Steve Alexander

Laughing with Tom
Tom and I catching up and laughing over some fun memory

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with my old friend Tom. If you ever have the chance to catch up with a friend you’ve known for 45+ years, do it.

Tom’s youngest son Jay (Jordan in the formal) and I met back in junior high school. His family moved into my neighborhood when they relocated from the Washington DC area. We (almost) instantly became friends and started hanging out whenever possible. Jay was highly intelligent, much more so than I, even more so in the arts. He was a poet, lover of theatrical music (Yes, Rush), and brought me to love Monty Python. I’m fairly certain that he memorized all of the funniest lines from the show, remembering that this was long before you could actually record and play back a TV show. His audible memorization was from a single viewing, not repeated watch, rewind, re-watch episodes.

His mom, Sarah (or was it Sara?) was a child psychologist and author of several books if memory serves me right. I was never really sure, at the time, what his father Tom did for a living. I remember that Jay was born in Quito, Ecuador when his father worked for the US State Department. There were four older sisters including the youngest of them, Jane. If I remember correctly, Jane was a freshman or perhaps a sophomore at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA when they moved in. The older sisters were Louisa, a definite 1960s free spirit, Eloise (I never knew her well) and Arabella who was a Presbyterian minister (married to Rob, a non-Presbyterian minister).

My parents became friends with Tom and Sarah through church and, of course, their boys Jay and I. We each practically lived at each other’s house. We lived almost a mile apart, but it was a very short bike ride or walk if needed. Both Jay and I were in excellent physical shape so thought nothing of the quick journey.

Reliving some painful memories, the family has had more of their share of pain over the years. Sarah was the first person I knew that suffered from and died from pancreatic cancer. She died when Jay was a sophomore in high school, at just 15 years old. Her sickness is not a big memory of mine, I just remember that it was exceptionally quick from learning about the sickness to attending her funeral at our church.

I introduced Jay to my first girlfriend, Lori. While Jay dated quite a bit, he was almost immediately infatuated with Lori, falling quickly and into 16-year old love. We often hung out as the three musketeers as they were truly my two best friends. I was happy for them and not at all jealous.

It was just a year later that Jay would also pass. I was home from school for several weeks due to a severe case of mononucleosis (AKA mono). Jay and I talked often, but he wanted to come and see me before he was to drive to Bethesda and visit his old friends for the weekend. He stopped by and we chatted for a bit before he took off for Maryland. Little did I know that I was the last person he would see when he was alive. Route 15 goes from the Harrisburg, PA area south through Gettysburg and into Emmitsburg, Maryland. At the time, the road was 4-lanes in Pennsylvania, narrowing to a 2-lane road in Maryland.

The story was that Jay fell asleep and crossed the median into northbound traffic. He hit a northbound car that had a young family. The mother and young child died in the crash. Jay lived for a few days until it was determined that he was brain dead with only the machines keeping him alive. He died shortly afterwards.

Tom and my father went to the police station / tow yard together to get the personal belongings from what was left of the car. Tom told me recently that he greatly appreciated my father for that.

I loved the fact that I was able to share a meal and share some good laughs with Tom again. At nearly 99, he is a joy to be with and am happy to say has been part of my circle of friends for over 45 years.

Last evening, I attended my 35th high school reunion. While I have attended a couple of these in the past, it was 15 years since I’ve seen most of these people in person. Facebook has certainly help close the distance gap through shared photos, stories of our children, news of our divorces, and our jobs. This closed gap made it much easier to recognize those that I hadn’t seen in person in many years. Faces were familiar, stories of kids came easily, and family photos were mostly shown on smartphones. People forgot the normal high school crap, the cliques and the rivalries over members of the opposite sex. Last night, we were all just friends.

As you might expect, some have aged better than others, and some have lived very hard lives. There were divorces, spousal deaths, and restraining orders; there were those with 30-year-old children and those with children of their own under 10 years old and those with grandchildren. There were a few faces that without a name tag, I would have never recognized. There were others that looked like slightly aged versions of my memories from high school. A couple of the girls have grown into elegant women. A couple of men were handsome as well. From what I was able to pick up, I have moved more than anyone else, and several that still live within a mile of their childhood home. I had the usual problem of trying to explain what I do for a living. “I work with computers” seemed to satisfy most, although anyone that knows me professionally, understands that this is a clear understatement of what I actually get paid to do. It didn’t matter – just that I now lived in New England, a seemingly long way from home.

We graduated from high school in 1978 which was somewhere between the drug-fueled Vietnam war protest songs and the demise of disco and “the emergence of pop, dance music and New Wave.” The 80’s on 80 channel on SiriusXM is still probably one of my favorite channels since I really didn’t have time to sit and listen to music in the late 70s. Back then, I had a 10-speed bike and a car that I borrowed from my parents. We listened to albums in our parents’ basements doing things that would have shocked our parents. But we all came out on the other side with a healthy respect for our parent’s work ethics and the need to raise some great kids.

As you might expect, we had a sad corner – where high school photos of those who had died were displayed. I knew about most, but a few photos of others that died were shocking. In a class of almost 450 students, I suppose the number of deaths was in line with statistics. In the center was the one that impacted me the most personally – my best friend Jay who died during our junior year. His family was my second family, his house my second home. I shudder to think how far Jay could have gone if he were alive today, and how much my life may have changed if he had remained a large influence in my life. The months following his fatal crash were the saddest months of my life. But I moved on and quickly grew up, remaining quite close with his family.

Probably the strangest thing last night was talking with several folks that I have known for more than fifty years. Our parents attended the same church so a group of us attended kindergarten in that church before it was mandated by the state. After all, I’m just too young to have known anyone for fifty years, right?

Cindy was a friend of a friend, with an introduction coming sometime after I took a long drive. I remember that because I went to our mutual friend’s house and remember thinking that this was one of the furthest trips I had taken with just friends – no parents involved. The friend and I knew each other well, but later grew apart. Cindy and I were instant friends & more – the attraction was very quick to develop since the trip was short. We started to call and write each other as this was in the day before email, IM, and Skype. We only saw each other a few times each year, but I spent many hours thinking about her. Okay, so why the discussion about Cindy? Well, it’s Trish’s fault…

There is a song by Trish Yearwood called The Song Remembers When. It is so accurate with my memories of Cindy.

There are a couple of songs by Fleetwood Mac that bring back instant memories of her and our time together. She and I sitting and holding each other on her basement couch, doing thing that adolescents do, getting closer by the hour. I am sitting here smiling as I write this, thinking nothing but pleasant thoughts about those times.

Cindy is an only child – at least from what I remember. Her dad was a mailman – and actually treated me with respect. He knew that Cindy was happy with me, and that was really all that he cared about. I don’t remember her mom much, but knew that it was a loving home. Many years later, I ran into someone from that small town who knew her Dad – and they related the warm kindness that I always felt in their home.

I don’t recall why we broke up, but have no bad memories from that time. I believe that it was a logistical issue – we lived an hour apart and really had to work hard to get to see each other. Oh yes, we were young, car-less and poor. It’s the sucky part about growing up.

We lost touch.

Times changed and the Internet was created by Al Gore and people-search engines were created. Cindy was located.

We’ve chatted via email a few times since then, always leaving me with a smile. I heard that she was divorced from an awful man, and is now married to a wonderful one. How someone could treat this woman poorly just amazes me. When asked if she remembered me, she said, “Yes, you’re the one that got away.”

I hope you’re happy now – God knows you deserve it!