I was four years old. Not even in the First Grade, and although it was over 40 years ago, I remember it as though it was yesterday. My sister and I were in a gymnastics class (which at age four, I’m pretty sure is just learning how to fall without getting a shiner or scraping yourself). There I was, minding my own business when suddenly, out of nowhere this kid comes up to me and punches me in the stomach. Of course, since I remember it like it was yesterday, I can assure you that I did nothing to provoke this action. It was the first time, that I recall, where I could not inhale. I thought I was going to die. It was also the first time (and possibly one of the very few times if not the only time) that I ever hated a person immediately. To make matters worse, it appeared that my sister and my new enemy’s sister were suddenly the best of friends. Just great!
I had no idea what his name was. And I made it a point to avoid him for the rest of the class. Luckily, there were enough other kids there that I was able to put plenty of human shields between he and myself. Class would be over soon and I’d get on with my day.
Or so I thought.
In what could only be described as part of a bad script setup from almost every buddy movie ever, it came to pass that these two kids needed a ride home from gym class. Thanks to my dear sweet sister, as I recall, we were now on the hook to take these two home. Just fan-frickin-tastic. I have to ride home with him. What’s he going to do on the way home? Shank me? Four year olds have these thoughts, you know.
Turns out they lived just up the street from us; maybe a quarter of a mile at most. And when my mom knocked on the door, I remember their mom peeking her head out the door, and then the words that changed everything: “Maybe our kids can get together and play one day!”
As it turned out, those words changed everything in a good way. Within a couple of days, Lorin (I had learned his first name and, more importantly, was willing to refer to him that way) and I had become best friends. My sister and his sister had, likewise, become best friends. As an added bonus, my mom and their mom had become best friends, too! To think it all started with a punch to the gut.
Through the majority of our childhood years, we were together almost every day. I thought Lorin was one of the luckiest kids in the world. He had Legos, an awesome knife collection and would take trips with his family to the Orient from time to time. To a kid, these things seemed important. I even remember going down the to college tennis courts and looking for tennis balls in the trees surrounding the courts. He’d always come home with the most tennis balls. He always knew just where to look.
We took swimming lessons together. I’ll never forget the time we were all taking our first jumps off the high dive. All of us jumped in feet first, but not Lorin. Lorin decided to dive. He was fearless. He ended up with what can only be described as the most epic belly flop I’ve ever seen and, ya, he was in a lot of pain for quite a while. But it never stopped him from going back and trying again.
When they built a second story onto their house, we got umbrellas and jumped out of the windows before they were put in. We thought we were Mary Poppins! And no, no one was hurt in the making of that adventure.
His mom and dad became my second set of parents, and it wasn’t like I even needed another set because the ones I had were awesome. So, in a way, I suppose I was pretty darn lucky, too. They did everything they could to include me in as much as they could, whenever they could. And, likewise, Lorin came along with us almost everywhere we went. We were pretty inseparable. And the adventures we were to have or make up were never further than arm’s reach, or the reach of our imaginations.
We had fun.
I went through a year where we weren’t so attached. I was a year ahead of him in school and I made new friends in my class. We still played and did things together, but not as much. But then, the next year, it was as if none of that had ever happened. We were back to hanging out every day.
To be honest, I do not remember when they moved away. I want to say that it was around 6th grade, but possibly 7th. Lorin’s dad had gotten a job at a hospital in Kansas and his mom was off to start a business with a friend of theirs. His dad had gone ahead and set things up (as I recall) and a bit later, the family was to join him in their new home. I got to go along. I remember him picking us up at the airport and to their new house, but only after driving by a much smaller home and, as a joke, telling us that this was the new place. The real place was probably the nicest house I had ever seen. In my mind, it was huge! It was a new housing development, they had a pool and it was going to be a fantastic summer! And it was!
We rode our bikes to the local K-mart and bought action figures with our hard earned money. We played with the neighborhood kids. We sneaked into other houses that were not quite finished yet and played hide’n’seek. We shot frogs with bb guns (ok – maybe that was just mean and not as much fun). We did everything and it was awesome.
