So last weekend, I called an old friend.
That's him in the photo of my sixth birthday party, seated to my right. He's wearing a collared shirt and a vest and, like the rest of us, one of those stupid paper hats. I'm about to open a present. In the foreground rests a Corgi Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which would be a collector's item if I still had it, and an off-brand cola. The kid on my left wears a paisley shirt and an ascot. He looks ready to ride in the Mystery Machine. At this point in time, Scooby-Doo has just completed his first season. The radio plays songs from Abbey Road and Bridge Over Troubled Water. The Americans are still in Vietnam. Of course, no one has heard of COVID-19. Human Coronaviruses had only been first identified a few years earlier.
We hung out throughout elementary school. When we were in eighth grade, my older brother was dating his older sister. I recall the four of us playing a board game one night when nothing was happening, but I cannot recall which one. Clue? Maybe. We went to different high schools, and saw each other infrequently. By our twenties, we had lost contact entirely.
In the 1990s, one of our former teachers was balls deep in a sex abuse scandal. I wrote about the case, here and elsewhere, in 2003. A short time later, my old friend sent me an email.
He happened to search up the case, found my article, and realized, from the dates and details, that he had to know the author. That led him to me. He and his wife (who, curiously, has the same name as the street he grew up on) and children lived on the other side of the country. We had some email contact for a time. I shared the birthday party photo. And then we returned to our lives. At some point, his email, which had been job-related, changed. So it goes.
I never did the social networking thing. The pandemic and my age have me reflecting on life, and I thought about some of the people with whom I've lost touch. I specifically thought of two of my childhood friends-- the two who appear on either side of me in that photo.
Using the magic of the invasive World Wide Web, I sussed out phone numbers for both. The other awaits for another day, though he lives and works about a three-hour's drive from me. But I left a message for the guy on the right.
He called the next day. "My wife checked the phone messages," he said, "and asked me, 'Do you know a JD?' 'JD? Yeah. I haven't seen him since I was in school.'" He wondered if it might be some kind of life-and-death matter.
"No. Things are good. Well, I mean, there's this whole global pandemic thing."
"We haven't been in touch since the early part of the century. We're in our fifties. I figure we should catch up at least once a decade, right?"
He laughed. So we talked about our lives, identified the elementary school classmates who have died (we know of four, but there may be more), and general matters. I mentioned my forthcoming book-- he's read some of my past published fiction. He dragged up the grade five class Christmas party where a group of us dressed up like idiots and sang modified carols that referenced our school, our jokes within the range of decorum, but pushing it enough to get laughs.
That was, I realize, the same school year that a certain then-young teacher, the one who taught the other Grade Five class, received the first of many suspicious transfers, and landed at our school.
My old friend's children are young adults.
My mother and both his parents passed away around the same time.
We've exchanged emails and cell numbers.
With the current pandemic somewhat in retreat, neighbours turn up on the sidewalk and stop to talk, still keeping a distance. That black cat someone on the street acquired last year stopped by and let me pet her. I recall her crossing under the streetlight last Halloween, as though she knew she was creating a perfect memory for the trick-or-treating kids. The unseasonal weather in these parts has turned, and we've had signs of summer, clear days, blue sky with a perfect sunset.
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Life and death make their point. I no sooner finish this daylog than the e-mail arrives. A work colleague of mine has died.