Of all the trappings of getting older (greying/balding, wild ass eyebrow hairs, achy joints), the worst by far is the rate of funeral attendance. In the first 45 years of my life, I had only been to 5 funerals and/or viewing services.
On Saturday, my 2016 total will already be at 3. Three.
We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of earth
The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes
The Gifted and Talented program began in my school when I was in 4th grade (based on a test taken in 3rd grade). So in 1979, I was part of the inaugural class of TaG students (nomenclature of the times, for now it is called GT) in my town. And, as far as I know, it was one of the first of its kind in the state of Texas.
For those of us selected for the program, it began 9 years of sharing many of the same classes. Sure, there were still cliques to an extent within our group, but for the most part, there was no outright ostracizing of any one person or persons. And by the time we were in high school, it was damn near full bore camaraderie for the entire lot of us.
We all shared many of the same issues: Pressure to excel at school, to go to a respected college or university, and to also somehow try to be a normal teenager. Despite all the barriers being a teenager puts in place regarding who we should be friends with (I’ll avoid the easy labels here), we all bonded.
And we are all suffering this week because we lost one of our own.
You run like river, on like a sea
You run like a river runs to the sea
Although Delinda and I were friends from that 4th grade, one day per week class, we never really hung out. I was way too into baseball, and she was way too into Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. But during our senior year of high school, we both realized we had a mutual love of U2. So she and her best friend Michelle (also in TaG) asked me if I wanted to go see U2 in concert with them. It was a no-brainer.
And it was probably my most memorable night from high school, even though it was not associated with anything other than a great concert with friends. Actually, I should call it a “shared experience” instead, because I’ve often said that attending that show felt like going to church. In a good way.
After the concert, the three of us ended up at Denny’s for a late meal with other classmates who happened to be at the show. And we all got to know each other in a way that had not happened before – unfiltered. So for the rest of our high school career, we were a lot closer than before. We never hung out again, other than full class get-togethers (that were not necessarily sanctioned by the school or the TaG program), but the true friendship began in earnest that year.
By the way, several years ago I found a recording of that U2 concert we attended and downloaded the entire show. I still have it.
And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground
If you are anywhere near my age (or older), you can guess what happened next. After graduation in 1988, everyone in our TaG class went their separate ways. This was before internet and cell phones (though “car phones” did exist for the 1%), and even before beepers. So if we were lucky, we might all see each other again at some reunion at an arbitrary year marker.
Of course, by the time our 10 year class reunion rolled around, internet existed and so did MySpace. That doesn’t mean Delinda and I reconnected to the point of hanging out, but I’m 99% sure we were MySpace friends. And I am 100% sure (she confirmed much later) that she would read all the entries of my old blog while at she was at work teaching. There were several years when I wondered who was going to my blog from the (name redacted) School to read my stuff, but she told me a few years ago that it was where she taught. Riddle solved.
So let’s fast forward to when I moved back to Burleson in 2013.
I don’t believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill
By now, of course, Facebook had taken over the world. It had also reduced class reunions to very informal gatherings at bars or restaurants because, let’s face it, there is far less mystery now at reunions due to social media. No need to rent a big room somewhere to catch up when most of the people you graduated with know what you had for dinner on Tuesday and that your daughter excels in her kick boxing class.
But for all its perceived faults, Facebook did reunite old friends. And that is how I ended up playing trivia every Tuesday night at a local bar & grill with Delinda and others. That led to many more instances of hanging out together, including our team playing Trivial Pursuit at her house to practice for the trivia “playoffs”, seeing Bob Schneider in concert in Arlington, and also taking her and others to Billy Bob’s (I got all of us on the “VIP list”) for her first time to see Bob once again. (I wrote about that night here, by the way.)
The last time I saw her was when our mutual friend (and, of course, TaG classmate) Derek (from the Owen Meany blog) came to visit Texas from his home in the Northwest. That seems like a long time ago, and the truth is, if I let the hindsight do the talking, that it was too long ago. Because that is the last time I got to really talk to her.
Sure, there were random Facebook messages from Delinda (always involving a cat, because she knows I’m a “dog guy” and she is most definitely a “cat person”). I think the last one was some goofy app that allowed her to place a cat in my profile picture. She was quite proud of that one, and rightfully so.
She would also send me an occasional message via Words With Friends while she methodically kicked my ass over and over again. Never anything serious, usually just a funny line about a word one of us managed to play.
And now I have two Words With Friends games that will expire at some point because she is not around to take her turn. And when I get those notifications, the hurt will kick in all over again. And the guilt, of course. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. I kick myself for not being better about keeping in touch with her, and isn’t that the way it always goes?
It might be the norm, but it doesn’t make it right.
One night after one of our early trivia competitions, Delinda took a selfie with me. As she was positioning her phone to take the picture, she said “I love my Leeming”.
I hate to admit that I can’t remember if I said anything in reply. I have a bad feeling that I just looked dumbly at the camera, knowing that I always look like crap in photos, and maybe said something pithy.
So I’ll say it now – the master of impeccable timing as usual.
I love you, too, Delinda. Thanks for the many years of friendship. I hope you have found the peace you so desperately sought.
Oh great ocean
Oh great sea
Run to the ocean
Run to the sea
– “One Tree Hill”, U2