Then, I believe, the summer of 1981 came. Our family was going to take a train trip to Wisconsin and, as luck would have it, went through Kansas City along the way. We decided that I would get dropped off in Kansas City and stay with the Lees for a couple of weeks or so. Then, on their way back from Wisconsin, I’d get picked up and taken home. It turned out, that this plan might have been the best thing that could have happened that summer.
After I had been there for about two or three days, Lorin got really sick. We had ridden our bikes to Kmart (we rode our bikes a lot) and on the way back he started feeling really weak. Along the way, he threw up. For some reason, I’m not sure how he knew, but he decided that he really needed some orange juice. We got home, he had orange juice, and while it made him feel a little better, by that night he was totally dehydrated, weak, and his parents knew that he needed to see a doctor right away.
He was admitted to the hospital where he was diagnosed with (I believe) acute Type 1 childhood diabetes. The luckiest kid I knew was just diagnosed with a disease that would change his life. Lorin would spend the next two weeks in that hospital. I would go there and hang out with him as much as I could during those two weeks. Since our plan for high school was to go to the same boarding academy, I would go through the diabetes training program with him. In those two weeks, I learned how to recognize the signs of shock, whether he had low blood sugar, if he would need an insulin injection, HOW to give an insulin injection; essentially, how to handle something in the event something happened where he couldn’t handle it.
By the time those two weeks were up, Lorin had every single one of those nurses wrapped around his little finger. When we’d get bored, we’d find a wheel chair and go racing down the hallways. The boy still had that impishness in him that held just enough charm to keep him out of trouble (mostly).
The plans for academy never came to fruition. I’m not sure what happened there. I ended up sticking with the day academy and Lorin stayed local. It may have been a result of his diagnosis or it might have been something else.
Staying in touch throughout our high school years, however, was pretty hit and miss. Their family came to visit California from time to time and I recall visiting them one more time in Kansas City during that time. And then, just like that, we were young adults.
I got a call from Lorin while I was working at an Electronics retailer. It was probably around 1987 or ’88. He was going to get married and he wanted me to be his best man. I was both amazed and honored that he would ask. We had not seen or spoken to each other that much over those years. He was going to get married on the day after Christmas as I recall, but that didn’t matter to me. I, of course, said that I’d be thrilled to do it, and as of that December 26th, was the only person in the history of the company (possibly the history of retail) to have been able to successfully talk my way out of coming into work the day after Christmas without having to call in sick. My argument was simple: when someone asks you to be their best man, you don’t say no. Period. I was willing to quit my job over it, but was grateful I didn’t have to.
Unfortunately, Lorin’s marriage didn’t stick. I’m not sure why, but it was after that that the correspondence and communication happened with less frequency than ever. I know he came to California a couple of times and we’d get together, talk, hang out, etc. And despite the years that had gone by, we always talked as if we had just seen each other the day before. I could tell that life had taken its toll on Lorin, and while I didn’t know all of his life experiences, it was obvious. He wasn’t the same outgoing mischief maker that I knew as a kid.
As always seems to happen in stories like this, we eventually lost touch. I had gotten totally involved in technology and he, over time, became more and more reclusive. A couple of years ago, his mom sent me his email address and we had a nice exchange. And then, he got on Facebook and, once again, we had an exchange or two. I always wanted to reach out “more” but wanted to respect his space. Our lives had definitely gone down two completely separate paths, but I know for a fact that he remembered our friendship as fondly as I do and always held onto it as something special.
Today I learned that he was found by his parents in a comatose state. As near as can be told, he had low blood sugar, possibly fell and then had a seizure which has resulted in severe brain damage. His family is saying their goodbyes and soon, my childhood best friend, with whom I’ve shared so many life-forming experiences, will be gone.
So, tonight, I sit here in a melancholy state of mind, reflecting. And, as often happens when one reflects upon the life of a loved one, am realizing what an impact he has had on my life. From knowing Lorin, I’ve learned that sometimes, when you dive in head first, you’re going to belly flop but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. I’ve learned that you can go pretty fast in a wheel chair. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not about how hard you look but where you look and I’ve learned punching a person in the stomach is not a great way to introduce yourself. And lastly, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to reach out to those you love. Until it is.