ENGLISH POET Philip Larkin famously wrote that, in one way, life started for him in 1963 (Google his “Annus Mirabilis” for the unexpurgated version). For me, in a much different way, old age began in 2008.
That’s when I learned of the death of my first serious, almost-grownup friend. It happened way before his time, which registered with me—for the first time—that I wasn’t going to live forever, either.
As a timid younger kid, I’d had playmates but no real best-buddy, bear-your-soul mates. I’d mourned the death of my after-school drawing partner, Thomas, but without truly recognizing what his loss meant.
Then, in the first year of secondary school, I met Ian. Our initial bond was, embarrassingly enough, over a shared appreciation for the music of The Partridge Family. Thankfully, before the year ended, our tastes had matured into the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Yes.
We made a bit of an odd couple, he tall and confident, me short and shy. I envied his stature and his self-possessed-ness around girls. Also his attic bedroom, in which we’d sit around endlessly replaying our favorite albums, trying to make sense of the mostly incomprehensible lyrics, and blowing the smoke of our sneaked cigarettes out of the window.
We played on the same soccer team, went to many gigs together, and fell for the same girls (whom he wooed and I pined over). As two typical teenagers, we didn’t really understand ourselves, but it was great to find someone with whom you could be uncertain. We didn’t exactly bare our souls, but we flashed parts of them occasionally. Oftentimes we’d let the music speak for us. Like this track from shared favorite Wishbone Ash’s fourth album, “Everybody Needs a Friend.”
Then we went our different ways, each growing up early, after a fashion, because of different circumstances. I left school and joined the full-time workforce at sixteen, while he married and became a father just a couple of years later. I was his lame best man at the wedding (so nervous I skipped my speech and went straight into the toasts), for which he presented me with a silver wishbone.
We lost touch in the years that followed, but I would think of him from time to time. Usually, my musings were prompted by a particular song we had both loved. Finally, I decided to make contact, to tell him I hoped that he was doing okay. Also, to thank him for being a good friend at a time when I wasn’t really sure what one looked like, and to apologize for having failed to fulfill my best man duties well.
I found his obituary online; he had died a couple of years before, aged just 50. To some extent, that discovery woke me up. Realizing that I didn’t have forever, I was galvanized to pursue deeper, more meaningful friendships that have since enriched my life enormously. Thanks, Ian, for giving me a hint of what was out there, and pointing the way.
Photo by Senthil Prabu.S on Foter.com/CC BY-NC