published in Volume 4, Issue 2 on November 10th, 1997The last time I addressed these pages, I told a tale of my best friend John and I going down to Mexico to celebrate his impending nuptials. You can see it on Morpo's web site if you wish, it's called, "A Matter Of Perspective, Or, What I Did On My Summer Vacation." I was a younger man then. So, late on a Saturday night, or early on a Sunday morning depending on one's perspective, I was coming up the stairs when my aunt called out from her bedroom. "Andy Monasterio called. He wants you to call him. . . John was killed." The delivery of such a message in such a manner may seem inappropriate to you, certainly there are "better" ways to find out, but the message would have been the same: Your best friend is dead. I remember pounding up the stairs and falling at her bedside. She stroked my head, as I said over and over again "not John, not John." He died, as he lived, flying a plane, this particular time for pay. Six months after his first marriage, a few weeks before his 37th birthday. Anyone who really knew John will tell you that if he got to pick an ending, it would have looked a lot like the one he got. But those who remain get the hard parts. Remaining alive, I did funeral things. I took time off from work, flew to where the body was, met with bereaved family and friends, spoke at the funeral and mainly told John stories:
The night the police stopped us for racing. The day we bungee jumped on Galveston beach. Our first parachute jumps. The Kansas City Willie Nelson Picnic in '78 (John wrecks his car, I almost get beaten-up by a very large woman). John's trip around the world in a WWII bomber. John's Wedding in the warehouse we refurbished in three days. The time John's left rear tire passed him on the interstate.Other hard parts come after the funeral, I think. Just because we say our piece, cry some, listen to songs and exchange memories we aren't excused from grieving it out one day at a time, long after the services are concluded. It's been well over a year now, but I still think about John quite often. The thoughts all web together, one linking to another, and another... The memories that surface aren't the big ones, like the popular episodes in some t. v. series montage. No, they are all the little things that join thoughts together. For instance, I think about him when I microwave something in my kitchen because one chilly October night John and I drove in his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle to buy that microwave. Volkswagens. John had a lot of Volkswagens. I learned how to drive a stick in one of his rusted red Beetles. In a VW wagon he installed a gas heater, and on cold winter nights sometimes John would share its warmth with me outside Salem Baptist church, guarding the cars in the parking lot as I worked my way through college. I can't tell you any exact thing we talked about on those nights, any more than I remember what we talked about on those summer walks on the railroad tracks. On those days, he and I would stop at the store, buy some fresh fruit and follow the rails. I remember talking about love and marriage and death, and joking about sacred things. Oddly, after all those talks I don't know his favorite food or color. Anyone who met him even briefly could tell you this about him: he loved all things associated with the sky: planes, parachutes, birds, astronomy. He worked around, in, or on airplanes most of the twenty years I knew him. When his gypsy pilot life moved him to Laredo, he'd call on Monday nights, and as he approached 37, he'd talk a lot about children. Some of the best pictures of him show him holding his niece and nephew. He never had any children of his own, but he did very well with the children of others. He was wise, and a very good playmate. John loved to play. Like some kid, he'd wear shorts when it was too cold and insist on driving with the top down until the rain started to fall. Like you, my life has had periods that when I was living through them, they were merely days strung together. It is only in retrospect that those days take on a golden glow. For me, one such period was when I worked nights, and John was an airplane mechanic on call. During the day we'd go swimming in public pools, private pools, and plunging down water slides. Once, in the waters of a flooded quarry, I remember watching him swing on a rope and dive artfully into the sun-warmed water. John had a powerful inner gyroscope; he was just plain good at stuff that required balance. Almost all of his movements reflected the skillful bounce of a natural but untrained dancer. That day I tried to follow him down into the darkness as the water turned icy cold around us. I'm sure he went deeper than I because John had that edge that made him _have_ to go as deep or a far as possible. He liked the fact that some people called him a "wild ass." John was the crazy one, he drove faster, climbed higher and hated to lose. He was very competitive. But when we would jump out of, or over something, while I wasn't slick like he was, he never judged me harshly that I know of. I was as graceless as he was agile, but that was okay. John was the one who urged me to jump off the high-board, to try that somersault. He was never a bully about it, he just really liked watching people push their limits--he believed in it on some very spiritual level. I am better for having known him. At the funeral we played some of John's favorite songs. One, Steve Chapin's "I Let Time Go Lightly," has a line that goes like this: "Old friends, they mean much more to me than the new friends, Because they know where you are, and they know where you've been." I think of him a lot when I look at the wonderful new friends. The Bob's and Joe's and Amy's of my life. As great and special as they are, I sure miss John some days.
I have to make myself jump off the high-board, now.Anyway, it's an old message, one you may read, and think: how cliche. But I tell you this, if you have a John in your life, give 'im a call. Because even though our lives are busy with all that happens in a year, only a few things really matter.