"Your off work on the thursday, right?"
"I want you to help me indulge in nostalgia."
"I want us to drive around to our old houses and reminisce."
"Oh, okay, cool."
This was about two weeks ago. I was staying with Joe, my best friend from junior high and the beginning of high school in Martinez, CA. In some ways he's stayed my best friend, even though we had almost no contact for almost 8 years. He joined the Navy about the same time I moved to Twin Oaks. He'd gotten married and after getting out they moved back to Martinez. He and his wife had just had their first child.
When I was 13 my parents divorced and I moved with my mother to Martinez, a suburb of the East Bay. A couple months into junior high I'd only made one friend and I was miserable. This was a continuation of 3 years of being mostly friendless and miserable in Chico, CA while my family was falling apart.
I don't remember meeting Joe. He started the school year a couple months late. Just all of a sudden he was in my gym class and we were joking and carrying on like we'd been friends for years. We were best friends for 3 years. Then life got complicated, as it will when you're a teenager - we half drifted and half tore ourselves apart.
"Oh, remember the wreck we had on our bikes here!" We were driving down the hill next to the Shell oil refinery (right smack in the middle of town), along the route we rode our bikes every school day for two years of junior high.
"Yeah! Man, that fucking bus! He totally crossed over the white line."
"Yeah, and your handle bar went into the open window."
"I went down, then you hit my bike and you went down."
"We were so torn up! Remember going back to my house - I got out the hydrogen peroxide. We were like, oh shit, just do it!"
A little further down the road...
"Oh, and we had another wreck here!"
"Yeah, my brakes went out! I smashed into you from behind and flew into the intersection - I'm lucky I'm alive!"
A right turn, a little further... "Oh shit, they're developing up on that hill." "Yeah, they bought out some guy who lived up there and torn his house down." Another right...
"Wow, you still take these turns like you live here," I said.
"Man, I drive past here on my way home from work if I stop at the Lucky's up there, and half the time I just turn down here automatically. I'm such a creature of habit. I'll just drive up, check out the nieghborhood."
I'd gotten back to the Bay Area a few days before our jaunt down memory lane. I'd come from doing another 10 day mediation retreat, which is where I'd gotten the idea to do this. I'd thought about how amazing my friendship with Joe is. What different paths we'd taken! And yet, despite the differences in our lifestyles, I feel more acceptance and love from and for him then with any other friend of mine. Really, we're family, in the best kind of way. And despite his very conventional, mainstream lifestyle, Joe is an amazingly radical person.
He works as a cable repair guy. He realizes TV is a drug that keeps people seperate from each other and helps prevent them from getting together and making their lives better. But when he fixes someone's cable, they're so appreciative. And customers often talk to him in such an open way, clearly craving human contact, and he likes being able to meet people and connect with them. He is possibly the most generous, good-natured, and well-meaning person I know.
He's aware of all the shit put in processed food. Having grown up a quarter mile from a Shell oil refinery and suffered from asthma as a child he's conscious of environmental issues. He's aware of economic injustice - he would love to raise his family in his home town, but it's too expensive. When we saw each other in March for the first time in about 6 years one of the first questions he asked me was, "how can we take all the stuff you're doing in your community and use it to help change society?"
He has a very pragmatic view of reality. It's just the way it is. Yeah, shit's fucked up, but, "I was raised to want a family, and buy a house, and I don't know how to do anything different."
Cherisa, his wife, is also amazing. She's very kind, level-headed, and intelligent. I'd crashed at there place for one night before going to the meditation course. "What did you guy's do with willow around vaccines?" she asked.
"Well, the first time he steps on a nail we'll give him a tetnus shot. Other then that, nothing. There are a couple we might end up doing later on. Why?"
"I heard some stuff about the perservatives they use in vaccines, and the increasing number of vaccines they give kids at early ages, and how it's liked it increased rates of SIDS and autism. We refused them"
By the time I got back she'd done extensive research, including pending law suites in Japan and the UK. Saying I was impressed is an understatement.
"We decided to get him the same vaccines on the same schedule that we got when we were kids." I've also been very impressed and appreciative at how immediatly accepting and welcoming she's been of this weird-ass, fuckin' hippy friend of her husband.
We drove to Joe's old house at the end of the culdasac at the top of the hill. "It's weird seeing the garage door down," he said.
"Yeah, no one ever used the front door. If the garage door was down I knew no one was home."
Back down at the bottom of the hill...
"We spent so much time skateboarding down here."
"God, you were so sprung over Mary, and she played you so hard!" I said. "You know, Cherissa is so great. You had so many crazy fuckin' relationships! I'm really glad you got over that and got into a good one."
"Yeah, she's so good for me - we really balance each other," he said. "Hey, and didn't you and Cynthia hang out here a lot too?"
"Yeah, this is where we met. You and I were down here skating and she was walking home from school. You know, it was like with you. I don't remember meeting her - just all of a sudden we were talking away like we'd known each other forever."
Cynthia's house was on the next street down. "Man, you spent so much time sitting on that front step with her!"
"Wow... I was so in love with her. On some level I'm still totally in love with her." Cynthia and I had been together for three years, not an especially long time for adults, but a veritable eternity as teenagers. We stil love each other, but... well, that's for a future post.
"Oh yeah, you always will be. Those kinds of feelings don't just go away."
"But god, it's so weird. Other people live in our houses! And we live these totally different lives. It's like none of it ever happened."
We drove the half mile across town to my old house. "We never really hung out here," I said.
"Yeah, I was scared of your step-dad!" Joe said, half-seriously, laughing. "But it was so cool when he'd pick us up from school in his silver cop car!"
"Yeah, and things were so hard with my mom and I. I didn't really want to be there." During the three years of our most involved friendship I ate more meals at Joe's house then my own.
"Hey let's drive by the high school." Two blocks before the we got there we passed San Vicente, the adult education center. Two groups of people were standing near the street, one on the sidewalk, the other in the parking lot, seperated by a short chain-link fence. Several were screaming and gesticulating wildly at each other - a conflict between a group of young San Vicente students and older Alhambra High School students. As we waited for the light to change the exchange intensified and the Alhambra students started jumping over the fence. The students who'd been watching from across the street in the Safeway parking lot ran through the halted traffic to get a closer view.
"Oh my god, that guy has a baseball bat!" But within seconds we heard a police siren and saw the squad car turn down the sidestreet. The bat disappeared under a car - the Alhambra students disappeared back across the street.
"You know, things just seem so important when you're a teenager," I said. " And, I mean, sometimes they are. I spent a lot of time helping Cynthia deal with her emotionally abusive family."
"Yeah, do you remember when you and Andy quit the band and we didn't talk for like 6 months?"
"Yeah... I don't even remember why things were so hard."
"I was being a total asshole. My dad was drinking every night and yelling at me. I would run away like every other night. He'd figure out where I was and call, crying, begging me to come home..."
"I didn't know that," I said.
"Yeah, then there was that day that your mom gave me a ride home, and I just broke down and cried and told her everything, and she talked to you and got you to talk to me. But your right, you know - now it's like, we've got kids and families! It's just a whole different level of concerns."
We drove through downtown, remembering various other friends, events. I'm not really very prone to nostalgia. In fact I can be pretty callous when it comes to the past. But this journey served a purpose for both Joe and I, completing something left undone. We'd shared so many experienced but never really talked about them. Now we shared a common understanding, aligning our lives more closely. Barriers I hadn't even really realized were there were dropping away...
Okay, I'm going to stop there before I totally disolve into a gooey puddle of sentimental cliche ;0)