An old friend passed away recently. He was 59. I didn't know that he'd been ill, but that's not surprising since we had been out of touch for 20 years.
Rob and I (along with our brothers) spent six or seven years hanging out together in our teens. We rode motorbikes, water-skied and attended rock concerts. I remember racing our skidoos over frozen ponds and rivers and thinking the good times would never end. Given the reckless and crazy things we did, it's a wonder we survived.
If you had told me in my teens that I would go almost my entire adult life without having any contact with Rob, I would never had believed it. When you have friends in your youth, you just assume that you will remain friends forever.
When I was 25, I moved to England and when I returned home to Toronto a year later, Rob had moved to Alberta. Over the next decade, Rob and I exchanged a few letters and phone calls. I last saw Rob at an Eagles concert in Toronto in 1994. As the months and years passed, careers and families exerted their pull and we drifted apart.
This got me thinking about what keeps friendships together. It's caring and effort, of course. It's making time when deadlines and responsibilities loom. I wanted to visit Rob on several occasions but I never did. We only lived an hour apart and yet neither of us made the effort. What a shame.
Rob was a smart guy with a razor-sharp wit. Many of his one-liners still echo inside my head, more than 30 years after he uttered them. He was someone whose opinions and worldview I found fascinating, intriguing, sometimes infuriating, but he remained true to himself. I always respected that about him.
Rob had a loving wife and five beautiful children. He was much admired at work and respected in his community. I'd like to think that his adult years as a husband and a father were happy and fulfilled, and I have no reason to think otherwise.
Over the years, I've often become nostalgic about our coming-of-age years, and I'm thankful for the time that Rob and I spent together. Those carefree years were precious and they're worth holding onto. Memories sustain us as we get older and provide a place of comfort and solace; but memories are fickle, too. I am often reminded of incidents in my past that I'd totally forgotten about, and I tell stories that others have forgotten. It's interesting how we embellish our personal narratives like a painter, dabbing details here and there, and erasing parts that don't belong.
Back in the 1970s, long before mobile phones and the Internet, long before careers and families, Rob and I (and our brothers) spent some unforgettable years roaming the trails and waterways at our cottages, discovering who we were. We didn't know then how those experiences would shape us and how they would ripen with age. Strange how (with the benefit of hindsight) those so-called misspent years wound up becoming among the best years of our lives.
In the film Stand By Me, there's a line typed by the narrator (played by Richard Dreyfuss) looking back at his younger self. He types, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
I'd like to think that Rob occasionally looked back on those glorious afternoons that we spent cruising along the lake with the wind in our faces; the autumn evenings spent reciting passages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail; and the endless hours spent riding dirt bikes through the forests. Ah, what times we had, what joy: I'd like to think that some of those memories left a mark and provided reasons for Rob to smile.
They continue to give me reasons to smile and I'll never forget them.