Several weeks ago an old friend from high school pinged me on Facebook and told me that one of our mutual friends, John James, was in the hospital receiving chemo-therapy.
During junior high, high school and for a while afterward John and I were like brothers. We lived right across the street from each other so even if we wanted to escape each other we couldn’t. But escaping each other was the farthest thing from our minds. Either I was staying at his place or he was at mine. We did everything together including getting into more than our fair share of trouble.
His mom was like my mom. His sister was like my sister. His step-father was also like a dad. Hell, his step-father got me my first real paying job in life during the summers when we weren’t in school.
I called John in the hospital and we chatted for awhile about the old days and the fun we had together. One of the last stories we laughed about was one night when I spent the night at his place after he and I had been out on a pretty heavy night of drinking. Southern Comfort to be exact. In the morning it was obvious someone had gotten sick out the window and had left a trail on the window sill and down the front of the building. With John’s help I remembered it was I who had gotten sick and I cleaned it up so his mother wouldn’t know what we had been up to.
It was months later but John eventually told me it was he who had thrown up out the window but ours was a friendship where I wasn’t even mad about it. Instead we laughed our asses off at how he had tricked me into cleaning up his puke.
I got my payback on him eventually. I won’t really go into details here (his sister Leslie will remember backstage at Gazzarri’s and the dressing room mirror) because it’s not the sort of stuff you mention in polite company (like puking out the window is) but that was the way it was between us. I got my revenge not because I had to settle the score but because it was expected that we up the ante. Pushing it harder and further was how we had fun.
John was a year behind me in school so I graduated first and went of to university. Then I joined the army and over time we sort of lost touch with each other. After I finished my tour I stopped off in our hometown Burbank a few times and would run into him at clubs and such. We hung out a few times but our lives had gone off in different paths enough that it was hard to get back to where we were before.
It was okay though because the friendship we had had as kids was always there as our common denominator. It was one of those things where even if you haven’t seen each other in 5 years you can pick up exactly where you left off friendship-wise even though life had moved on and changed both of us. Deep down we were friends and always would be. We had shared too much that had made us who we were now.
Although I haven’t been on Twitter much recently tonight I logged into TweetDeck – which has both Tweets and Facebook status messages – and as I ran through old Facebook status messages I saw one from the friend who had told me about John being in the hospital. His Facebook status message was a link to an obituary.
I knew what was waiting on the other side of that click but I still said to myself “God, please don’t let this be what I think it is.” It was. John had passed away.
So I’m somewhat stuck at the moment. I don’t know whether to spend the next few days/weeks/months in a funk mourning the passing of one of the best friends I’ve ever had or to go out and celebrate all the joy he brought to myself and others during his short time with us. I think John would prefer the later but there is such an empty feeling inside me right now that it’s hard to rally to a celebration.
I guess the last memory of John that I’ll take away is that when I called him in the hospital he quickly dismissed my concerns and steered the conversation around to the good times we had together. That was always John’s style; always make people feel good. By the time I got off the phone with him he had me convinced that his condition wasn’t all that serious and at some point we would be swapping old time stories together in person.
I’m pretty sure that our mutual friend who had contacted me wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t obvious that things weren’t going good for John. And if he knew John obviously knew. The fact that he faced things down the way he did is one of the reasons I will always consider him one of the most brave people I know.
Well, all I have to say is that I’m a better person for having known John. My heart goes out to his mother, sister, and family who are simply some of the best people I’ve ever known.