Monday morning I rushed in late to work and clicked open my e-mail after the two-minute bell had rung. Unfortunately, I eagerly opened an email from my 3rd-8th grade crush (he's married now to a woman who seems to be quite lovely). One of our childhood friends had passed away suddenly from previously unknown health problems. The bell rang and I sort of stumbled back in front of the class and held up my big neon yellow flashcards and as my students recited the definitions for "verbal irony" and "Dionysian" I remembered how I had bribed Jeff (the one who passed away) with cookies when he went a week without smoking in high school, and how I beat him playing the line game so many times in Geometry I received the worst grade I'd ever gotten. I remembered third grade and how my friend Janelle and I used to debate whether he or his twin brother were cuter. and I remembered how during my first year teaching I broke down in tears when I heard (a few minutes before class began) that one of my other good childhood friends, Kaz, had lost a game of Russian Roulette. I hated it that the death toll of the ten or fifteen guys I was really close to growing up was up to 2. (Almost 20%!)
I didn't cry this time, but the day moved slowly, and I had the sort of selfish existential panic attack that comes when you realize that people your age are done with the game before they ever got married, had kids, or figured out what they really wanted.
I also actually mourned the boy I watched grow up even though it had been years since we'd spoken.
The memorial was Tuesday afternoon on a bluff above the beach where we used to have our birthday parties as kids. A dozen of my first crushes/guys who tugged at my hair when they sat behind me in class/awkward dance partners from cotillion took turns sharing favorite memories of Jeff. They were fatter, balder, and many were sporting dulled wedding bands. I realized how much I loved them all and wanted the best for them even though they weren't a part of my life anymore. There's just something about eating paste together and playing spin the bottle (not at the same time) that bonds people for life. So it was a sad day saying goodbye to the kid we knew, but comforting to know that twenty years later we were all there hovering above the beach of our sixth-grade graduation party in our somber black sharing the dark milestone of selfish existential panic attacks and sincere grief.