Growing up, my best friend Jason lived within easy walking distance of my house and even easier biking distance, two and a half blocks away. We waited at the same bus stop for school in the mornings, ate lunch together, messed around in the afternoons, shared dinner at each-other’s houses, had sleepovers. In summers, camping, biking, going to different playgrounds, gaming, and movies were common activities. People constantly took us for brothers; Jason called us identical twins born six months apart.
It’s safe to say we were Geeks. Nerd, dork, and loser all raise my hackles, but I can embrace Geek. Even the coolest people in the world geek out over something. The rock star with her model trains, the artist with his encyclopedic knowledge of orchids, the sports star with the screening room showing black and white films reel-to-reel. Since Jason and I were little more than a collection of odd obsessions like these, we were Geeks full time. Whether enjoying books, movies, music, candy, soda, games, school, or (eventually) girls, we brought the same level of obsessive, life-or-death intensity.
In eighth grade, Jason’s family moved and carted him off like luggage. My family didn’t own a car. He only lived forty minutes away but it may as well have been another world. For a few years, we saw each other when we could. Then life continued.
I lost my best friend when all the cliques had already formed, and I didn’t have the social skills to make inroads. In some ways, I never recovered.
I didn’t have another best friend until ten years later. George and I worked together at Starbucks. He was gay, hilarious, disheveled, and pretty. Shai Lebouf, if Shai Lebouf was tall and Cuban. He volunteered with developmentally disabled kids. He chain smoked. He collected dolls and action figures. He had five cats and lived with his boyfriend’s family.
When I lost my job, he and his boyfriend moved in with me and my wife. It was tight quarters - four people and seven cats in an apartment sized for two - but we needed their income to survive. Living together strained our relationship, but it was still strong. When I had no way to afford it, George used connections to get me a free flight back home for our week-long family Thanksgiving bacchanal. In fact, he got tickets for all four of us.
This grand gesture killed our friendship. George invited a childhood friend to come along. Meredith paid for her own ticket and flew separately. She and I did not get along one iota. Hate is a strong word, but our mutual animosity skirted damned close. The trip veered between exhilarating fun and torture. When we returned home, Andi and I asked George and Jose to move out. We loved them, but we were afraid our friendship would die if we continued living with them.
They claimed to be fine with this decision. We continued being friends, although we didn’t see each-other as often. Then George and Jose broke up, and George moved in with Meredith. I imagine she spent her days speaking ill of me. George and I grew further apart. The last time we got together it was stilted and horrible.
The loss of that friendship was more devastating than losing Jason. High school was terrible and I didn’t have the best home life, but I was young and I survived. Miami is a tough town to do alone. It feels like a party is always happening somewhere, and if you’re not part of it then you’re just a loser. After George and I parted ways, I stopped trying to join the party.
Eventually, through whatever means these things happen, I found another group of friends. I was the oldest by several years, but I felt comfortable with them. I also had the good sense to appreciate them.
I particularly remember a trip to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando, the third year we’d gone. On Sunday, we had our traditional Cracker Barrel breakfast, pushing three tables together to do it. Bellies full, we talked over coffee and food sculptures made from leftovers, laughing until we choked. I stepped back for a moment. The late morning sun slanted on our table, horizontal blinds making ladders on their smiling faces. I realized I would never have a group of friends like them. So many coming together so often and so well, it never lasts. Others friends would gather around other tables, but not the same faces.
I’m glad that I took that moment.
One of the people at Cracker Barrel was Gabriel. Over a space of years, he became best friend number three. Gabriel and I mostly sat around and watched TV. Still, I was completely myself around him. He fit the bill in a way no one else did, and he moved to Seattle.
In My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, the character of Ian Miller asks the actor Ian Gomez (on whom he’s based) to be his best man.
“I’m touched,” the actor Ian Gomez says. “I had no idea you had so few friends.”
In Tombstone, a stuntman who trained the lead actors in gun play asks Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday why he’s doing all this for Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp.
“Wyatt Earp is my friend,” Kilmer / Holiday says.
“Hell, I’ve got lots of friends,” the stuntman says.
Kilmer / Holiday answers, “I don’t.”
Since my shared language with Gabriel has mostly been movies, I think using these shallow examples to express deeper emotion is appropriate.
It’s possible Gabriel had no idea I considered him my best friend. It’s even probable. The virtual age disconnects what we feel from what we express. In my case, compound that by my being a writer. To write that I love him is easy, and I’ve told him before, but I don’t know if he understood how much losing him hurt.
Moving has made him a better person. He taught himself to cook, he exercises, eats better, climbs mountains, and has become something of an environmentalist. I admire him for knowing himself. I admire him for his candor. I admire him for being the spark in a party that others gather around. He is my friend and I have missed him dearly.
Of course, a tiny, selfish part of me hates him for leaving.
I don’t know who my next best friend will be. I already know I’ll never have another friend like Gabriel.