I just found out this morning that my longtime friend, T, has passed. Technically it was last Tuesday, but the obituary didn't show up in the local paper until yesterday. A mutual friend, who knew I had gone incognito from Facebook many years ago, had seen talk of T's passing from family members on social media and wondered if I had heard the news. In addition to not participating on Facebook anymore, my path with T's family (and T himself) had diverged back at the end of 2014. I was glad my friend called, because I was blissfully ignorant.
I met T for the first time during the summer break between my freshman and sophomore years at Case. My father, who also worked at Bridgestone/Firestone, managed to set me up with T in Office Services -- a fancy name for a group of people who moved office furniture and cut keys for office locks -- and although it was quite the manual job, often in brutally hot parts of the old warehouse, I really clicked with T and my coworkers. At the time, I was 19 years old and he was just under 40; however, we instantly bonded. From that point forward until the end of my college career, I looked forward to spending every summer (save one) and Christmas holiday working with T.
When I went off to college in the fall of 1990, my father had the half-baked idea of sending me to school with a personal fax/copy/answering machine combination. I protested the idea as being idiotic since no other college freshman would show up to their dorm room with a fax machine (and I was correct about that). His overriding argument was that since long distance calling was still very expensive and email messaging wasn't even on the horizon, he insisted that faxing each other was a cost effective way of communicating. He offered that we could send each other pages and pages of handwritten or typed out text instead of calling on the phone. All of those faxes would pay for themselves, wouldn't you know?
I mentioned all of this to T at work one time -- that I was the only freshman with a fax machine -- and completed the delivery of this information with an appropriate teen-aged eye roll. Wouldn't you know it, the only two people I received faxes from for the entirely of my college career were my father (mostly my freshman year) and T. Every year on my birthday, he and my Bridgestone coworkers would all sign and fax a piece of paper with birthday wishes on it. I remember getting back from class on my birthday, walking into my room and my roommate saying, "Dude, you actually got a fax while you were at class." The sight of seeing a curled up fax hanging off the machine, ready to be cut from the main roll, always left me with a huge grin on my face.
Over the next couple of years, I began to slowly meet and become friends with his family, both immediate and extended. My second summer working for T, I was invited to a surprise 40th birthday party being thrown at his home by his wife. That summer, during a down time at work, I was nonchalantly flipping through a dictionary that T kept in the office and I came across the word, "octoroon". It struck me as such a silly word and something I had never heard before that I couldn't imagine ANYONE knowing the actual definition, so I brought it to T's attention and challenged him to its meaning. T had never heard of it either and we had a tremendous laugh about the whole thing and relegated it to some weird work conversation. Fast forward to that surprise 40th birthday party where I met T's mom for the first time. Somehow, octoroon came into the conversation and without missing a beat, T's mom recited the (correct) definition for us. We were both stunned.
One thing that I quickly came to learn about T and his family was that -- on the whole -- they were snacking people, not necessarily meal people. "Snicky snacks" is how they referred to the spread that would inevitably be laid out around mid-to-late afternoon. Snicky snacks would be things like cubes of cheese, cut up pepperoni, bunches of grapes and strawberries, crackers, and potato chips and dip. I have no problem with snacking, but at some point, I'm used to a proper meal. T's family had grown use to this snacking-as-a-meal concept and for them the spread would often be plenty. I can't tell you how many times I remember guiltily slinking off and hitting up the local Wendy's for a proper sandwich just to tide my appetite over lest I be hungry all night. I laugh about it now and would trade all of my "proper meals" for just one more night of "snicky snacking" with T.
I was fortunate that my relationship with T and his family extended beyond my employment at Bridgestone. I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in 1996, but enjoyed nearly another 20 years as a family friend, being involved in weddings, births, funerals, and my favorite thing of all, just general merriment. I sometimes felt like I had two families in my life, my biological one and the one of my choosing. It was not unusual at all to spend holidays at multiple houses. Holidays proper were spent with my family until about 4 pm in the afternoon. Then I would head over to T's house for a rousing, fun-filled conclusion. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy spending time with my family, but there was a marked contrast to the two environments. It isn't ironic that the splitting of the day was very much like the splitting of the meal. I ate the savory part of the meal with my family (the much more somber -- and sober -- part) and then got to cut loose with dessert at T's house -- the fun part.
I was privileged and honored to be in T's world for as long as I was. But as things happen, towards the end of 2014, I was getting a fairly distinct signal that it was time to move on. I had made several overtures towards reconnecting with T and his family, but felt that the reciprocity and enthusiasm just wasn't there. All good things must come to a close and instead of lamenting it any further, I quietly slipped away. Then, in mid 2018, having just suffered through another security breach from Facebook (plus the eternal time-suck that is Facebook), I made a rather unannounced and curt decision to just leave Facebook altogether -- and with it any chance of monitoring T's family conversation, even if I wasn't actively part of it.
It turns out that T's health problems (which started around 2009) continued to plague him. Every time he seemed to get back up, life knocked him back down again. That makes me incredibly sad, because the T in my mind's eye is one of life, of exuberance, of happiness. And, honestly, I think that is how I will choose to remember him. I've always been sad with how things ended up -- although with time and perspective, I've come to accept them. But with T's passing, I truly feel like a major chapter of my personal history has come to an end.
My life is so much better off because of T and his family. Sometimes you just don't know how good things are until they are gone from your life. T always did appreciate a good Kennedy reference and I personally think of the golden years between myself and T and his family as the Camelot years. What I hope for T's family is peace and comfort from his years of struggle and his ultimate passing. T had made a lifelong indelible impression on me and I will always remember him as the affable and loving instigator of mischief and longtime proponent of ABBA (on vinyl, of course). Dancing Queen or Waterloo? Waterloo!
I'm currently sitting here at my keyboard drinking a Guckenheimer and 7-Up in his honor while listening to the Sibelius violin concerto and alternating between being small and contemplative and loud and ugly crying. To be fair, I feel like this will probably continue for the rest of the night. And I'm okay with that.
Just know that you will be forever missed and I will love you always.