"We should stay in touch" , a saying nearly everyone has said a ton of times to a ton of different people since they turn about 18 years old. Graduating high school it's said to all your friends from home, meet people on spring break... "we should stay in touch", leave your first job, meet people on your honeymoon, friends you bump into at the mall from years back ... "we should stay in touch."
It's very often over promised and under delivered. Just how it goes. Life gets in way. You lose track of that it's actually been a year not 3 months since you last talked. People develop different interests. People move. Friends drift apart naturally or friends fight. Priorities change. Thursday night softball takes a backseat to working overtime. Sunday NFL traditions get traded for kids little league games. It's just how it goes. No one's at fault, it's just a part of life.
You're probably asking yourself at this point why I'm writing this, or referencing this phrase, and that's fair.
About a week and half ago I was notified one of my very good friends from college had passed away. A lot of emotions hit me during the few hours after receiving that text, and often hit me unexpectedly. I'll get back to that.
My friend was one of the funniest, kindest, silliest, and enjoyable people to be around. We attended college together and got closer and closer each year, nearly becoming inseparable by senior year. We bonded over our ability to make each other laugh, bust chops , and similar interests in sports. He was a big tall kid and his personality matched. One of those guys you could spot across a room and start laughing to yourself knowing the minute you saw him, you would go right back to your pick and roll routine. He rips on you, you rip on him, and then your other friends divide up insults between the two of you. He was always smiling, always willing to help, and always the guy who could cheer you up just being around.
Back to those emotions. I've always felt driving (especially alone) can be a good time to think. Turn the radio a little lower, take your time, and "spend some time in thought" as Jim Valvano said. So naturally while I was driving is when the loss of my friend hit me the hardest. I teared up, I pictured his face, I scrolled through old pictures of us, but most importantly I decided to think about all the stories and memories that made me smile and laugh instead of being upset and crying.
There sure were a ton of laughs over the years.
The simplest one that I'll always giggle at is around mid October each year and his seeing his roommates at lunch being mad at him for blaring "All I Want For Christmas Is You" at top volume at 7am to wake everyone in his room up, as well as everyone on his floor. He would continue do this everyday until Christmas break. Each day louder and louder, and each day laughing more and more. By the end of it, his roommates actually enjoyed it. He was just that kind of guy that you had to laugh at his silliness and couldn't be mad at it.
Christmas was always good for a few stories from my buddy. Like the time we held our annual Christmas party in my house off campus and he showed up dressed as a human stocking. 6'3 220 of red velvet. Late into the night people told me we had run out of toilet paper, and being the poor college kids we were and it being the end of the semester I took the $2 I had to my name and started asking around for a $1 a piece from my roommates and people to chip in since it was our house hosting and a bring your own party. I think I ended up with $11 bucks and figured the $1.50- $2 a roll price (remember those times) would get us enough to survive the night. I mentioned I was going to walk over to the gas station and of course my buddy volunteered to take the walk (I told you how kind he was) with me. We took the block walk and got a crossed eye look from the gas station store attendant because there was a guy in full size stocking behind me. I grabbed 7-8 rolls of toilet paper gave them to my buddy with the money and said I was heading to the bathroom and to pay for it. He met me outside with just 4 rolls, and a bag of chips, and a few candy bars. I barked there was a chance we would now run out of toilet paper and we had just borrowed money from people. His response ... " I was hungry, finder's fee." I had to laugh. Harmless, and silly... and hungry apparently.
