(tl;dr. Unless you’re bored.;))
Do any of you remember the final scene in Stand By Me, where Richard Dreyfus’ character is writing the end of his story. He doesn’t speak, but he writes this line: “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Michael.
After I finished first grade in 1988, my parents decided I was meant to be homeschooled. I was a classic social phobia: terrified of people, crowds and any place that wasn’t home. Problem was, my parents both worked full time and weren’t willing to take the time off to teach me. Not to mention I doubt either one was organized enough to pull it off if they had tried.
So they put an ad in the paper. They wanted someone who was currently homeschooling their kids to take me on as a student. They wanted a full-time tutor, basically. This was when I was 6, so I wasn’t paying much attention, all I remember is I HATED school.
One day we went for a ride. My parents took me to a house a few miles down the road. We got out, rang the doorbell, and were greeted at the door by a cheery woman. Hiding behind her legs was a girl my age. We visited for a bit, and every so often the woman, who’s name was Susan, would gently holler into the other room “come on out, it’s ok.” “Don’t worry, these are our new friends.” She was trying to coax her son, who would be starting kindergarten that fall, into coming out and saying hi. I still remember following her into the den, and watching her trying to coax him out. He was crouched in the footwell of a desk, hiding. He never did come out while we were there.
I don’t know what prompted Susan to take me on as a pupil, but she did. She had two kids my age, Michelle, a year older than I, and a son, Michael. Michael was considerably more shy than his big sister. My early memories of school don’t include Michael much, and I suspect its because we didn’t interact much. But as that first year wore on, Michael became more friendly, more open, and we became friends. After all, it was just the three of us kids, friendship was likely.
Now, I have a biological ‘brother’, whom I didn’t and still don’t get along with. Michael became my brother. My parents decided, after that first year, that homeschooling was right for me. I got my entire childhood education from Susan; except for first grade I never went to public school. Michael was… I don’t know how to put it. He was my philosophical twin. We would hang out, talking about everything and nothing. He became my brother, in so many ways. We had a bond stronger than blood. We liked the same music (jazz and rock - not what was popular that year) We laughed at the same stupid jokes, and both thought it sooooooo funny to talk like we were brain damaged. God, did that drive Susan nuts. We joined 4H together, entering competing projects in the county fair. (He always earned blue ribbons, I would get 'honorable mention, or some such. Asshole.) We were in Camp Fire together, and organized campouts and forest hikes for other homeschool kids. We had a blast together.
Spring 1998. I had know Michael for ten years. We had grown up together, become closer than any brothers I could have had. Susan decides that that year will be the last year she will homeschool Michael. Michelle had been going to public school for years, and I guess Michael need the experience, too. Susan offered to continue to tutor me until I graduated, but that didn’t seem right. I decided I would take my GED test and be done with school. Michael had, I think, two years left.
The last memory I have of Michael is driving him to school one day. This must have been the spring of 1998. I had my drivers license, he didn’t. Had a few more months to go. I don’t remember why I was driving him; it must have been for some meeting with the school to get prepared for the upcoming school year. Dropping him off, giving a casual “see ya, dude”, and pulling away.
That was the last time I saw my brother.
I don’t know why we didn’t call or visit that summer. I was busy taking my GED tests, then that fall started taking vo-tech classes at the community college. Why I didn’t keep in touch I do not know. Do kids think that friendships, left to themselves, will last forever? Jesus, I want to bitchslap my 17yo self.
Now, because we were homeschooled, we didn’t have a circle of friends that we could use to keep tabs on each other. Every once in a while I would run into Susan - she got a job at the local library after Michael started public school-, and she was always vague about where Michael was and what he was doing. I figured they had a falling out, so I didn’t press her for more information.
I met my wife when I was 19, she 21. Seeing her with her friends that she had since highschool not only made me jealous, but made me miss my old bud all over again. Over the years I tried to find him. I knew, from the paper, that he graduated in 2001, but that was it. Never found him on a Google search, and MySpace and later Facebook didn’t give much info. I found Michelle, but after friending her, she wouldn’t tell me much. Whatever falling out they had affected her, and they were not in contact. That was it. Wherever Michael was, if he was even still alive, was going to remain a mystery to me. I finally accepted the fact that my friend, who I was closer to than anyone before or since, was gone.
Then last night, just as I was getting ready to put my kids to bed, my phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number, but answered it anyway.
It was Michael. My brother from another mother, my spiritual and emotional doppelgänger, decided to say fuck it and give me a call. 13 and 1/2 years after waving goodbye in the highschool parking lot, my old friend called to say ‘hi’. Apparently he had copied my phone number from my MySpace page -in 2008!- and finally decided now was the time to call. Bastard is lucky I still have the same number!
I cannot even begin to describe how I feel today.
Oh, one more thing. For Christmas one year, maybe 1993 or so, Susan gave me a book. A black-covered, mass market paperback titled “The Straight Dope”. Been hooked ever since.