The transition from childhood to adolescence, though tightly chaperoned by physical distance, would occasionally find us in the same space attempting to shed innocence, but failing from all angles.
At 16, a 1969 Chevy Malibu Convertible muted the distance between us with the roar of it’s souped up engine. He and I became “He and I,” riding a roller coaster with no line and only two seats. He rode with arms high and loose, smiling himself sore, laughing himself hoarse, while I held on for dear life, wincing nervously, “are we there yet?”
At 18, he used to call me from a payphone with a pocket full of dimes around 11:30 every night after leaving his job as a fry cook. I’d wait by my pink princess phone for the laughter to come. And it always did. I still start out sleeping on my right side, toward a phone I haven’t seen in more than two decades.
He squeezed every possible ounce of joy and hilarity from each moment, even those spent in front of a vat of hot oil. Always with a smile, a laugh, a joke.
At 20, he was living his dream of being a working “triple threat” (Singer, Actor, Dancer). At his funeral later that year, I overheard people saying, “…so sad,” “…he was just getting started,” “…just too young to die,” and other appropriate fillers of unwanted silence in response to a young person’s passing.
Twenty-five years later, I’ve graduated to the realization that he may have died young, but this kid really lived his whole life. Twenty full years of ending every sentence with an exclamation point, riding all life’s ups and downs with arms high and loose, and never even thinking to ask “are we there yet?”
(In memory of Jay M. 1968-1988.)