Through the years and miles between us
It’s been a long and lonely ride
But if I got that call in the dead of the night
I’d be right by your side
– Jon Bon Jovi
Each one of us is a brain, and an athlete
And basket case, and a princess, and a criminal
– The Breakfast Club
Not long ago I wrote about “pals”, the tragic loss we felt within our group and how that tribe molded so much of who I am.
Today I want to talk about furniture…and how a simple table can form and maintain bonds far beyond anyone could imagine.
I was not a particularly happy student. At home I was loved and cherished but when I left for school every day I entered a very lonely and isolated world.
Every year kids looked forward to picture day but for me it was perhaps the most traumatic day of the year. All the kids ordered these huge packs that included dozens of wallet-size photos that they would trade amongst their friends. My mother was always encouraging me to order such a package and it was always so difficult to try and temper her enthusiasm because really, I had no with whom to trade.
This point was never driven home so deeply than when I offered to trade with one elementary school classmate in particular. He had already given his out and told me “I may be your best friend but you’re not my best friend. You know that right?”
He did accept the photo from me but a few hours later I saw it on the hallway floor where he tossed it away with some trash.
That comment came to dominate all my relationships…even to this day, as silly as that may seem.
By sophomore year I’d become quite isolated. I had a couple friends and that was about it. I didn’t really fit in anywhere.
I played sports with some measure of ability but far below the level needed to be accepted into that crowd.
I was smart but a bit of an underachiever and thus the “GPA” kids, for the most part, also seemed to shun me.
One of the people I was most close to, a fellow Beatles fan, was a theater kid and thus I knew some of them but I wasn’t in theater but for a single year and as such I was but a stranger in their strange land. I didn’t get their inside jokes, didn’t share their communal experiences
Despite my musicianship, I did not participate in band so I was I existed only on the fringes of their group.
I didn’t listen to enough heavy metal or cut class. I wasn’t quite strange or anti-social enough to get into those groups despite knowing quite a few of those cats as well.
I was just some sort of nomad, roaming from group to group, ever really being a part of anything.
Then, during the summer between 10th and 11th grade my family made an unexpected move to Florida and I started fresh in a new high school.
And I loved it actually. Despite my solemn intent to refrain from any social interaction I met my dear “little sister Wendy” and we became inseparable..to the point that if we weren’t actually side by side, teachers would ask us where our other half was. Never romantic with one another, we were bound by our shared experience of having moved from other cities. I had a girlfriend in Deer Park. She had a boyfriend in New York. We loved literature and music and we were both committed to being as miserable as possible until we could return home to our beloveds. Haha. All the while, we became quite happy were carving out our own little niche there in our new school. I continue to cherish her friendship to this day.
Then my family’s life took a very odd turn.
My family had to move BACK to Texas…in the middle of the school year no less.
Within six months I’d been ripped from one school I didn’t like, placed in a school I’d come to love, and then sent back to where I came.
It was incredibly bittersweet to say the least. I was tormented about leaving Wendy and the kids I was just getting to know but I was looking forward to coming back to the girl I’d spent so many days and nights pining for. When I got back though, I was greeted with the unfortunate reality that this relationship was not to be…at least not to be what I had hoped. It happens. We were kids.
And thus I found myself in a sort of limbo. The only thing pulling me back to Deer Park was gone and it only magnified what I had left behind in Miami. Add to that the fact that I had moved back just before mid-term exams at Miami Southridge but arrived in Deer Park just after their mid-terms. Thus my entire first semester did not exist. All of the sudden I was in danger of not graduating.
But then something very odd happened, and I honestly have no recollection of exactly how it happened. I ended up sitting at The Lunch Table with Skip, Honour, and Nikki.
I have to assume it was Honour that brought us together. Always the sentimental one, she has an incredible commitment to preserving memories and maintaining that which binds people together. You should see this girl’s scrap books.
Skip and I quickly became fast friends. We both loved music, played guitar, and both like spinning a good yarn. I tried not to hold his love for Metallica against him and just pretended that part of him didn’t exist. haha
And then there was Nikki. My dear Nikki. Somehow we managed to have a sort of uncanny mind-meld. We didn’t need to go into details with one another about why we were sad or angry or feeling dejected. We would just sort of lock eyes, understand what we were silently telling one another and know that, in that moment, we would be ok.
