Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
I was blessed recently with an opportunity to see an old friend that I hadn't seen in roughly 25 years. Yes, I'm that old. Rosco and I hung out together outside of junior high and high school within a small group of semi-outcasts, but for the most part, he and I were best friends and when push came to shove, we had each other's backs.
There were times where we would spend our time down at the Rexall drugstore looking at the latest releases of X-Men, Daredevil, the Wolverine series, Iron Man, etc. To this day, he collects comics and, quite frankly, has some amazingly valuable items in his collection. Rosco would purchase his comics and when no one was looking, I would steal mine... or steal the latest Playboy, whichever was easier. I say this knowing two things: One, the statute of limitations is way up (remember, I said 25 years) and I got caught and had to pay for what I had taken. I have to admit, this had a pretty huge impact on my life. There's nothing like having to apologize to a 70 year old man for stealing the smut mags that his store carries or paying for them with all of the money that you've ever saved up during your childhood. Sometimes I think the worst part is that my dad refused to let me keep the magazines!
I digress. Rosco and I were pretty much inseparable during these years. I will be quite honest when I say that I leaned on him as a friend. It sucked growing up poor and always being picked on by those in the grades ahead of me because they thought I was gay. Looking back, though, I realize how much having Rosco as my friend helped get me through those times. He was always there for me. We could sit for hours looking at comics or talking about being ninjas (back then, being a ninja wasn't cool like it is today, so we were kind of ahead of our time ;).
The point is, Rosco was my friend. Even after the time we got into it in the locker room over some dumb forgotten reason. We healed, moved on and continued our friendship.
When I moved to Manhattan, Rosco moved away to a different town as well. Like most guys, we didn't even think of exchanging numbers or an address. (I didn't have a phone growing up so it was kind of pointless to get his phone number.) In short, we lost track of each other. The last I heard, he had joined the army and was off to fight in Iraq. I prayed a lot about that and asked God to keep an eye out for my old friend regardless of where he was. I'm happy to say that was one prayer that he listened to and answered.
Fastforward 25 years and bring about the advent of Facebook. Keep in mind, too, that I had been actively looking for Rosco as much as I could on the internet. However, Rosco Smith is a pretty common name, so it was like finding a needle in a needle stack. Facebook made it easy though. One night, I had an IM from someone. I took a look and sure enough, it was Rosco. His message was simple: "I'm speechless. What do you say to someone you haven't seen or talked with for over 20 years?"
My reply, of course, was much more long-winded. After several months, Rosco informed me that he and his wife would be coming to Kansas City and could we meet in Lawrence. I told Andrea and of course, we jumped at the opportunity. I was kind of giddy about the whole idea. Long lost friend and what-not. The day came and we found ourselves in a Starbucks in Lawrence waiting for the Freestate Brewery to open so we could have lunch. We talked about old times. Rosco showed Andrea some drawings that I had given to him way back in the day. He should have torched them! I'll need to replace those with something a bit more contemporary, I think. We eventually got around to having lunch and continuing our chat. We were constantly amazed at the similarities we still shared and how things had been going for us. It got to a point where I told Rosco, "Man, you have no idea how happy I am to see you. You really helped me get through a lot of shit times in my life."
He smiled and said, "Man, let's all go somewhere a bit quieter so we don't have to shout." So, we got our ticket and left. Headed to a Coldstone creamery where we got some delish ice cream and headed to a park a couple of blocks away. We all sat on a bench and chatted a bit more, laughed, etc. Then Rosco got quiet. He said, "I spent most of my teen years deeply depressed. I spent a lot of time contemplating how I could just eliminate myself from the world. We had guns all over the house, but I thought those were too messy. I thought about jumping off the roof, but I was afraid of being paralyzed. But when it came right down to it, I thought about the fact that I had you as my friend and that kept me from ever committing suicide."
For the first time in a long time, I had nothing to say. I had tears in the corners of my eyes and all I could manage was, "Don't make me cry, dude."
He went on to say that later in life, his lovely wife had continued my legacy and had gotten him through some more tough and trying times. I thanked her, from my heart.
As we parted ways, we told each other that we definitely needed to get together again. I told Rosco not to EVER think that no one was there for him. I told him how much I value his friendship and that the world needs him and that I need him as my friend.
I look back at our conversation and am nearly brought to tears again by the gravity of what he said. This is the guy that I leaned on to help me through the rough times of my own teen years. I didn't realize that the whole time, he was leaning back on me just as much.