Thirty-five years ago tonight, I got a phone call that my best friend from high school had died in an automobile accident earlier that day.
That evening I spoke with Ted’s mother, his father, his sister and his brother. They each took their turn on the line, each with a different wish, request, memory, reassurance sent in my direction. No one of them took the easy route of leaving this call to the others.
For a considerable number of years, I could not imagine living through a December 27 without memories surfacing through the day – memories of sitting in a darkened phone booth that first evening with the news, memories of reading a scripture passage at the service in the funeral parlor, memories of helping roll Ted’s casket across the marble floors of a New Orleans mausoleum.
What started out being unimaginable, of course, sooner or later occurred with regularity. The week after Christmas became a busy time with my aging parents, in alternate years a busy time with Marc’s family in Pennsylvania. There were traditions for Marc and me to start as a couple, responsibilities for us to carry out, often enough travel home to New England to plan for the following day.
With the passage of time my parents sent me clippings from the New Orleans newspapers containing the obituaries of Ted’s mother, his father, even his brother. Only his sister survives, and when December 27 comes around I think about calling her, but the route to finding her home phone can appear daunting and in a way even intrusive after all these years. I know, however, that she would welcome the call, and so my resolution to reach her somehow gets strengthened with this writing.
And, of course, I ask myself on a December 27 like today: what would twenty-year-old Ted make of John in his fifties?
For that matter, what does John in his fifties make of John and Ted there at the end of their teens, finding their friendship turned unexpectedly into a silence and an absence?
Even now, I realize, long stretches of quiet or idleness the week after Christmas can find me uneasy – as though other disappearances might be about to mark my life. Writing and exchanging Christmas cards has about it something of the flavor of signing pacts and agreements that there will be another opportunity twelve months down the line to do just this again with these same friends and family.
Ted might smile lovingly at such an imagining.