Monday, March 05, 2007

The Ties That Bind

Got an email today from my old friend Dobie. He's the guy on the right in the pictures.

Dobie and I met when we were both sophmores at Eastern Illinois University in 1981. We lived on the same dorm floor, Carmen Hall, 4th floor. He and his roommate Kringle (Chris) were inseparable. They were quite the pair-- Chris came from Nashville, a small town in Central Illinois. Dobie grew up on the South side of Chicago. Soon, the three of us were friends, along with Joe, from Naperville, and a bunch of other guys on our dorm floor.

It was Dobie and I that stayed the closest friends out of the bunch. He eventually became friends with some of my other friends, like Andreas and Tas. In the early '90's, he and I were rooming together in an apartment on the North side of Chicago. Our apartment became the center of a bunch of people coming and going. We all started frequenting a cafe/restaurant/bar on Lincoln Avenue and Roscoe called the Torchlight. The place became a hoppin' nexus. A guy named Sung Koo owned a comic book store kitty corner from the Torchlight. It carried Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and other "alternative" comics. He and a group of Chicago comic book artists hung out at the Torchlight. The place was filled with all manner of hipsters-- artists, musicians, etc.-- and you could go in any night of the week and have a good conversation with someone.

Life moved on. I worked as a substitute teacher. Because I speak Spanish pretty well, I was asked to stay at a school, despite my lack of a teaching certificate. With my encouragement, Dobie re-entered journalism, the field his training was in (he'd been working as a hotel manager). He took a job with the Chicago Defender. People he worked with there entered our social circle. He moved on to Jet, working as an editor and reporter. And then, for various reasons, our friendship drifted.

Around the time I became a father, in 1994, he took a job with the Harlem Globetrotters, as their publicity director. This entailed a move to Phoenix, Arizona, where they're based. I got my teaching certification in 1998, and busied myself working as a teacher and raising a child.

Eventually he left the Globetrotters organization, and we lost touch with one another. I thought of him a lot-- it was a friendship I missed.

Last winter, I decided that I was going to track him down and fix things. After making a lot of internet searches, I found him-- simply by correctly guessing his email, of all things.

He had ended up in Singapore. He'd pursued a relationship there, becoming a writing instructor, something he was very suited for-- he's an outstanding writer.

I discovered that he had been on vacation, scuba-diving off of Phukat, Thailand, when the tsunami hit on December 26, 2004. Had he not been under water at that moment, he'd likely have been killed. He and the diving group he was with returned to a scene of devastation. He spent the day helping the wounded and dying, and helping a child find his parents.

It was, as he stated, a real attitude adjustment. He'd become very negative in his life-- not hard to do when both of your parents die untimely deaths-- his father had been murdered on the steps of their home in the early seventies, and his mother (and sister) died when that very same home burned down in 1989-- he himself had barely escaped with his sister's baby daughter. Surviving one of the worst catastrophes in history woke him up-- made him realize that life is pretty good, even when its difficult.

Singapore's been good for him, I think. He's gotten a chance to hang out with people from all over the world. He's been working on a book. Thanks to Vonage, I can call him in Singapore for 5 cents a minute. We've stayed in touch.

He was going to move back here in December-- he left his university job-- but another job opportunity arose, and he's staying for a while. That was what the email was about-- his change in plans. He's going to stay there one more year and finish his book.

Last April, when his older sister Lottie passed away due to complications of diabetes, he contacted me and asked me to go to the funeral in his place, since he was not able to make it from Singapore to Chicago in time. He and his family greatly appreciated me doing this, and I think it went a long way toward mending things between us.

It's been a sometimes difficult year in my life and the lives of many of my friends. I think of the people I am still close to from college. In the last year, one, Dobie, survived the worst natural disaster of the last hundred years; Garrettt survived a year-long tour of duty in Iraq; Larry, a reporter, inadvertantly walked onto a crime scene while covering a story and was spread-eagled on the ground by the police, guns drawn-- he walked away okay; and one, Mark, was shot to death outside of his home in a botched robbery.

Ron, Tim, Andreas and Jim, those lucky bastards, have had no major problems.

As we approach middle age, I'm grateful for the surviving friendships. I'm grateful for the memories that have given me a foundation to stand on when tough times have hit. I'm grateful for the advice those friends continue to give. I'm grateful for the laughter and cameraderie.

And I'm grateful that Dobie and I were given the time to fix our friendship.

8 comments:

Tenacious S said...

This is the beauty of middle age. I find myself circling back to patch things that were broken or to find things that were lost. There is nothing better than a life full of friends and family. Johnny, can I tell you that I absolutely look forward to reading your blog everyday? You are a wonderful and honest writer. Bravo.

robert said...

U can never have bad memories with friends...they are the only ones who make us cherish those golden days amidst all the hassles in our life...good post :)

Beth said...

You're so lucky to have those friendships in your life. Nothing better than being able to pick up where you left off years ago. Dobie sounds like a very cool guy.

Anon. Blogger said...

Your posts always make me think. Loved this one, too. You know, in spite of having moved a lot in my life, there are still links to the past that seem broken, but then for some strange reason a 'reconnect' occurs. "Small World" is often said when this happens, but someone recently told me that this is not random and recommended a book to me about it. If I find it I'll post about it. (Queue twighlight zone tune here....) :-)

deadspot said...

It's good to be reminded from time to time that I am, in fact, a lucky bastard. Thanks, man.

Natalie said...

Fantastic post. I love reconnecting with friends and think that this joy can only increase as i get older.

Valerie said...

I hope Dobie reads your blog. If someone ever wrote anything like that about me, I'd be so touched by their love and friendship.

You should try to visit him in Singapore. It's a beautiful country and the food is FANTASTIC!!!!!

GETkristiLOVE said...

I love this story.