, baseball games, football on the playground, volleyball in the park, 10-cent wing nights, tennis until they turned the lights off, a New Year’s Eve party in an ice storm, my wedding day and so much more than I can possibly remember.
He was my closest friend, my favorite teammate and my best opponent. Yet even as I saw him work his magic for all those years, I never quite got what made him special. Sure, he was kind and funny and warm and a lot of fun to be around, but the secret to his charisma escaped me until recently.
The mother of his two oldest boys asked me to write something about him last year for a project she was putting together so the boys (the older of whom is now in college) could know more about their father. I don’t know whatever became of the project, but it gave me a chance to think about the kind of person Chuck was.
And that’s when it hit me.
Like most people, Chuck had a crew of regulars that he ran with, but whether it was us, the kids from down the street who would show up to volleyball, my grandfather at the restaurant after my ballgame/bachelor party (without details, when Chuck showed up for the wedding, Grandpa greeted him with, “Hey, Radar”), the customers at the various Friendly’s restaurants where he worked or whomever … not only did he draw people in, he made all of them feel important.
As I said, everyone was the guest of honor.
I get angry sometimes when I think about Chuck. It’s not anger over anything he ever did, as I’m not sure we ever had so much as a quarrel, and if we did it never lasted long, but anger as to why he, of all people, had to come down with cancer and die when he was 31 years old.
I get angry that his parents lost a son, that his siblings lost their brother, that his children lost their father … and yes, although I’m way down the list, that I lost my best friend. And so did a lot of other people.
The organizers of my high school class reunion asked us to bring any pictures we had of Chuck. I brought one from my wedding (where, by the way, he drove the priest batty while leaving the rest of us in hysterics) and gave it to our friend Renee afterward. But he should have been there, at our table, the center of everything.
We’re all in our 40s now, and Chuck should be here with us. When we all talk about times gone by, it should be kicking back somewhere, exaggerating every little thing and laughing our fool heads off, but also creating new memories as we go.
Those times gone by shouldn’t be all we have left of him, but they are, and as angry as him being gone can make me, I know those times gone by and the memories created are mine, and whatever it is that decided to take him away 10 years ago can’t take those away.
And while I miss him every single day, Chuck left enough happy memories for the last 10 years, the next 10 years and all the 10 years after that.