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Old Friends

I had a jarring experience recently, one that seemed to go beyond all the other middle-age experiences to which I've become numb, like losing friends to tragedy, losing couple friends to divorce, seeing your once charming or at least somewhat-likeable children turn into people you wouldn't otherwise even invite into your home, but I digress.

I went gray very early. It started when I was seventeen and instead of doing what most sensible American men do, I took a vow against coloring it, proudly proclaiming that I wasn't going out like that. Then shit got real, and even my fiancé suggested we move our wedding date up so I wouldn't be completely gray for the pictures (later she would claim she was joking, but I don't care what she says, she meant it). Many years later, on a guys trip to catch a game at Lambeau field, my college roommate and I decided to find the Milwaukee party scene, at least one of which sits near Marquette's campus. We'd been wandering immaculately clean and remarkably quiet midwestern streets all evening and were excited to finally come upon some energy. That is, until we actually got settled inside a bar and started looking around. My buddy had taken the initiative to get the bartender's attention, meanwhile I surveyed the landscape, which was difficult because the fluorescent light above us reflected off a mirror on an opposing wall in such a way that it caught my gray hair like a prism and nearly blinded me.

"We're the old guys here," Christian said as he handed me a beer.

"I just realized that," I added and told him I'd get him back the next day as I doubted we would stick around for another round.

I've gotten used to aging moments like that and can shrug or laugh them off pretty easily. like when the previously mentioned mutant teenage sons snicker as you stretch for no apparent reason. But on recent trip to south Florida, instead of exploring a downtown area looking for action like we had on that guys trip, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and reconnect with my parents' best friends from my childhood, and that's where things took a different turn.

Most every summer growing up we took a trip to (for the purpose of anonymity I'll refer to them by their names) Stan and Linda's place in south Florida. We'd spend a few days at their house, then hop down the Keys to snorkel and swim for a few days. I've got great memories of those trips, but as close as we all once were, for a multitude of reasons we'd lost touch, myself in particular, and I realized as I drove south on I75 a few weeks ago, I had not seen them people in over 30 years. I was excited to find out that despite several moves, they had moved back to a town reasonably close to where we used to visit them. I had gotten their numbers from my dad and sent out a text somewhere along the route, hoping I would hear back and possibly be able to meet up with them. These things are never easy, and it's rarely as convenient as you wished they were. I live in a tourist area, and when friends come visit nearby destinations, they'll often reach out about having dinner or drinks, not realizing it's actually an hour and half away and while they're on vacation, my wife and I are not. We have to work the next morning, so sorry I won't be driving 3+ hours to dine with you this time . . .

But luckily, even though it turned out Stan and Linda did live an hour away from where we were set up for a weekend soccer tournament, they were not only game to meet up, they were willing to come meet me where our whole team was having a long lunch. It seemed perfect, and I was so excited for them to meet at least one of my three boys. I even told my son to Google Magnum PI because that's who Stan was in my memory. They bore a strong resemblance, especially with Stan's dark tan and powerhouse mustache. Still, as accommodating as they were being, meet up's like this aren't easy. There are uncertain schedules, last minute venue changes, traffic, etc., but things seemed to be going swimmingly and after a volley of texts that started to resemble a Progressive commercial, they assured me they were close. I left the team table and waited near the entrance, sure I would recognize them immediately, and of course, that's when reality set in.

Somehow in my exuberance to see them, and despite openly acknowledging to my son the time lapse since I'd last seen them, I'd not taken one minute to account for the toll those thirty years might have taken. I don't know whether I got distracted upon their arrival, or if the dissonance of the moment kept me from recognizing what I should have known to be true, but I did not see them walk up and instead, was forced into an awkward greeting that they initiated and surely gave away my emotion.

Next thing I know, we are sitting at a table, and Linda has brought along an album where I find not just pictures of those summer trips I so fondly remember, but pictures of my own birth. I had forgotten somewhere along the way that Linda was not only a nurse, but was the attending nurse when I was born. Luckily there was plenty of humor to lighten the moment as my teenage son got to experience the awesomeness of that era's fashion in photo after photo that made the Brady Bunch cast look hip.

The episode didn't last long, as we had to wrap up and head back for another game, and while we gave genuine, hardy goodbye hugs and exchanged sincere appreciation for the meeting, I couldn't help but get back into my car with a near-overwhelming sadness. All I could surmise was that as experiences go, this one really was unique for me. Those summer trips ended when my parents split up, which was only part of the reason I never saw Stan and Linda again. Mostly it was just that life moved on. A few years after my final trip to visit them, I left home, never to return. Twenty-five more years and three kids later, there just hadn't been an occasion to reconnect. I'd heard their names here and there throughout the years, but I'm old enough now to know there are friends, and especially couple friends, where the relationship is tied to the time of life that you're in, and whether it's tied to kids' sports, a living situation, or some other tie that binds, when that time is over, often the relationship is too, no matter how much you wish it weren't.

What snapped me out of that temporary depression was looking up into my rearview mirror to exit my parking spot, seeing all that damn gray hair, and laughing at myself and realizing that the meeting was likely just as jarring for them as it was for me. After all, the last time they saw me I looked like Opie Taylor and shit, look me now. I look like my own kids' grandfather, and the kid I just introduced to them is several years older and bigger than I was when they last knew me.

Later on, after the day's games were over, my son and his friends wanted to hit the mall. I would rather have smashed my rental car into the side of the mall, so instead I took off on a drive back up I75. During lunch, I'd made sure to get the address of their old house where we used to visit. The whole time I'd been in the area we were staying in for this tournament, nothing had felt real as I was surrounded by concrete, stoplights, and every chain retail establishment America has ever dreamed up ("We really are in Sodasopa," my son said referencing a recent South Park episode we'd watched together). I needed something to connect to, something that felt real. Often on trips like this, I need to find water. If I can find where the water is, I breathe a little easier, even if I can just catch a glimpse, though finding a marina and a bar is always preferred.

Forty minutes later, I've not only found the water, but I've managed to track down Stan and Linda's old house. In keeping with the day's theme, the neighborhood, too, is a little run down. In my memories, the houses are new, the grass is green, and everything is as fresh as the bright blue sky. When I stop to take a picture, it's late in the day, there are lots of shadows, and the yards are full of weeds. I send the picture out to my immediate family members. "I remember it being bigger!" my mom immediately responds. Of course, there's a lot I could say to that in that moment, but it's too much to text, and at this point in the day, I'm tired of thinking about the passage of time and what it does to all of us.

A week later my youngest son turned eleven, and I realized that for once and only once in my entire life, the ages of my three boys adds up to my age. I tell everyone about it, and yet I can't really attach any significance to it. It's just a cool number thing. And after all I've witnessed and experienced, all I can do is be thankful to have those boys and have lived long enough for those numbers to add up. And by then, the shock of my meeting with Stan and Linda had worn off and I could just be thankful for that too, that at least they were still around and that I got to see those old friends. That, and share some of the photos Linda had given me, which were great ammunition against my then-teenage siblings. Their hairstyles alone was probably enough to make my parents not want them around.

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