Kyle e-mailed me to say he would be in town for a day on business and would have an hour or so of free time in the early evening. I wrote back and suggested we meet at a coffee shop I knew near his hotel. I would already be there studying, I told him, so he should just come by whenever he was available and look for me. I chose familiar turf for our reunion because I expected that our time together might pass at a slow crawl. It’s amazing to me that I could admit such a thing, even to myself—it showed how far our relationship had deteriorated.
As it turned out, I didn’t get much studying done. I was a bit anxious walking into the café, even though it was a couple of hours before Kyle would arrive. And I suppose the large mocha didn’t help, but my stomach was doing somersaults all afternoon until Kyle walked in. He saw me right away, waved, and stopped at the bar to order a soda before coming over to sit with me. We shook hands and began some inane small talk.
“How’s Kim?” I asked. His wedding had been a little more than a year before. It was also the last time I saw him. I was a groomsman at his wedding, not the best man. His brother was best man. It’s funny; I don’t think he ever said a nice thing about his brother when we used to hang out in junior high and high school.
After talking for a while about his new marriage and new house, he asked, “How’s school?” At the time, I was finishing one master’s degree and getting ready to start another in a different field. So, I told him what classes I was taking and described the program I would begin at a new school in the fall.
From this shallow starting point, neither of us had the courage to delve much deeper in conversation. While we sipped our drinks, we struggled along in chitchat for a little longer but it seemed that gaps of silence were swallowing large measures of our time together. I don’t think either of us had the ability to articulate what we were feeling, even if we had wanted to. We sat together like two acquaintances mourning the loss of a friend that each of us was close to. Yet, the pain of our loss was too deep to face so we skirted around that issue as though we had something else worthwhile to talk about. The strange dynamic was that the person whose loss each of us was mourning happened to be the one in the other seat.
During those silent moments, my mind flashed back to the memories of our times together that seemed much more real to me than the present situation. The defining images of our friendship have always been the weekend in 8th grade when our bond solidified. Kyle and I had known each other for a few years before and we were friendly, though not exactly “friends.” But, when we were assigned to work on a science class project together, we found that we really clicked—which surprised us.
At that age, I was pretty shy but at the same time managed to be free-spirited. I was known as one of the “funny” kids in our grade. Because I got good grades and was generally respectful to the teachers, I could get away cracking sarcastic comments out loud in class once in a while. Like most of my classmates, I was also obsessed with television, movies, and especially music. Kyle, however, was not like most of my classmates. He was known as “religious” and although he was generally liked, he was also a bit of an outsider.
So, I was a bit anxious walking up the driveway to Kyle’s house after my mom dropped me off in the late morning on a Saturday to work on our science project. As it turned out, though, it was the beginning of a great day. We started off sitting at his kitchen table with two blank sheets of paper talking about our assignment. At some point, Kyle started to do an impression of our teacher that was dead-on with some of Mr. Clarke’s patterns of speech. Seeing that I was amused, he began to do a roll call of impressions of various teachers and classmates in our school. Eventually, I was laughing so hard that I was doubling over and then—“pbbht”.
“Dude! You farted!” Kyle shouted. And then he joined in the unrestrained laughter.
As two insecure teenagers, we found it to be such a relief that we could be ourselves with each other. As the day passed, far more impressions, bad jokes, bodily noises, and laughter took place than work on our assignment. When evening came, I called my mom to ask if I could stay for dinner since Kyle’s mom had offered to bring me home afterward.
For dinner, the family was having Parmesan chicken. I was particularly hungry that night and after having two full chicken breasts, Kyle’s mom offered me the last one and I accepted. It remained a joke for many years following that Mrs. Dana would ask me if I was hungry for more Parmesan chicken. The most remarkable thing about that dinner, though, was the interaction in the family that I observed. They certainly didn’t live up to the “religious” stereotype that I had prepared myself for. They seemed to enjoy one another’s company and they actually talked to each other. On the rare occasions my family sat down together for dinner, we usually turned on the TV. And, when Kyle’s dad prayed before the meal, it wasn’t just a formality. Instead, he actually spoke with meaningful words that he made up on the spot, including thanking God that I could join them. The laughter from earlier in the day continued throughout dinner as the family joked with one another. When Kyle’s mom teased me about picking all the pieces of turnip out of my salad, I knew it was a way of including me in the fun of the evening and not intended to mock me. I didn’t realize until years later that I was witnessing the relationships of the only family of committed Christians that I would know until my junior year of college.
Since Kyle and I didn’t get much work done on our assignment, his mom said I could come over for a couple of hours again the next afternoon. I did, and we threw something together since it was due in class the next day. And, even though Mr. Clarke only gave us a C+ on our “simple machine”—a complicated system of weights and levers designed to pour a pop can (but didn’t)—I knew the real outcome of that assignment was the discovery of a trusted friend.
Of course, our trust in one another only grew and we developed countless other memories. Eventually, we could freely share not only laughter, but also tears of grief and even heated arguments. But, as we sat in that coffee shop, all we were sharing were awkward silences.
The memories that were flooding my mind suddenly seemed far away. I so wanted to talk openly with Kyle, the way I used to do, about what I was feeling. I thought that maybe, if I just made a comment like, “Boy, things sure are different from the way they used to be,” it might open the way for us to have a real talk about our relationship that was slipping away with the years. I believed I had almost built up the courage to say it, when I looked up at Kyle. I sensed he was about to say something. So, I waited.
“Well, I have to get back to prepare for my next seminar,” he said. “It was good to see you.”
“Yeah,” I replied, as my heart fell. “Thanks for contacting me. Let me know when you pass through again.”
We rose from our seats, walked to the door together, and shook hands. “Bye, Kyle,” I said.