Tuesday, May 22, 2007

old friends

This past weekend, between Cindy, Arielle, Ben, and myself, there were quite a few high school reminiscences flying around the room, names and places and times I hadn't thought about in a long, long time. One of the names that emerged was John Francis, a boy who befriended me suddenly in 11th grade, on the school bus heading home one sunny spring afternoon. This sweet, goofy, red-headed boy sat down in front of me, leaned around the back of the seat and said, "You're Emily McNeil, aren't you? I'm friends with Abby!" And thus began a very strange friendship.

Over the next six years or so John would intermittently appear in my life with stories of drugs, arrests, angry fathers of aggrieved girlfriends, school expulsions, family troubles, familial beatings, and worse. John got into a lot of trouble during those years, a fair amount of it of his own making. And yet somehow he kept this amazing air of innocence about him, this puppy-dog smile, and this inexplicable desire to be my friend. We had little, if anything, in common. Here I was in the honors classes, the French Club, and concertmaster of the admittedly abysmal high school orchestra, and here was John, barely scraping by and ultimately, I believe, dropping out of high school. He would disappear from this friendship for months on end, and then the phone would ring at one o'clock in the morning, waking up my mom on occasion up in Mohegan Lake, and later waking me up (or interrupting a frantic last-minute all-night paper-writing marathon) at Barnard, and even later in Philadelphia. We would talk for hours about the latest drama, but also about politics, religion, language, the classes I was taking in college, the books I was reading. He even came down to Manhattan every once in awhile, stayed with me at Barnard, was fascinated by my circle of friends, and somehow fit in with them, with us. For all that John flailed academically, he had an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and I think for him, I was the one person in his life who shared this desire, the one person who escaped and, just maybe, could bring him along too.

I think the last time we were in touch was during those months I spent in Philadelphia after graduating from Barnard, back in the spring of 1999. I can't even remember when I saw him last, before those last few telephone conversations. But he's someone I remember with a lot of affection, and someone I wonder about, what he's doing now, whether he's still even alive, still smiling sweetly under that tousled red hair.

i have this friend you see with bright
hair and a

crazy wild grin.
he likes to chain smoke
drive fast drop acid and swallow angry fists
full of pills.

1 comment:

Chiung-Yin said...

you were concertmaster of your high school orchestra? what do/did you play?!