I first met Chris in 6th grade, in 1986 . He was a pale, skinny, buck-toothed kid who, for some reason, thought I was cool. I don’t recall having any classes together, but our lockers were across the hall from each other. I knew he liked (LIKED) me, but I was too busy wooing “cooler” guys in my class. It wasn’t until 8th grade that I finally agreed to be his girlfriend.
It was a middle school relationship which consisted of passing notes in the hallway, and marathon phone calls in the evening. He told me that he loved me, and I said the same, though I didn’t really know what love was at the time.
He went to tech for high school, and we only spoke occasionally. I don’t even remember “breaking up”; we just drifted apart. But whenever we did speak, it was like we hadn’t spent any time apart. We had similar backgrounds. Our fathers were both obsessed with racing, we were both poor, and we both felt like no one (aside from each other) understood us.
In 1996, he visited me at college. I had just gotten out of a horrible 4-year relationship, and was, shall we say, enjoying my time as a single woman. Chris drove the hour to my college from our hometown to tell me that he was engaged. Engaged to a girl he admitted wasn’t right for him, but he wanted to get married to someone. He knew that girl would never be me. I was still in love with my high school love (now The Hubs) and Chris realized that he’d never be more than a friend to me. I tried to tell him that getting married was a mistake, but he was determined.
Over the next 10 years, we still kept in touch occasionally, exchanging holiday cards and an occasional e-mail. Even though we lived in the same town, we never saw each other.
In October 2006, we had a flurry of e-mail exchanges where he told me that he wasn’t happy, and that he’d finally met a girl whom he really loved. His wife had made him give up racing, and he wanted to leave her to be with this new girl. In one of those e-mails, he wrote, “I really have cherished our friendship and the fact we were always there for each other.” And we were there for each other for the 20 years I knew him. 20 years.
In mid-November 2006, I was about to leave for work when my sister called. She asked if I’d seen the paper and told me that Chris’ obituary was published that day. He died on November 10, 2006 while visiting the girl he loved in Colombia. They say it was an aneurysm, which is how his father died.
I went to his viewing even though I didn’t want to. I walked into the funeral home, which was crowded with friends and strangers. I walked up to Chris’ casket and I can’t even describe how it felt. I hadn’t seen him in several years, and here I was seeing him…dead. And he’d been dead for some time because his body had to be transported from Colombia to the US. Of course, he didn’t look himself. I kept thinking of the scrawny kid I knew, how he’d always have a smile for me, and how he always knew how to make me laugh. How he always loved and accepted me for who I was. And now he was gone. I was so grateful for that last exchange of e-mails, that I was able to tell him what he meant to me. I was grateful that he died knowing that I loved him.
I miss him every day. Every. Day. I wish The Kid could have met him, that I could call him up and tell him how overwhelmed I am sometimes. That he could remind me that I wanted to be a writer, and that I shouldn’t let that dream go. I’ll never get the chance to see him as an elderly man.
Chris taught me a lot, but the biggest lesson I learned from him is to tell people how much I love and appreciate them NOW. Not later. Never later. Because you never know when you’ll lose them.