Our visit was like a fantasy, as there was a time in our lives when neither he or I could have imagined a scenario wherein someday I would cruise up to a sidewalk in a nice “chine,” as we used to say, in front of Southwest Airlines and he jumps in and I whisk him to a Comfort Inn and we end the day in one of the hippest Mexican Cafe’s in town – with nary a soul in any of these places wearing a “P.U.” frown.
Back then we knew no one who had flown any where – the concept of a “colored” person staying in a hotel had not yet been implanted in our young minds – and we couldn’t eat in a cafe unless the sign above it read Jack’s Barbeque or Duke’s Drive-In.
As I reminisce about our recent weekend together I envision, in my mind, two friends reaching their hands out to each other as a symbol of their bridging the gap between days of yore and the 40 some years that have passed since they last spent any significant time together.
At one time we were as tight as a pimple on a mosquito’s behind. Our separation came out of nowhere it seemed. In the last moments of our senior year at Tucson High, some dude called Jim a nigger and got to see what it was like to have one’s butt kicked down several school house stairs. Next stop for Jim: “Anchors Away.” When he came back home from the military I had a family and was going to school, paying my way with a jump shot made in heaven (someone else said that) and eyes and hands that could track down a rebound in an Alaskan snow storm at midnight (blame that bragging on me).
We, by then, were both busy family men, neighbors in a Section 8 kind of housing project called La Reforma Estates. Each apartment had concrete floors for goodness sake. For coins we grilled greasy hamburgers in the U of A’s popular “Louie’s Lower Level.” And then, with my BS and M.ED, I was gone, off to making readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic exciting and fun for generations of children and their families in San Diego.
Jim was in another world, a deputy sheriff, a cop. “Mr. Do-Right,” we used to say, no where close to in a fond way, and that put up some kind of barrier between us, I’m sure, in some way. Then a few years ago we ran into each other in the Tucson International Airport and, even after not seeing each other for a decade or so, we got in an argument pretty much over his seeing the military as a way to go for some kids whereas I basically feel that Uncle Sam’s spit and shined recruiters, with their used car dealer like hard sales, shouldn’t be allowed within three miles of any children other than their own.
But, that’s all in the past. Jim’s reaching out to me directly over the phone throughout my grieving the loss of my Nancy has reminded me of how much we loved each other as kids and how that affection is now rekindled. Jim lost a son to lightening when he was 12 and he so identifies with the pain that comes with losing a child or soul mate. His has been quite the shoulder for this old dude.
During his visit it was refreshing to find that we’ve led parallel lives in many respects. For a number of years in our hometown he worked with students in much the same manner as I have throughout my adulthood: giving it to them straight, with a hug and a high five; sharing stories of overcoming so they don’t seem like they’re the only ones in history having to do so; exposing them to shakers and doers, artists, thinkers; showing them how to put their best foot forward in life; helping them find opportunities to pursue; keeping it real, going less by what the rules are and more by what feels right; understanding that it’s truly the “truth” that sets one free.
Looks like he’s had some kind of life to me, including having a wonderful beautiful woman to share it with and I can truly testify to how great that can be.
Clearing the air, shortening the bridge, and having an old friend, a fellow 72 year old, back in my life, on the same page, in the sunset of our years, is gratifying to me beyond belief. Can’t wait until we get together again. And that should be soon. In Tucson.