You Never Gave Up On Me

My best friend in elementary school through high school is now deceased. His name is Kurt. He died of HIV/AIDS in 2006 but Irene and I didn’t learn about his death until 2011. Pity. The pity is embedded into the reason why Kurt died, how he died, and how Irene and I had become somewhat ‘detached’ in our friendship with him. The detachment had nothing to do with a fallout in friendship.

I met Kurt shortly after my family had moved to the same town that he had lived with his family at the time, and we attended the same elementary school. Fifth grade was my first year at the new school and I wasn’t a very outgoing person so meeting new people wasn’t something that came easy to me. Kurt wasn’t in my 5th grade class so I must have met him through a mutual friend. From that point on, we hung around together all the time.

Kurt was a storyteller. A very good storyteller whose stories mostly involved people closest to him, that of his mom Phyllis, his stepdad Clarence, and his sister Karen. Not to be left out were the housekeeper, Maria, along with Kurt and Karen’s ‘Benjy’-esque dog, Buttons. There are tons of Kurt stories to write about that highlight ‘Phyl and Clare’ (as Kurt would refer to them during his storytelling), along with periodic dialog exchange with the strong-accented housekeeper Maria, and also of Buttons as Maria lovingly called ‘Buttones-Palones’.

Elementary school led to Junior High, and then High School. We remained good friends throughout. I went on snow skiing day trips with the family on multiple occasions and spent one or two of those trips in their very cool cabin that was designed by Clarence. I remember how excited Kurt was when the cabin was being designed and built.

After high school, independence worked it’s way into everyone’s lives and we were all just growing up. Anytime I thought to chat with Kurt, I would call him. My then girlfriend-turned wife, Irene, and I would often call Kurt for an evening out of plain goofy fun. Fun could be as simple as a drive into Hollywood, maybe a movie, food at some point, whatever. We just knew that whatever we would end up doing together, the time spent would be a blast of fun.

Over time and after college and marriage, Irene and I moved across the country a few times for one another’s job. We always informed our friends of our new phone number and home address. I realized at some point that I was always the one doing the contacting with Kurt. If he ever initiated a call to me, I honestly don’t remember. This one-way friendship became frustrating to me, and I remember telling Irene I wasn’t going to call Kurt anymore. I would wait and see how long it would be before he would reach out and contact me.

My decision was a fateful mistake.

In 2011 Irene and I, now back in California, thought to look Kurt up since the contact information I had for him was no longer recent or valid. The internet search wasn’t what we expected, and our hearts immediately sank. It was then when we learned of Kurt’s passing five years previous. Our search included a link showing pictures of his memorial service. So, so very sad.

I remember immediately wondering what I might have been doing on December 3, 2006. By this time, Irene and I had already moved across the country four times, I had attended college again, and entered my third career as a teacher. There was so much that Kurt was not aware with the travels and career moves of Irene and I. All of this was upsetting.

Every once in awhile Kurt will show up in a dream. He’s actually one of the ‘regular’ returnees.

The other day my dream took me to visit him at his place of residence, which I believe was the previous residence of Phyl and Clare. Only now, Phyl and Clare were no longer around having passed away some years prior. Once there, we sat and chatted a bit. Not a lot of conversation actually took place, but rather long periods of contemplative silence which seemed OK on both our parts. Lights in the house were either dim, or not on at all in the rooms with large windows. I don’t remember what exactly we chatted about before deciding to go out and get ourselves dinner.

Kurt drove since he knew the area. The restaurant he took us to was located on an inclined road. There was a parking lot/structure next to it and the restaurant and parking were situated on different levels. Parking on the lot portion was at the same inclined angle as the street which led to a multi-level structure for additional parking if the ground lot itself was full.

Many people were out that night so we drove around the lot a couple times but didn’t find any open spaces. So I told Kurt to drop me off and I could wait for an open space, then I could stand in that space to ‘reserve’ it until Kurt looped back around. Kurt drove off to possibly find a place within the structure, at least that’s what I thought.

Surprisingly, four adjacent spaces opened up and there were no incoming cars to the lot. I was confident we would be able to procure one of them. Looking around, I saw no sign of Kurt’s vehicle and additional cars began to drive into the lot. When one of the four spaces became occupied I still had hope we could manage to get one of the remaining three, but still no sign of Kurt. Surely I thought that if he didn’t find a space in the structure he would loop back around to the adjacent lot that I was in and again try his luck. Cars two, three, and four filled up the remaining spots. No luck.

Not knowing what to do next I heard Kurt calling to me from the upper level restaurant outside waiting area. Annoyed, I asked him where he parked. He had decided to park down the street somewhere because he didn’t have any money to pay for parking in the parking structure. Now I was really frustrated and I told him to ‘go get the car and park in the structure, I’ll pay for it!’. So he did.

When we were finally seated in the restaurant, Kurt was with his then partner, Patrick. I had never met Patrick before, and I have no reason to believe there was ever even ‘a Patrick’, but he was there about to have dinner with us. Kurt and Patrick were seated on one side of the table, and I was seated on the opposite side. The restaurant itself was well lit and the interior was adorned with many accents of gold. Everything was shiny and clean.

During friendly conversation amongst the three of us, Kurt’s demeanor changed to one of being more serious. For Kurt, this was not typically the case as he was always smiling and laughing and getting others around him to laugh. Kurt said that he wanted to tell me something, something he had wanted to tell me for a very long time but just never did.

From all the time I have known you, you were always the one who worked harder on your end for our friendship. I took it for granted, the friendship was easy for me. I didn’t have to work hard because I knew you would do it. You would maintain communication, you would remember birthdays. You were always a good friend, and I just want you to know how much I have always appreciated the fact that you never gave up on me.

Kurt was right.