Saturday, October 8, 2011

A dedication to my friend

I have never much liked the notion of "best friends". In fact, I tend to sneer at people who use the term. For better or worse, though, everyone has one. Whether he or she is a best friend of convenience, proximity, dependence, or pure genuineness, often that friend is all you have.

I lost my best friend at an early age. He died when I was 17. I suppose his death is one reason I cringe at the use of the term. Maybe, actually likely, I have never fully recovered from his death. It is something I think about often.

This week, I am sad to say, I have lost another one.

My friend Derrick was an unbelievably smart, very funny man. He was infectiously engaged in whatever he was doing, and he tended to avoid those who were not. He was a master of quips. I have never forgotten the story of how he met his fiancee. They met at a party in college, and she introduced herself:

"Hi. My name is Kitty."

His reply? "What, is that a euphemism?" She laughed, as that's just what you are inclined to do around him. Derrick liked people who could make fun of themselves, and so they naturally clicked. He was to marry her next year.

Derrick was no stranger to tragedy. His father died in a car crash when he was 15. He remembered his father fondly, often referring to him as "Pops" in stories, which always reminded me of the Albert Finney character in Big Fish. The memories were full of exaggeration and flavor, but I suspect that is exactly how he remembered them. One day, he uncharacteristically wept when remembering his father saving a run-over cat. Even then, he talked of his father leaping off their porch (like Superman) when he witnessed it. Let me tell you, there was a not a dry eye in sight as he told the story.

Derrick and I referred to each other as "phone friends". We rarely saw each other after college, but he is one of the few people where you could go a year without talking with him, and still start up the conversation exactly where you left off the last time. I marveled at this.

I have dealt with a lot of loss in the past couple of years, more than I imagine most who are reading this realize. This one has just been devastating for me. I have caught myself multiple times this week reminiscing one of his gloriously exaggerated stories. It begins with him being stuck in a business meeting, late for an anniversary date with Kitty. His meeting adjourns at 6:45, more than an hour after it was intended to last. He races down the stairs, because the elevator is broken. He dashes across the city street in the pouring rain, running...running...running to the restaurant where he's reserved a table for 6:30. He enters the restaurant soaked to the point of shoe-squealing. He searches the restaurant, desperately hoping to find her. Fortunately, she's there, and he takes the engagement ring out of his sopping pocket.

Kitty later told me he asked her at an Applebee's on a Sunday, with clear skies. But he happened to tell her the same story before he asked her, but it was about his Pops. Kitty knows the circumstances, but she remembers the story.

Derrick taught me that the most important thing in life is perception. "If you don't like a memory, tell it the way you want it. Soon, that becomes the memory."

As for you, Derrick, I won't have to change a thing.