Old Friends. Memory brushes the same years. Silently sharing the same fear.
(Lyric to “Old Friends/Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel)
This is a story that has taken a while to tell. It’s not that it is really a bullying story, but it is a story of how a single friend can lift you up out of the darkness that was the years of bullying. In the dark days of the years that I was bullied it was hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It seemed like the torture and cruelty would go on forever. When you are young, that’s just the way it feels. Time passes so much more slowly. When you are older, ten years passes in the blink of an eye.
If you have a positive childhood, this is a great thing. When you are in the midst of bullying every day, starting a new day can be extremely difficult. But, I hope this story will show the light that you can’t always see in front of you. In fact it was three years after I moved away from Lexington, away from bullying, that I met the friend that made me realize that the negative days were behind me and positive days were ahead. I had to be patient and wait, but it did happen.
Sophomore year of High School I met Steve. Steve was a goofy guy, always trying to be a joker and falling asleep in class to the chagrin of our teachers. We had Geometry class together and he kept me entertained. We didn’t start as good friends, just friends who saw each other in class. He had his group of friends and I had made some through the activities I got involved in. I wasn’t very social in school activities and still felt a little like an outsider when it came to going to school sports or dances. Steve changed all that.
He dragged me to football games. Steve was the guy who painted himself in school colors and cheered loudly. I was not. He made me get up and be loud. He took me to build the class float when it wasn’t even on my mind. We went to 7-11 every day for a Big Gulp and hot dog. I still get sick thinking about those. He introduced me to his friends, who became my friends too and we’d hang out at each other’s house listening to music or watching movies. He dragged me to laser tag and other fun activities. Some time during my Senior Year of High School, I realized he had become my best friend. It culminated in our winning the coveted Spirit Stick at the Homecoming Football game for being the loudest cheer group at the game. A large picture of that ended up on the Homecoming page of the yearbook. Who knew when things were bad for me some years back that I would end up there.
As High School wound down, it hit me that I was going to a college that he wasn’t and we would not see each other that often. After High School we went to the beach for a week together with a bunch of people. One of the best weeks I can ever recall. Then I headed to college and for a year, only saw Steve a few times when I returned home. I thought our friendship would drift apart as many High School ones do once it’s over. I came home after my Freshman year of college and Steve announced to me he was transferring to my college. We were both pretty excited about that and looking forward to regaining our friendship through college. Little did I know what would happen next.
While Steve was able to transfer to my school, he forgot to find a place to live. On-campus housing was full and school started in a week. He had no time to find a place to live. We brainstormed for a while. I had moved into an apartment off campus. Since he was stuck I told him he could sleep on my floor in my room while he searched for a place. School started and there we were, sharing a room, just like a dorm. We stayed up well into the night having ridiculous intellectual (or so we thought) discussions. We laughed quite a bit too. Finally after a semester, we both realized we didn’t want to change a thing, so found a way for him to get a room and move into the apartment permanently.
Our friendship grew while we lived together. He was the brother I never had. Then we became brothers by title when we joined the same Fraternity. As can happen after years of friendship, we could laugh about the past and no one would know what we were laughing about. We had inside jokes and a bond formed that we realized wasn’t going to be broken.
We ended college together and got jobs. He lived only a few miles away. He got married in January 1992 and I got married in August 1992. We were both fond of each other’s wives, who became (maybe not by their choice) our friends as well. They were forced to put up with us and our ways. Then the kids came. We both had children the same year in 1993. Then Steve had another child and mine about a year later. Then he had one more. For nine years we got the families together and the children started to bond as well. His children referred to me as “Uncle” and mine referred to him as “Uncle”. We were like family.
Four years ago, Steve and his family decided it was time to move. They came over to our house and we were talking. My wife said there was a house only 6 houses down from us that was nice. Steve and his wife went over to the house and…well you can guess, they bought it. Now my best friend, who I consider like a brother lived six houses down from me. Our families bonded even more. The children consider each other “non-biological cousins” and we consider his family our family. It couldn’t be more perfect!
But last year reality came back to us. Steve had a party and at the end of the party told us that he had cancer. Unfortunately it wasn’t just one cancer, but three different cancers. One was in 15% of his liver. The other in 25% of his pancreas, and the other his thyroid. He was pretty sure he was going to die within the year. My life flipped upside down. My wife and I were stunned for the whole weekend, trying to comprehend losing him at only 40 years old. We prayed for him and so did many others. Steve is a very religious man and has a strong faith. What happened next could be considered a miracle.
Steve went in for surgery for the liver. They removed 15% of it and found it was a primary cancer and didn’t require any other treatments. They removed 25% of his pancreas and found it was a primary cancer and didn’t require any other treatments. They removed his thyroid and there was no additional cancer and required only medication for him to stay stable without a thyroid. The doctors can’t explain three cancers at the same time, with none of them being spread from each other or aggressive. To us, it’s like a miracle.
A year later now and he’s throwing another party, the INDY (I’m Not Dead Yet) party. Last week, we went back to our college for a reunion. We laughed again and reminisced about all our good times. During this past year and due to his illness I have reflected over our past many times and certainly hope for a long future, where now our friendship will have many years ahead. There are many days when I consider myself the luckiest person on the face of the earth to have just one friend like Steve in my life. Luckily, I am blessed to have quite a few. For 26 years, Steve has been there for me and hopefully me for him.
And this all started many years after the bullying experiences happened to me. I sometimes imagine if I had let those experiences drag me down so low that I wouldn’t have been able to meet a person like Steve. What if I had given up on believing it could get better? I am lucky I don’t have to.
I share this story so that, maybe if you are stuck in that dark place due to bullying, you can read this and know that it can and will get better if you let it. There are lots of Steve’s out there, I hope you find yours or already have one. I am lucky to have a friend like Steve. In some ways he saved my life many years ago and gave me memories that allow me to laugh today and rarely think about the dark, younger years.
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left of you
(Lyric to “Old Friends/Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel)