Earlier this week a good friend from high school died of cancer. We’d lost touch about 20 years ago — sometime in the early 90s — but for more than 10 years we were very close, though high school, college and our early adult years.
I won’t lay claim to grief. That emotion belongs to his family and the friends for whom he was a daily presence, not a just a deeply cherished memory.
But I am profoundly sad.
Sad because the world has lost a good, kind and true man. A friend you could rely on — and we relied on each other a lot during those years we were close.
Sad because there are now things about me that no one else living will remember because they were moments or thoughts or feelings that were only shared with him. My memory of the last time we saw each other is fuzzy; although I think it was for dinner at a Bertucci’s in South Boston, I’m not entirely sure. The only other person who would remember is my friend. And I can’t ask him.
As is the way, my memory of earlier times is much clearer. We both loved good food. I remember making spaghetti carbonara with him in his apartment in New Haven. And steak au poivre from the French Chef cookbook one New Year’s Eve many years ago. And galettes and croque-monsieurs and hours playing backgammon and drinking black coffee (and sometimes mulled wine) at cafés in Rennes during our year at School Year Abroad.
I remember his first pets. Because I was responsible. A cat that had been living in my mom’s house (but not her cat) had four kittens, in her house, and we feared the owners would treat the babies as badly as they had the mother. I was still in college at the time, and escaped from my mom’s with the kittens barely an hour before the owners showed up looking for them. I intended to keep two, and had convinced my friend to take one, but didn’t have a home for the fourth. There was no way I could have three kittens in a tiny dorm room, so my friend (who had an apartment) kept two, naming them Grand Marnier (Marnie) and Sambucca (Bucca). My kittens had the more prosaic names of Mischief and Trouble.
His sister friended me on Facebook about a year ago, for which I am very grateful, as I was able to follow his story this past year through what she shared on Facebook. I’d half-hoped to hear from him after she reached out, but also understand why I did not, respected it and never pushed the issue.
In December, her updates made it clear that things were worsening, and for the past week, it seemed like everywhere I turned, I was hearing music that reminded me of him.
Because my friend loved to dance. So many of my memories of him are related to dancing and music. At the AfLatAm dances in Andover our Lower Middle year, at clubs in France during our SYA year in 1978-79 and then later during college and the years after when we would get together.
Just after Christmas driving north to finish retrieving the last of my personal belongings from what is now my ex’s house, I heard the Commodores’ Brick House and I was 16 again, at an AfLatAm dance on a Saturday night.
And then, watching the film Ruby Sparks with my family, I heard — for the first time in years — Plastic Bertrand’s Ça plane pour moi, which was hugely popular when we were in France.
The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, even if you speak French, but a good translation of “ça plane pour moi” is “things are going well for me.”
And that is my hope for you, mon cher ami — that, wherever “after” takes us, “ça plane pour toi.”