I thought about the time I had a big date Freshman year and needed a car to borrow since I didn't have one on campus, without even blinking he handed me the keys and said good luck. Even helped me look for the key when it fell off his broken key ring in the grass on the walk to the parking lot. I thought about the time we left an off campus party and came back to campus with a cooler half full of beers. Some of those were cans , some were glass bottles (a violation). When public safety asked us to inspect the cooler and asked "are there any glass bottles in there" and before I could even speak he said "No man, no bottles." The officer opened it up and before he could comment, my buddy without missing a beat said "Okay, maybe there are some glass bottles in there." We each got a letter to meet with the Res Director to handle the fine. The woman didn't even care much since we were over 21, however she mentioned they had to fine us $5 per bottle, a standard violation on campus. I ended the meeting by telling the woman not to fine my friend and split the violation, that every bottle was mine. She said that would be fine as long as he showed up to the meeting. He blew off the4 meeting and ended up taking a larger fine than mine in the end. Later on I thought about walking into my house off campus and seeing him sitting there (we never locked our door) watching Syracuse Uconn in the 5th overtime. I asked why he was there and he said " I walked down to see what you guys were up to and this game won't fucking end." Lastly I thought about our times at homecoming after college, meeting up around Christmas over the years, and just him in general as a dear friend of mine.
Then I became extremely upset that I couldn't remember the exact last time I saw him. Side note- It's of much more significant impact but the scene in Saving Private Ryan always hits me hard. Specifically when after laughing about his brothers he takes a second and says "that was it, that was the last night we were all together."
He had moved to South Carolina for a job, had a child. I worked, I got married. As I mentioned, life moves on, you drift apart. But I couldn't get over that I couldn't specifically remember our last night together and more upsetting was that whenever that night was I had no idea it would be our last night together.
I think that last part hit me harder. I got upset about it, almost fixating on it. It's hard not to. Even though we hadn't seen each other in a while it bothered me I couldn't remember that "last time", I felt like if I knew I could have cherished it, remembered it, or had it as closure in a sense.
Which brings me back to my main point of this article. "We should stay in touch." I do take great pride in that for many of my college friends I was extremely diligent in organizing a yearly homecoming gathering, a Christmas gathering or sometimes a summer get together after college. Part of that was that i was three hours away from where I went to school, the other part was sometimes you need someone to be the pain in the ass in the group. I sent group emails, worked out logistics, saved hotel rooms for people, texted, called etc. Early on when "oblos" were at a minimum for our group (ie- entry level jobs, no marriage etc) they were attended greatly. It was easy. As the years wore on , the less and less they became attended, less people were on the email or the text as their absence for a few years or relocation , or job or 6 million other things came into play of why they couldn't make it. Then a few years later the get togethers stopped altogether. It becomes a hassle to organize, not 1 set weekend can work for everyone and to be honest you know your friend with 3 kids can't make it so you feel guilty asking. You can still call each other, see their pictures on Instagram and stay updated to an extent but for the most part- they are out of your lives. Like I said it happens.
My final point in all of this to those of you who read this, especially those younger than me or freshly out of college , is these.
1- Make the effort.
Is it a pain to drive a few hours to attend homecoming or a golf outing with your buddies ? Sure. But about 99% of the time, if you really do love you friends- it's worth it. I never once drove home from those outings and said "that sucked." I laughed to myself about our time together, slipping right back into our groove like no time had passed, I smiled at how successful my friends were, how happy their significant other made them, or how lucky I was to see them.
Find events that work for you, or find ways to stay in touch in person even if it's once a year. I promise you it gets tougher the older you get, and your time right out of college is the best way to establish those traditions. NCAA Tournament, Golf Outing, fantasy draft etc. It's much easier to use bench marks that people can plan around.
Don't be afraid to be the pain in the ass of the group. Everyone will roll their eyes when the email comes in of "homecoming update", but if someone didn't do it your friend group will fade a lot faster than expected. Those times together are few and far between but I promise you they disappear faster than you can imagine.
As I tear up writing this, I'm thankful I got a bunch more times with my friend after graduation and we both made that effort to stay in touch. We both sucked it up and drove to see each other, we both knew the price of tolls and the hassle was all worth it for a weekend of laughs.
I promise you staying in touch is always worth it, and you sadly never know when the last time you see your friend will be.
I'll never see my friend again, but I'll always be thankful for those times we shared together. I'll always remember his smile, the stories, and how we bonded together. I'll always be thankful for his friendship.
"Fairness doesn't govern life and death if it did no good person would die young" - Mitch Albom
RIP Bucket . We all miss you.