It's been said that real friends help you move. I contend that real friends help you scrape paint off the floor, or drag a cast-iron bathtub across your living room and dining room.
The man who came to my house and helped me do those things - on his precious weekend time no less -- died suddenly a few weeks ago without warning. With him went a wry sideways view of the world that could always lift my heart and make me laugh. For twenty years it was his face and voice that came to mind when I thought of the word friend.
We met at WSU. I worked down in the newspaper and lived in the newsroom where I met Kevin who worked upstairs at the radio station. He had black hair and wore his grandfather's rumpled suits every day. He had a deep resonant radio voice and an elastic face.
Kevin turned out to be a good friend. He was there when I needed him for support and commiseration.. One night he found me after a girl had rejected me. I was sitting in a surplus swivel chair outside the Edward R. Murrow building. Somehow we decided to see how far we could ride the chair down the street - I ended up riding it down C-street, with Kevin running behind laughing and saying "Dude, I don't think this is a good idea."
Kevin was always analyzing the world around him and finding it strange and wanting. With a few words of interrogative, he could change your worldview. He was smart and funny and never unkind. When I met my future wife, he was the guy that said "go for it." He and Stacey came to our wedding, and then a week later, we came to theirs on the way back from our honeymoon.
We both married above our station and we knew how lucky we were.
We both bought beat-up houses and worked at low paid jobs so we couldn't afford contractors. We spent weekends at each other's place drinking beer and learning how to remodel and restore a home by the dimmed wisdom of old Handyman books culled from thrift store shelves.
He and I put the clawfoot bathtub in our bathroom -- dragging it up the back steps and into the house. We helped them paint their bungalow down McMinnville. We killed a shed in his backyard and danced on its haunted bones.
He is still a presence in this house. I can see him standing in my kitchen looking out the window at the rain, in what my dad calls "a ponder." He was a deep and introspective person that constantly analyzed the world around him and pointed out its strange permutations with wry wit.
I keep expecting him to turn to me and say "You know, Ed ..." and tell me something surreal and bizarre.
Thinking of him no longer with us, is surreal and bizarre.
When I went to nursing school, had kids, there was less time to visit. My first two years out of school, I worked every Saturday, leaving little time to get together. He and Stacey adopted a daughter and she thrived with the structure and love that he and Stacey provided. We saw each other less and the visits were often just a few hours rather than a weekend of laughing and talking.
We don't have many friends like that, Amy and I. We have few people who we would welcome into the our home. Few people whom I would ever call just to talk with. I don't remember the last time I talked with him.
Facebook has changed the way we think of our friends. It blurs our relations so that we feel closer connections from further away. Kevin was a daily presence in social media interaction. Yet, I don't remember that last time I talked with Kevin in person or on the phone. An hour chatting by the river in Astoria while the girls played in the park. I hear his voice, but don't remember the last words we spoke to one another.
It is the time not spent with the people that we love that we regret the most. The things not said. The weekends when we just couldn't get together. It's the drifting apart. Days of silence growing like weeds in an untended garden.
Stacy says it is the time we had that matters, and she's right. But that doesn't mean that I don't wish there was more of it.