Thursday, February 02, 2006
My Old Friend
I stared at the unfamiliar address in my e-mail in box, cursor hovering over the delete button. But before making a fatal error, the right synapses fired and the fragmented name @ somethingdotcom connected to my past. I clicked “read.”

The e-mail contained a link to my hometown paper.

“Soldier who grew up in Washington killed in Iraq.” I knew who it was before his picture loaded. It was news I’d feared since hearing, almost twenty-years before, he’d joined the service. But the passage of two decades met with logic – he couldn’t possibly still be in the military, right? Desert Storm, and smaller conflicts across the globe, had come and gone, without his name appearing on our high school memorial wall. At the onset of the Iraq War, a google search told me he’d found a career in the civil service; a safe, nine-to-five, career.

He was the first war casualty of 2006, his armored vehicle meeting an improvised explosive device in As Sinia, Iraq. In 100 words or less, the paper described a soldier, father, son and husband; a man who, after an eleven year break from the military, re-enlisted and joined the troops in Iraq.

As the hometown headline blurred beneath tears, I watched snapshots of my teen years from a memory projector in my mind, switched on by grief. I couldn’t find the off button.

We were fifteen-going-on-sixteen. It was summer. And, we had just given in to two years of drama-club and football field flirtation. It was that magical, transitional time of life when teens leave behind childhood and take a big gulp of autonomy, still oblivious to the realities of adulthood.

Each morning, I’d lay awake in bed, waiting for the sound of my mother leaving for work. I’d be dressed by the time the wheels of her civic crunched into the gravel driveway and riding off to the transit center on my blue schwinn ten-speed before she made it to the stop sign at the bottom of our street. I’d board the Metro bus with the reader board flashing “Beaux Arts,” walk the short distance to his house, and our day would begin.

When I saw the news video of his grieving parents, I realized I’d probably never seen his mother wearing anything but a floral nightgown. I wondered why, after the passage of twenty years, his parents looked exactly as I remembered them, although I am now the age they were when I’d arrive at breakfast hour each morning. Time has a funny way of collapsing like that.

Beaux Arts is a waterfront community on Lake Washington. We spent our days with friends, cruising about the lake on his speedboat and our evenings in front of a bonfire. Chris and I would inevitably sneak away from the group, find a Douglas fir to lean against, hold hands and talk about life. Like me, Chris was an adoptee. Adoption probably provided the basis of our connection, our lakeside sunsets bearing witness to the first time either of us verbalized our feelings about being adopted, wondered out loud where our natural families were and questioned why we were given up. Together, we each scratched the surface, for the very first time, of thoughts and feelings bottled up since our relinquishments.

Beaux Arts Beach is viewable as one crosses the Mercer Island Floating bridge. Many times in my adult life, I would steal a mid-commute glance at the beach, remembering those talks, that summer and first love. It was the final summer of my childhood. The growing dysfunction in my home-life disrupted the remainder of my teen years, leaving me to cherish my time with Chris all the more.

Like most teen loves, the relationship didn’t last. My mother was leery of two adoptees sharing a romance and viewed the intensity of the relationship as a symbol of bad things – things perhaps only reserved for teenagers from unknown origins – about to happen. I’ve always said Chris broke my heart. But, in reality, expecting him to do otherwise was too much to ask of a teenaged boy.

The last time I saw Chris was graduation day. We sat together, apropos, on the drama-room stairs. We made amends, said apologies for the hurt our breakup caused one another and signed each other’s yearbooks. We shared a hug and promised to keep in touch. That never happened. I wish it had.

Hindsight can be cruel. I’d give anything for one more beachside sunset; to catch up on two decades, share pictures of our children and families, and talk about life. We’d probably share a laugh over learning both of our birth families resided in the same town, only a few cities away – after all that fantasizing of them off in foreign lands. And, I would probably thank him, for something he never knew he provided: the last summer of my childhood.
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:05 PM | Permalink |

2 Ruminations:

  • At 4:11 PM, Blogger Q Madp

    I liked that entry. It's a small world. I'm one of those that never got adopted and strayed through my life to where I am now; still wandering, just at a much slower pace. :)

  • At 6:37 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Ah, Q. I knew there was a reason I liked you (aside from the obvious.)

    Welcome to my world :)