There for Me

I have an awful lot of good people in my life. Today I’m going to introduce four of them to you: Nathan, Caleb, Jayda and Tom.

Well, Nathan was living across the street when we moved in, so meeting him was inevitable. When my mom did take me over to see who my future friend was to be, he grinned at me from his doorway. I must not have given him the sort of grin he expected back, because he then walked on over and brought his foot down on my toes. Such was the beginning of a long friendship.

We had our hideout in Nathan’s basement, where the TV and the computer reigned over us in all their splendid light and color. The carpet was thick and itchy under my elbows as I lay on my belly like a prostrate vassal. It was Jason and the Argonauts, or the WWF- this well before they changed the initials to avoid confusion with the World Wildlife Fund.

Or it would be the Playstation that kept us enthralled- sneaking around with Solid Snake or being extraordinarily contrary with Squall. With the controller in my hands, I was somewhere else, someone else. I had the power to interact with my world, through Nathan’s basement, in ways that my observer’s nature would never permit in reality. In a sense, I was setting the stage for character development of my own: making choices and judging values, my sense of self growing more intricate through the playing-out of endless scenarios.

When it wasn’t the screen that held our attention, it was Nathan’s backyard pool, or water guns or homemade board games or long hot bike rides. Nathan was my first and best neighborhood friend.

Doug Anderson is a friend of my dad’s from their teenage days. Fortunately for us all, from his marriage there came a son exactly my own age. It was a friendship written amongst the stars. In fact, my first exposure to Star Wars took place in the walls of the Anderson home. This particular fellow’s name was Caleb, and we became playmates from the first after-Sunday School hangout onward.

Our friendship really has been, for the most part, centered around church. When I finally stopped going, the strain on our friendship was difficult. In some ways, its existence was diminished for good. But there were golden years, countless hours rolling by in the comfortable retreat of Caleb’s bedroom, or at large at Hope Valley Day Camp. We counselled together, we took counsel together. A deep sense of empathy and communication that I have seldom experienced was born between us.

I miss those days, sometimes, if only for the intimacy of that particular union. Caleb was, and is, irreplaceable in his own right. That red-headed, guitar-playing, Bible-thumping dude holds firmly to a portion of my experience and personal development- and, of course, my heart.

Jayda- my very first Asian friend. Vague confusion filled my soul when I encountered her the first time- wonder at the differences between us. To this day I am not sure what secrets lie in the deep pools of her Japanese spirit. Any fear I had of the unknown, however, was dispelled once I got to know this sweet, fun and tender girl.

From the exchange of grade school Valentines to shooting pool at her mom’s, Jayda became my rock to confide in during some of the most difficult- and some of the most exciting- times of my life. Jayda has always been a gracious hostess- or co-hostess with Shannon, her mom. Parties at Jayda’s always managed to be low-key and pleasant; even going for an afternoon visit tends to put me more at ease than alcohol ever did. Shannon and Jayda- and let’s not forget little sis!- always made pleasant company in sharing their home. Looking into a family dynamic from outside is a hard thing indeed, but I think that Jayda and her mom must make each other very proud.

I took Jayda to prom. We were going to drive in on my moped, but for some reason that fell through. I don’t truly remember what restrained us from that astonishing plan. In any case, I sold my moped that summer and was never again to feel the adrenaline of its fifty kilometer speed cap. But we got to prom somehow, and Jayda was of course gorgeous in a silk dress and I did my best to be a sharp date. Now, as not a few of you may know- and some of us even before we had a right to know- my prom date was gay. So although there was dancing and carrying on of all kinds, there was no necking that night.

And then there’s Tom. It was Tommy back then, Tommy K. Like Jayda, Tom was with me from Kindergarten on up. He was a playmate from the hay forts in summer to the water works in springtime, from the leaf forts in fall to- what else?- the snow forts in winter. Do you see a bit of a pattern? This boy stuff was the meat and potatoes of a little guy’s recess. But Tom also played kissy tag, a cootie-ridden activity I never stooped to.

We had another activity for which we were, in a small way, famous. We called it Adventures. I think I might have instigated the practise, but Tom took it to a level of his own. We would start with an idea for a story, and one of us would take on the role of narrator. From there it unwound like one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure novels- the narrator would present a situation and various choices, and the participant would decide what to do with that. We made so many walking tours of the schoolyard in the process of these intense discussions, we could have worn a path. Recess after recess, the story would develop- I went in for the humorous spin, while Tom had a preference for the thriller. He did Silent Hill one time, and I had nightmares.

Fast forward a ways, past early high school, past rowing, past my most Christian years- during which I lost touch to some extent with my man Tom- and into my senior year. I had come a long way through a number of personal journeys, emerging to find Tom as fine and steadfast a friend as ever. It was heartening. We made the party circuit together, quietly drinking our beers and laughing at the foolishness of fools. We got a job together when school let out- and I will tell you about the Wheels sometime, but only once I’ve sorted out a way to do that without slander. We had a great time, though, surrounded by hapless out of towners in our dilapidated domain. And nearly every day ended with a cold one in Tom’s hereditary river paradise.

These were some of the most special individuals from my childhood. Some remain with me- some were lost to the dark magic of growing up. All of them abide with me still, in some way. To each one of you: Nathan, Caleb, Jayda, Tom: thank you for being there for me.

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