Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Smiles From Heaven


Photo credit: Ratterrell

We met in grade one. For the longest time, I always said we met in Kindergarten, and every time he'd gently correct me.

"Don't you remember?" he'd laugh, "You fell out of your chair."

His brown eyes would smile back at me as he went on, "You fell out of your chair one day, and Chad and I argued over who would help you up. Each of us thought we were the better gentleman, and only one of us could do the job. You sat there, and waited."

I did vaguely remember, and by that point in the story I'd begin to giggle.

"I don't remember who won," I'd tell him.

"I think you finally just got yourself up," he admitted. "But we played that game a lot in grade one."

Roger was one of my first school friends, and definitely the first boy that I ever remember playing with at recess. Flying across the grass on the field, we created imaginary games of wizards, princesses, knights, and sharks in giant puddle moats. We shared recess snacks and our fear of Mrs. M, the seemingly ornery teacher who kept her windows open even when the weather turned frigid.

Part way through the year the school held an open house. There were cake walks and auctions, but somehow both Roger and I found ourselves at a make shift "movie theater". He had a few nickels, and invited me to join him.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. Curled up on the old blue gym mats the covered the floor, we shared a bag of buttery popcorn as the ancient movie reel played Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham." I'm not sure what it was about that moment, but I know that as I sat there with him, this little boy who was my friend and who had invited me, a girl, to join him instead of the boys that he normally played with, I felt special. All it took was that single kind gesture and our friendship was cemented then and there as Sam I am extolled the virtues of Green Eggs and Ham.

Years passed. We both began to grow, and slowly, things began to change. Boys and girls stop playing with each other so freely, social dynamics begin to rule the classroom, and by grade five, I decided I needed a change, and so I switched schools.

Roger and I didn't see each other much again until our last two years of high school. We had been distant acquaintances then for a long time, but I suddenly found myself sitting behind him in English class, following along as the class read Shakespeare. Aloud.

Roger, being a drama student, read his parts in funny voices with such gusto that the entire class would gasping for breath from laughing so hard. Notes began appearing on my desk and that entire year, we passed bits of paper back and forth-usually lighthearted jokes that more than once came close to getting me in trouble. Our friendship, cemented back on that day in grade one, had never changed; we just both took some time to grow up and figure ourselves out before finding friendship again. We never really spoke about our "movie date", as it came to be called, with anyone else.

Graduation came and went. I dated, and almost married, his best friend. Then, inexplicably, we lost touch.

I'm not sure how it happened; we both chased our dreams and somehow, we never could find each other again. Children, marriages, heartbreak, life happened, all without being able to share it, and in the stillness of the night, many times I typed his name into Google and hit search, hoping that he would magically appear. Every time, there was nothing.

I read my baby "Green Eggs and Ham", and thought of him.

The baby grew into a two year old who would wander through the house dressed in my pink apron, with a tiny toy skillet and plastic Easter Eggs, offering to cook Green Eggs and Ham for anyone who would take them.

Did he have kids? Was he married?

Finally, not that long ago I found him on Facebook and so thrilled at finding him, but unsure of how to act after so many years, I played it cool. I didn't say much or send many messages, and our friendship seemed to have dissolved into some virtual version of a wave across a room now and then.

In late August the boy I almost married; Roger's best friend in high school, broke the news that everyone but me seemed to know.

Roger was dying of lung cancer.

All I could think of were the years; those precious years that we both missed, that I had wanted so badly to be his friend but couldn't find him, and then I did but had taken for granted that he'd always be there. Not able to stand it anymore, I sent him a Facebook message saying that I knew and more than anything, I cared. I didn't care at that point if I looked stupid or if he thought I was weird, because when someone you care deeply about is dying, caution is tossed to the wind like confetti at a wedding.

(Edited to add: This wasn't in any way, shape, or form, romantic love. That never factored into the picture-when you grow up with a group of people from Kindergarten to graduation, there is something that bonds you. Maybe it's the common experience; I don't really know, but there is a special place in my heart for each and every person I went through elementary school with. Almost like we are, in some way, family. I have another friend who has cancer in her life and if I have learned anything over the past year, it's not to run when someone you care about has cancer. Instead, step up and tell them what they mean to you because while it is heartbreaking, it's equally amazing. I just could not let the opportunity to tell him what a great friend he had been go by. )

He wrote back soon after, and soon it was like English class all over again, sending notes to each other on virtual slips of paper. One night in particular, we both wound up on chat and despite the fact that my eyes were bleary and I was dead tired, we talked well into the night.

The conversation transported both of us back to grade one again, when life was simple, dreams came true, and there was no such thing as cancer.

"You know, you do have the honor of being my very first movie date," I typed. I longed to tell him how that moment was my favorite child hood memory; the innocence of two small children sharing a bag of popcorn over Dr. Seuss, but I refrained. He'd probably think it was silly, I thought.

Roger died on a cold Sunday in November, only 2 1/2 short months after my first message. He was 39 years old, and a much loved husband, father, son, cousin, and friend.

An email arrived to my inbox the next day with the news. I read the words slowly, digesting them bit by bit as fat tears rolled in a continuous stream down my cheeks.

"He always said that his favorite memory of you was your big movie date."

There was a patch of blue sky outside my window, and while the rest of the heavens seemed to be as gray and sad as my heart, the sun broke through and lit the raindrops like a disco ball, sending shards of light in every direction. A smile slowly spread across my lips through the tears that fell with the rain.

I didn't have to tell him.

He had felt the same way too.

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