At a Funeral

To understand it, I think you have to go back many years, even before High School. I met a kid when I first moved to the place that would eventually be counted as my hometown. He got tasked somehow with introducing me around to people, partially I think because he was also tasked with showing off my brother, who was sort of a reading wünderkind in Kindergarten, able to read at least as well as most fourth graders. They brought him into the third- and fourth-grade classes so he could read for them as if to say, “See what you could do, too, if you applied yourself?” Anyway, this kid, D, sort of befriended me because he was outgoing and personable and I was new, but probably not because he thought I was anything special. Well, other than “the guy with the whiz-kid little brother.”

D and I ended up in the same class the next year. I honestly don’t remember much about that first half year, I guess the whirl of change and turmoil overwhelmed me and I didn’t have time to think about who I was going to hang out with at lunch and recess. But fourth grade was different. D and I were buddies that year. We played at each others’ houses. We chose desks near each other. We rode bikes together and bounced tennis balls off of his garage door.

It was significant that I was switched to a different program the year after—that would have been fifth grade—because without D as my in- and out-of-class companion, I was lonely. The first few months of that year were tough as I tried to transition to a higher-expectation curriculum and dealt with the fact that I really didn’t have any friends. It was there that I met AB and Dr. Mac. I don’t think I realized at the time that Dr. Mac and D had been friends in an earlier grade, before I’d arrived at the school. But like myself, Dr. Mac had moved into the alternate program and D was off making other friends.

AB and Dr. Mac were very close friends already, going back to the third grade, the year I had arrived. When I realized they were into the same things as I was, the three of us formed a bond that lasted us the rest of elementary school, and I felt secure enough socially to allow myself to deal with the new pressure of the class structure and I ended up doing okay. I recall at one point the three of us started a game in which we would hurl insults at each other, jesting barbs that were supposed to be funny but were often in fact hurtful and mean. Dr. Mac, sarcastic and witty by nature, typically won these contests, and with my thick skull came a fairly thick hide so for the two of us it was largely understood to be no big deal. AB was always a bit more sensitive, perhaps I might have described him as artistically emotional if I’d been observant enough to pay attention. I didn’t know we were really hurting him, so it wasn’t until Dr. Mac and AB’s folks sat the three of us down to discuss our little game that I comprehended something was wrong.

I specifically recall part of the parents’ speech in which they pointed out that we were supposed to be friends. We were good friends; close friends. The kind of friends we were going to need as we entered adolescence and found along our way a new kind of struggle and an alien sort of torment at the hands of other kids. Older kids. Now was not the time to devour each other. Being insolent and stupid, I remember thinking the adults were completely missing the point and that I wasn’t going to be told what games not to play. Thankfully Dr. Mac had enough sense to recognize the danger of the game and without his wit the whole thing was more or less discarded in favor of some other, more constructive activity. While I still don’t remember why we thought insulting each other was fun or funny, I do recall clearly the prescience the parents showed us that day, knowing what I know now about what was to come.

When we all moved on to Junior High, the scattered class schedule meant that spending an hour here or there without a specific clique member was no great social impediment so D joined (perhaps re-joined) our trio making us a group of four. It was a good number. A safe number. Here and there we picked up an extra person or two for a period of time. The core of us, the four of us, remained pretty steadfast. That’s how I remember it anyway. We carried through into high school.

In the meantime we did what young friends do: We played together. We spent time with each other’s families. We got to know each other. We worked together. We learned in tandem. We explored new ideas, new passions, new hobbies. We introduced each other to our individual backgrounds so that we could see a wider view of the world. We cheered for each other. We didn’t let ourselves get away with being stupid. We watched out for each other. Some of us did these things better than others. All three of them executed better than I. Of the four of us, I know I was the lucky one to have had them. Maybe they could have done better at choosing a friend, but I’m glad they didn’t.

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