The Lunch Table was 45 minutes of paradise. It was shelter from the sort of storm that maybe only teenagers feel. It was the only place I fit in.
This simple table was just like almost every other one in the cafeteria. It sat four and was kind of tucked away on the edge against the wall…and it was miraculous.
All three of my tablemates were a year ahead of me so at the end of the year they were gone. I briefly dated Honour that summer before she went to university, I stood with Skip during his marriage and I hold him and all of Catholicism responsible for the pain that creeps up in my knees whenever it gets chilly out. (So much kneeling and standing, standing and kneeling. Haha) Nikki, too, went off to school and I, well…you read about the tribe I built in the months and years that followed.
All these years later, and this whole Facebook thing takes off and we all reconnect and share pictures of the kids and our food, and argue over Metallica (though there’s really nothing to argue about…but hey, no one’s perfect haha).
And so here we are, in that place we all find ourselves as our teens morph into our 40s…seemingly overnight. We have our lives, we have our friends, our bills, our receding hairlines…all that stuff.
But we still have each other. That’s never changed.
So there I was last week, pouring through Craigslist as I do whenever I want to gawk at mid-century record player consoles…you know the kind your grandparents had.
I love them. I fell in love with them when I was a kid at MY grandparents’ house. They had a gorgeous one.
I posted a link to a particularly interesting one…a Motorola that had, not just the phonograph and radio, but a TV! It was gorgeous. Two buddies of mine are also into these so I thought they’d be interested in checking it out.
I barely gave it a second thought and went about my day…that evening I get a call from Nikki. The first thing I thought was “What’s wrong?!”
Other than via Facebook we hadn’t spoken in several months but rather than being a call of distress it was a joyous call that I’ll never forget. She wanted to thank me for the years of friendship, apologize for not bringing Oliver’s birthday present over during the summer (did she not remember Hurricane Harvey? I think there’s more than enough slack to be cut haha) and to say she wanted to get me a belated graduation present.
Seriously? A gift? C’mon.
After much debate I simply told her she should come by the house over the weekend and just spend time with my family and call it even. Why the need for a gift?
Then she rolls out with the fact that she wanted to get me the Motorola console.
I told her she was out of her mind.
I said she was out of her mind. She called back a few minutes later and said it was done and she was delivering it Sunday afternoon.
I told her she was out of her mind.
She assured me she was very much within her mind and that it’s done. She’ll see me on Sunday.
Turns out my Lunch Table friends conspired to make this happen. Honour contacted the lady selling the console, Skip helped load and unload, and then, as promised, Sunday afternoon here come Nikki and Skip, some sort mash up between Santa Claus and Sanford & Son in a pickup with this console tied to the back.
Just like that I am the proud owner of a fully operational 1952 Motorola TS-228 TV complete with original tubes and even the manual.
This gift, this miraculous and unexpected gift, is the most thoughtful surprise I’ve ever received. After Nikki and Skip left yesterday I kept looking at the console sitting in The Cathedral as if it had always been there. I’m in awe. This doesn’t happen to me. I feel like some sort of lottery winner.
My mom was teary-eyed over how sweet it was and how Nikki had brought Oliver a beautiful frame and even a sweet tent. She just went on and on about how these friends of mine are so amazing and how touching it all is.
And she’s right.
But really, it isn’t even the console. Don’t get me wrong, the console is super rad but it’s what the console means.
It’s like I said, I’ve always struggled with the idea that somehow I’m less important to anyone I know than they are to me. It’s just ingrained in my identity at this point.
I can’t help but resist any hope that somehow I’m as important to someone as they are to me…that I’m on even footing with others. When I try it makes me somehow feel arrogant or full of myself…and more importantly I become vulnerable to so much more disappointment because eventually I’m going to discover that indeed they might be my best friend but I’m not theirs.
Even as a father I look at my son and have to constantly reassure myself that yes, he loves me at least as much as I love him.
Turns out, at least to the kids who shared The Lunch Table with me and the adults they became, I am important. I am valued. They love me as much as I love them.
Thank you dear friends. Thank for you letting me sit at The Lunch Table.
Thank you for helping me seek shelter from the storm.
Thank you for the years of friendship and thank you for forcing me to do my very best Sally Field impression today.
And thanks for this console.
Seriously…it’s freaking rad!
Until Next Time….
Be Well and Kind,