#header-inner { margin: auto; text-align: center; }

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finding Neverland

Yesterday I received an e-mail from an old high school friend that another old friend died. Joel was the first bad boy I ever knew. When we were nine years old, we were assigned seats next to each other in the cafeteria, and two seemingly very different children became friends. He was a wild boy; I was a good little girl. He was smart but he hated worksheets, so he didn't do them; I worked hard to make all E's. He cussed; I was a teacher's pet. He passed around a homemade Playboy magazine in a pink folder and got suspended from the fourth grade ; I practiced my dance routine to "Up, Up and Away" for the school talent show.

Maybe our odd-couple friendship was based on the fact that we both came from terribly dysfunctional families, a fact I didn't realize until we were in high school. Or maybe it was just that we shared such an irreverent sense of humor. Whatever it was, we talked. A lot. We talked at lunch and later, when boys started calling girls in the sixth grade, we'd talk for hours on the phone. I have no memory of what we talked about, but he made me laugh, and, no matter how bad his reputation was, he was always sweet to me.

The first time he invited me to go to the fair with him in seventh grade, I realized he had a little bit of a crush on me. I wanted to go with him. I told him I would go, but I chickened out at the last minute. Girls like me just did not go places with bad boys like Joel. He didn't hold it against me, though. The next day at school he brought me a stuffed animal he'd won, and once a year, after that, he'd invite me to the fair, I'd turn him down, and the next day he'd bring me another stuffed animal. Until tenth grade. By then I'd started dating other boys and gotten all involved with prissy things like painting banners for football games and high school formals. Joel spent most of his time riding around smoking pot and trying to score harder stuff. When he transferred to another high school our senior year, I barely noticed.

After high school, I went to college. Joel didn't, and I never saw him again. My e-mail yesterday said that he'd died after a long battle with heroin addiction. In 1980 he was arrested for a simple assault charge and tried to hang himself in jail. The guards cut him down, but not until after he'd suffered brain damage. The next twenty years consisted of one halfway house after another and then finally a nursing home. And then he died.

It's surprising how much I remember about him after so long. I remember a small, skinny boy with shaggy dark blond hair, a grin, and a gleam in his eyes. I remember that he lent me his coat on cold days on the playground. I remember that, in sixth grade, we made a bet about who was taller and, when we were measured for graduation to junior high school, we were nearly the exact same size: 4' 11" tall. I weighed 68 pounds and Joel outweighed me at a whopping 74 pounds. I remember the raspy sound of his laugh when his voice changed. His eyes were green and his middle name was Alan. I remember his red suede Converse All-Stars, his flannel shirts, the shape of his eyebrows and that "Like A Rolling Stone" was his favorite song. I remember when we were studying Great Expectations in the ninth grade and he managed to wake up long enough to read the part of one of the thieves aloud with a ridiculous, hilarious Cockney accent. I remember Joel laughing.

A lot of people I've cared about have died. I feel worse about Joel than anyone else, except my father and a sixteen year old member of my cheerleading squad. Why do I remember Joel in such excruciating detail? I think it's because, even at the age of nine, our souls recognized each other, and we tried to take care of each other just a little bit. Joel didn't get to do what he was supposed to do in life. He didn't get something he needed to make him whole. Joel had goodness and joy in him. He just needed help bringing it out.

I wish he'd had a happier life. I wish he'd found hope. I wish I'd gone to the fair and eaten cotton candy and ridden the double ferris wheel with him just once.

13 comments:

Kim Mailhot said...

What beautiful and deep memories you have of this soul friend. May they help you through your sadness.

Sharon said...

Wow, what a touching memory and thank you for sharing it. I will be thinking about Joel all day.

Giggles said...

Sadly this was probably a child that fell between the cracks. He was a good soul probably raised by not such good souls. There was a boy in grade one who choked me, years down the road he hung himself in jail. My mom did his grandmothers hair, he was a very abused little boy and acted out in the worst way at school. All Joel's actions were probably just a little boys cry for attention....how sad...he learned what he lived... Thanks for keeping his sweet spirit alive!! You are a true kind heart!

Love Sherrie

J and Z said...

oh Al, I'm so sorry...it sounds like you were a good little friend to him...I'm sorry he had it so rough....my thoughts and a hug to you over the magic waves....

Alberta and Ava said...

Thank you all for your words of comfort. It helps, I promise you, that you, whom I've never even met in person, cared enough to take the time to write to me.

All my Love,
Alberta

Faye said...

Alberta, I am so sorry that Joel died before he could live all he could be. I can feel the hurt and regret in your words. I had a similar friend in elementary school. He died in an auto wreck in his 30s. The memory of the sweet early years hasn't gone. It's good that you recall with such vividness the kindness Joel had for you and you for him.

The colors in your arch are beautiful.

herminesplace said...

Beautiful arch for a touching story.

Anonymous said...

I don't see an e-mail link so I'm going to post thisin here - my normal behavior with blogs is to keep the sounds off. But the other day I stumbled in here while you were playing Safety Dance and I was SO happy with that choide - too cool. And Depeche Mode today to go along with the art work - well, it's just genius. So now there is ONE blog where I will leave the music on. Love your art, love your taste in music. Thanks for the inspiration.
Kathy

Flassie's Fil'a said...

{{{Tears & Hugs}}}

Rosie said...

How sad - you made me cry. You have beautiful memories and a few regrets for this boy... I think he will always be with you in your heart and at least you know what happened to him. Please don't be too sad...

Staci Danford said...

Wow.. What a touching memory. It reminds me so much of my brother (who is also dead). He too never quite found the joy within himself. He got wrapped up in drugs and the crowd that goes with that. Seems so hard for people to get out of that once they are in. I too wonder if a few moments in our lives were different and if I'd done a couple of things another way that maybe time could have become his friend rather than his stalking demon. I just trust that somewhere... there is a bigger picture to this that I have yet to see.

Tami Bayer said...

Such a beautiful post. Every pain life gives us brings growth in some way. I hope you find comfort in the happy memories you have of Joel.

Barbara Hagerty said...

Oh! I ache for you, and for the couple of "Joels" in my life, too! XOXO