The Drowning Gull 1 - Page 72

down rebounds. However, you nearly always fell to the floor in the process of nabbing them That prompted the ref to blow his whistle and call a traveling violation. Despite your efforts, the other team almost always ended up with possession of the ball.

Height didn’t help as much in softball, but your speed did. I hated the fact that you were faster than me. Did I ever admit it? I don’t think I did; I went on pretending that I could keep up. I only beat you once in race. But looking back-- did you let me win? Something tells me you did. That’s the type of friend you were.

When we started playing softball we were on different teams. But my father was my coach-- and since you were my best friend, he worked out a trade to ensure that we could play together. I pitched and played short stop and you played third base. With your speed, running the bases was what you did best; you ran so fast that I called you a gazelle. That was around the time of your obsession with Don Mattingly. Oh how you idolized the Yankee first basemen. You so desperately wanted to be like him that you mimicked his batting stance. Somehow simply pretending to be Don filled you with a great deal of confidence. I always joked that you hit better as him than as yourself.

On rainy days when we couldn’t be outside playing sports, we played board games. To this day I can’t play the game Life without thinking about you. You loved that game so much that in middle school we played it constantly. But you didn’t like the rules and so you made up your own. Your rules enabled you to have more children than the game dictated. Kids were always spilling out of your car-– one girl, Grace, and the rest boys. As a young girl, you desperately wanted to have a daughter someday-- but first you would get married. Prince Charming wasn’t a figment of your imagination nor was he a mythical man; it was only a matter of time until you met him.

Bruce Willis and Patrick Swayze were your first two princes. The walls in your room – I can still see them - bore images, torn from newspapers and magazines, of those two men. Every week you religiously watched Moonlighting. You memorized the script from the mini series North and South and when Dirty Dancing came out you suddenly developed an obsessive passion for dancing.

I had no crushes-- or rather I did but I couldn’t identify them as such. I taped pictures of Olivia Newton-John to the mirror in my bedroom, but I told myself that I did it only because I loved her songs and the movie Grease. You may have been the one to bend the rules while playing a game but I was the one struggling to conform to society’s rules. If only I had paid closer attention to you; if only I had realized then that sometimes one needs to bend the rules in order to survive. Maybe I could have accepted the fact that I was different – that I liked girls the way I was supposed to like boys. On occasion, I catch myself wondering what sort of influence the internet would have had on your crushes – and mine. Then I realize, I’m better off not knowing. Our world in the eighties was a simpler world.

By the time high school rolled around, your tastes in men evolved. In the only class we ever took together, our teacher assigned watching the Broadway play Into the Woods for homework. It was airing on PBS and we were expected to watch it so that we could discuss the plot in class. We did more than watch. After getting over your initial shock that the cow wasn’t real, and my shock over how much it disturbed you, you became enchanted by the music. Days after watching the show, you took the bus to the closest Sam Goody – those were the days before Ipods and Itunes, something you would never experience – and purchased the sound track to Into the Woods. The two of us, in the privacy of your backyard, lest we be deemed mentally unstable by our peers, used to act out specific scenes. I favored the songs sung by Jack and the Witch. You became fanatical about the Baker, who was played by Chip Zion. I pretended to climb a bean stalk and completely off key I belted out the song, “Giants in the Sky.” And then in creative act of anger I threw imaginary beans and sang, “It’s the Last Midnight.”

Not only did you learn the lyrics sung by the Baker, you memorized his movements throughout the show. Cajoling me into being the Baker’s Wife, you took the lead as we sang, “It Takes Two.” Down came the pictures of Bruce and Patrick, up went pictures of Chip. To this day, more than twenty years later, the song lyrics are still wedged in my memory. I still love watching the show for the most sentimental reason of all. When I watch it, I feel your fleeting ghostly presence, the presence of my best friend.

For you, Into the Woods gave birth to a fascination with Broadway. Whenever you had time and money you saw a show. A few we even saw together, trekking into Manhattan from Queens on a brutally hot summer afternoon to see a matinee. We loved the feeling of being independent, the tentative strides away from childhood. Among the shows we saw were Cats and Six Degrees of Separation. With your mother, who cherished you and indulged your every desire, you saw Phantom of the Opera and David Gains quickly replaced Chip Zion in her heart. While he still had the lead, you must have gone to the show at least a dozen times. In your wallet, you even carried his picture, cut out from the playbill. When you died, did you have his picture in your pocket?

From middle school, I followed you to St. Francis Prep High School. And from there, I inadvertently followed you – you wanted to stay close to home and I wanted to play on the basketball team - to New York University. During my sophomore and junior years we roomed together in Hayden Hall. Those were the days you needed a television in the room so that you could watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard became your secret lover. So enthralled did you become with the show, that you actually spent money to attended a Star Trek convention. There you purchased your very own Treky uniform. Was it red or yellow? I can’t remember. I thought you were crazy. Sometimes I still do. You also collected the small Star Trek action figures which you displayed on your desk. Do you remember the time you forgot to tell me that my father had called? He came to visit me the following week, and jokingly stuck Picard upside down in a half empty bottle of beer. For weeks he reeked of alcohol and you swore you’d never forgive me. Did you?

Sadly, I can not specifically remember what your major was, but I’m certain it was some sort of science. Am I right? When anyone asked you what you were studying, you always replied, “pre-med.” More than anything, you wanted to be a doctor. On many occasions, I envied the clarity of your dream. It had so much more substance than mine. You wanted to heal the sick; I wanted to be free to endlessly travel the world and write a book. You knew exactly what you wanted, but en route to medical school you took a detour to Boston University for a Master’s Degree. Then you died.

Did you ever send out applications to med school? Every time I sit in a doctor’s office, I think of you. I wonder - if things had been different - would you have realized your dream? I am yet to realize mine.

You were, without a doubt, my best friend. But no one ever warned me that a best friend may not be there to celebrate milestones in my life-- like getting married, having a baby. I wish you were here to meet my son. You would have loved him and his curiosity.

Nor did anyone tell me that a best friend wouldn’t be there to hold me when sadness strikes and disappointment abounds. I have learned to live without you, but I still miss the friendship we shared-- the comfort of your presence.

I remember coming home from an extended trip abroad in my early twenties. Brimming with excitement and tales of adventure, I could not wait to share with you the photos I took and the stories I collected. While we flipped through my photo album, your mother walked into your bedroom, glanced at several pictures of India and exclaimed, “Wasn’t your mother worried while you were gone? How could she let you go? Anything could have happened to you?”

I didn’t know how to respond. Now, as a mother myself, I know the terror that must have lived in my mother’s heart while I was away. Your mother was right. Anything could have happened to me, and lots of things did-- but I survived.

You never went further way than Boston, and you were killed less than five miles from home in a car your older brother was driving. He was thrown from the car and suffered no more than a shoulder injury. I wasn’t fair.

Seventeen summers ago, I was living in Pennsylvania when my father called. It was the most difficult phone call he had ever made; the most painful I ever received. Upon hearing that you were dead, I sank to the floor and cried. My world collapsed. The person who always held me up, the person who always protected me and the only friend who was always there for me was gone. You had left me for good, but not without memories. You accompanied me through my childhood when I most needed a friend. And in doing so, you made me feel wanted.

The Drowning Gull

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