September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of months ago, while on Facebook, I had an impulse to see if there was anything on the site related to my primary (elementary for American readers) school, Glenmore Rd Public. I suspected there wouldn’t be much; the school was small, with most parents opting to send their kids to the bigger, more prestigious public school only a mile or two away. So I entered the name and lo and behold, I found a Facebook page titled, Glenmore Rd 1980s. Not only was there a page devoted to the school, but the decade was appropriate for me as well.

I signed up and scrolled through the photos. Although some memories flooded back, triggered by the sight of random objects – the tapestry on the wall behind all the school photos, featuring white man’s invasion of Australia, complete with the image of an indigenous person being hanged in the bottom right hand corner – I was disappointed to find that I didn’t recognize anyone in the pictures and didn’t see myself nor my brother, who was three years ahead of me. It turned out that, unluckily, the woman who had created the page was just a couple of years younger than us and therefore had posted a whole bunch of photos with people my brother and I had never come into contact with. It’s interesting how many of us knew many children in the grades above us, always wanting to emulate them, but didn’t have a clue about who came after. I think that’s a trend that probably continues in our later years.

I did, however, find one connection to my circle: the sister of my best friend for most of my early childhood. For reasons that will become obvious, I won’t mention either of their names. He and I had been very close; both of us had suffered from being what one might call a little… awkward, which wasn’t a blessing in a country where a child’s sporting prowess, even at a very young age, trumped all other endeavours, including the ones at which my best buddy and I excelled, most notably video games and drawing. He lived with his mother, a brassy, warm, smart-as-a-whip lady who both scared and excited me, and his sister, who took after her mother and who I’m sure never knew was the object of a rather large boyhood crush belonging to myself. They lived in a large corner house on a blocked off street, and my friend and I spent many an afternoon playing cricket (very poorly) on the street. We were perfectly matched: neither of us had any talent for it, although I’m sure were he to read this he wouldn’t like me speaking for him.

They moved away, up north, a few years later, just as my own life moved as well, as I became a regular player on a tacky soap opera soon into my adolescent years. I left school and started working with adults every day, and cricketing activity was now confined to the backyard of my house with my older brother, who typically grew tired of it quickly because he, magically, had also gotten older and had better, more important things to do than hang around with his younger, still awkward brother, soap opera or not. My friends from Glenmore Rd Public, including my bestest friend, had gone their own ways. I ran into him a couple of times- years later, we happened across one another in a park near the city center; he was on his way to the office ( I can’t remember what he did for a living). He had taken up golf and had been driving a cab at one stage. Our interaction left a residue of sadness, a frequent occurrence when I run into old friends with whom I no longer have a vital connection. As he walked away, I wondered at how human beings can be so tightly woven at one point in their lives and become such strangers later on.

The sister seemed to be doing well, had started a family and was living overseas. I sent her a friend request which she granted, and I discovered that she had also graduated from a prestigious university and had started her own business. As I looked at her page, I noticed that her brother was not included in her friends list. It was at this time that an instinct started to press in on me, telling me that something had happened to my former best friend. She had celebrated her birthday recently and among all the random facebook posts from friends around the world, I didn’t find one from him to his sister.

I wanted to ask her, to find out. But was that appropriate? What if he had died? What if he was in prison, or they were estranged? It didn’t seem right to contact her after over twenty years and barrel right into a personal and very possibly painful question. On the other hand, I felt some strange entitlement to the information, however irrational or outrageous that may seem. After all, we were childhood best friends, and that must count for something, mustn’t it?

I decided to ask. Not due to any fabricated, dressed up ‘entitlement’. Just because it couldn’t hurt and she could always tell me to go away if she wanted to. In the gentlest terms, I asked her what had happened to her brother, giving her license to shoo me if she felt the need.

But she didn’t. She told me that my former best friend, my cricket and gaming partner, my comrade in arms, in the trenches, looking out at all the coordinated, confident children of the world had, like many of us, changed greatly as an adult. He had become extremely religious; in fact, I was shocked to discover he had become almost fanatical. I did a google search and found an email he had written to someone who had criticized his religion; his response was virulent, obsessive. She warned me that any approach from me would result in an attempt at my conversion or a request for funds. The last thing she said to me was an attempt to be positive about these developments: sometimes, she said, the boy from so long ago would still “peek through”.

Tennessee Williams said it best through the character of Tom, in The Glass Menagerie:

“I didn’t go to the moon. I went much further – for time is the greatest distance between two places.”

We can travel such a distance from where we begin as people. I can’t judge my old friend- I haven’t talked with him and don’t know the reality he occupies. But I can’t help being sad at the thought of that silly, gangly, innocent, wonderful kid that used to have me over, who now has become someone residing, for me at least, on an unreachable star.

Maybe that is the purpose of love, whether given or received – to enable all of us to retain the child within, to nourish it and allow it to grow alongside our adult selves, to live and breathe the same air, allowing us to continue holding the ones we love at no distance, clutching them to our hearts as innocently and warmly as we did when we started this journey. We come into this world with an indomitable, passionate spirit. We take it with us into our early school years. If we’re lucky, that magical blend of passion and innocence survives with us to this day, and we discover that although we have indeed come far, we also haven’t gone anywhere at all.


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