I haven’t spoken to him since 2002. We didn’t have a fight or a falling out or anything spectacular like that; he just went about doing grownup things his way, and I went about doing grownup things my way. Recently, after a conversation with my wife, who knew him back in the day, I began to scour the Internets for him. It was shortly thereafter that he found me on Facebook. As is the case when rediscovering old friends through social networking, I took a look around his life, and that’s when I found a picture of his teenage daughter.
She’s not the first child I know who’s grown up in the blink of an eye. There’s my ten-year-old niece, my best man’s twelve-year-old daughter, and my favorite college professor’s now sixteen-year-old son, for example. I don’t know why—most likely because I’ve had the pleasure of watching them transform—but seeing this young lady as a young lady really got under my skin, and it brought a lot back.
In my collegiate youth, I was kind of (okay, very) moody. I’ve come to discover that this is a medical condition, but at that time, I just cycled and assumed I spent about half of my waking life as an asshole.
Halfway through my sophomore year, in early 1996, I hit an upswing, cut my hair, wore some clothes with color, strapped on some confidence (albeit temporarily), and made some new friends. One of these had a freshman boyfriend who I knew I wasn’t going to get along with at all. For starters, he was a football player. Also, he was fit, both in athleticism and in the British sense of the word (i.e. hot); he was super-intelligent; and he was charming. Worst of all, he was genuinely kind, principled, and honest. So of course I hated him. And in no time at all, we were laughing, drinking, and smoking cigars together.
That spring, I arranged to move into some off-campus, college-owned apartments, and I asked him to be my roommate. We found out quickly that sophomores were not permitted to live off campus, even in college-owned apartments. He persuaded the Dean of Housing to make an exception for him. (Have I mentioned that he was really, really persuasive?)
Late summer, as football camp started up, he moved in, and he spent the next several weeks educating me on the finer points of the sport (which I’d never put much thought into before) and of East Coast versus West Coast (and “Mid Coast”— a term he invented) hip-hop. And all was good, until just before classes began, and his on-and-off-again girlfriend from back home was pregnant.
So he did what any teenager would do: he quit the football team, brought her to his current home, found an apartment, found a job, and became a husband.* These things, of course, were all tricky: the first item because that robbed him of much of his financial assistance and social life; the second because he was asking her to leave her entire life behind to come to a place she knew nobody; the third because this was a college town, and there weren’t a lot of places to live for a family; the fourth because he would be supporting all two and a half of them, as well as his education, alone. The final proved to be exceptionally difficult, in that it cut him off from even more of his social life (at that age, nobody, including myself, understood why he would do all this). Also, his father, and his brother, aka his best man, were stranded in Colorado.
The morning of his wedding, my friend showed up at my (formerly our) apartment, handed me a tuxedo, and said, “There’s been a change of plans.” If you’ve ever met this guy, you’d know that “There’s been a change of plans” coming from his mouth is the second most chilling phrase in the English language—the first being “We need to talk” coming from the mouth of a partner or spouse. And so I became his best man. To this day, pulling a toast out of my ass for the reception is one of my top-five achievements.
They immediately became a unit. His identity was entirely husband and father; hers was entirely wife and mother; and this diminished them in no way whatsoever. In fact, it strengthened them. Most importantly, this unit was my friend.
Our lives back then, as they are now, were separate from each other. For me the following years were full of turmoil, joy, and discovery. It was in the last year of college that I lost control over most of my life. His home (it wasn’t an apartment; it was a home) was safe. One of my favorite memories of that time, sitting cross-legged in the sun, chatting with her and watching the baby roll over. I don’t remember when exactly that was in my history, because the rest of that chaotic life didn’t exist inside those doors. Together, the three of them were vital to my survival back then, in ways I’ve never before expressed.
I graduated, only barely; I became lost in my parents’ house; I became a man in New York; I became an adult and husband in my wife’s arms. Even though I’ve regenerated countless times, they’re the same: Her blue eyes are full of joy and excitement, even when she’s tired; his eyes are relaxed and confident; and the eyes of their baby, now a young woman, is full of life. They’re still a unit, and I can’t describe, no matter how much I want to, how happy that makes me.
* Ha! Just kidding! Nobody would do that!