My Childhood Best Friend – Adios
My best friend died when I was fifteen. Jimmy was a year older but in my grade. I hate friends movies where one of them dies and the other moves through the manufactured stages of grief and ends up happy. Jimmy was supposed to go to summer camp with me but went on a family vacation instead. He was different. Jimmy was six feet tall at twelve years old and six feet six inches tall the year he died with size 13EEE shoes. I look at pictures of us together and laugh. We look like a strange comic team from a teen movie. We learned everything that young boys learn together, the good and the bad. Our moms were best friends and we were around one another from the time I was born. When my parents divorced, my mom, brother, and I lived with Jimmy’s family for almost a year. It was an experience sleeping three boys (6, 7, and 10) in a queen size bed. That is where my fear of cats developed. The family had several Siamese cats and at various times I would find one sitting on my chest intimidating me. It scared me half to death! Along with one other experience I have never liked them since. We lived with them until my mom remarried. I cannot imagine the stress and fear my mom went through during those times, but I know Jimmy and his family made it bearable and, at times, fun. We also did something that was quite common for boys in our era. We became blood brothers. My wife cringes when she hears of something so unsanitary and, in her words, dumb. We had watched some Western where this ritual was lauded and decided our friendship was just the same. So, we each cut our palm (only just enough to get bleeding…more of a scratch than a cut!) and clasped our hands together! We took that bond very seriously!
Jimmy was not academically inclined and to my limited knowledge, he may have been learning disabled. He was held back a year in school which was not uncommon then. However, he was very inquisitive and imaginative. The parental difficulties he had were always connected to this propensity. At about five, he wanted to get paint from a clogged spray paint can. He clamped the paint can tightly in a bench vise and hammered a nail in the side. An emergency room visit was necessitated to remove the paint sealing shut his eyes and nose (but he did get the paint out of the can!). We made or developed many various weapons, from blowguns to slingshots and every kind of go-kart. We hunted and fished at every opportunity. Our fathers and my stepfather encouraged and assisted that passion. One of the last memories of hunting with him was a rabbit hunt (about twelve years old). We both had single shot .22 rifles. As we were walking through the woods with me in front, I heard an exasperated groan from Jimmy. Looking around I saw only the forearm of the rifle as the only thing left. His rifle had simultaneously and completely fallen apart…not one screw or piece was still together. Funnier as the years passed.
Jimmy was a tall, gangly, sweet-natured boy, with a nose (a la Chesterton) that totally impoverished his face. When he drowned at age sixteen on an extended family visit 2,000 miles away, he was supposed to be with me at a miserable camp. My mom refused to let me go to the funeral for reasons I still resent (the reasons, not my mom). I spent most of the remaining summer in my darkened room. His parents moved back to their roots in the Northeast and where Jimmy died. His mother never really recovered. I spent the next summer with them and loved their extended family. They graciously gave me his shotgun. I still have it today.
Grief, after a time, is a funny thing. It generates the most painful and precious emotions at the same moment. I was engulfed in grief when Jimmy died. As I think of that time, my throat and chest are gripped in something akin to a mild heart attack. But the precious memories begin to massage that grip into acceptance. Jimmy and his family are some of the most wonderful memories of my childhood and early teenage years. I treasure them…I loved Jimmy as Jonathan loved David, closer than a brother. I pray that in someway Jimmy was saved through faith in Jesus Christ before he died. I miss him to this day. I have never had a friend as close (with the exception of my wife) and I realize that has been by unconscious design. I say goodbye in the way of 60s westerns: Vaya con Dios, my blood brother and friend.