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In Praise of Lifelong Friends

Jose and some of the boys (with my dad) at my 21st birthday.

Today is a day of pain.

I didn’t want it to be. I wasn’t expecting it. But here it is.

I lost a lifelong friend just a few days ago, someone I met way back in middle school. He was just in his fifties.

We met the usual way. I heard there was a kid in the field at school at recess who was challenging all comers to a pushing duel—whoever pushes the other guy down to the ground wins.

Our battle shook the schoolyard. And was the stuff of legend.

Of course, Jose and I became the best of friends after that.

Through the years our group of friends would be together daily. We weren’t the jocks. Or the theater kids. Or nerds. Or brains. Each of us had our own distinct interests and abilities and goals. Mostly we were family. Not “like” family. These men were and are my brothers. Their families adopted us as well, in their own ways. I count myself incredibly lucky.

Yet, like many families, our different paths would separate us. Some of us kept in contact regularly. Some would not. But that deeper connection, the one that informs who we are as human beings, has never been lost.

My friend Jose was built like a giant brick. No. Really. He was a solid brown rectangle with hands, feet and a head that looked like a smaller brick.

He was both one of the most intimidating and least intimidating men I’ve ever known.

He was immensely adoring of his lovely family, which welcomed his friends with both warmth and delicious Filipino food (the rice cooker always at work, delicious leftovers at the ready, an invitation to dinner always offered). Although I could never build the courage try squid cooked in its own ink.

Jose didn’t teach me how to laugh, but he certainly displayed an unbridled joy, punctuated often with high-pitched giggles, that he allowed me to be a part of.

He did teach my unaware self about everyday racism. Never a complainer, he would just casually tell me about his experiences out in the world. A smart, charming man beyond his years in sophistication, he often gave his name as “Joseph” on the phone when calling about job interviews. He would recall the look of (sometimes unpleasant) surprise on the face of the job interviewer when they first laid eyes on this dark, eloquent, mini-hulk. Jose was “trolling” before that became a thing.

He was quite the dancer and I was immensely jealous of his ability to flirt. And, well, his tongue work was legendary. Honestly. It seemed to have a life of its own whenever he released it from his mouth. I often screamed at the sight of it.

By the way, I don’t think Jose would be upset that I mentioned this after his passing. I think he’d be delighted.

Jose and I saw less and less of each other through the years, our own struggles (certainly mine with depression and addiction and the destructive aftermath) keeping us occupied. In the realm of excuses, ours weren’t the worst. But we would catch up every once-in-a-while and it felt like no time had passed. We’d laugh and share what we needed to and go back to our lives.

To me that’s what a lifelong friendship is about. It never goes away. It can fade a little, sure, but it holds a place in our hearts forever. I wish this kind of friendship on everyone.

For all of the pain I feel right now, for the dark turns my life had recently taken, I would not trade one moment of my time with Jose and Michael and Steve and Carlos and Pete and Mike and Russ and Jim and their families to ease any of it.

I didn’t really lose Jose the other day. I will never lose him. He will live on in my children and my children’s children and in anyone who sees or experiences anything good in me that inspires the good in them.

I love you, brother. The pain is here but it will fade. Your presence will not.

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