Liam

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I can hear boys whooping in the field down the way, and a myriad of birds singing their songs. I can hear the creak of toads, the barking of dogs, the rustle of a squirrel… The candles glow faintly in their lanterns and in this moment, I am happy.

When times are stressful, and I’m anxious, I think this needs to be my happy place. A way for me to self soothe without stuffing my face. 

I WAS anxious yesterday. I re-met a friend I had years ago. He fell off the grid after high school because his parents had kicked him out for being gay, and he was never in one place for very long. He drifted from friends house to friends house and we drifted further and further apart.  I always wondered what happened to him. It’s been ten years, but yesterday, I got to find out.

In a vain attempt to reconnect, I had sent him a connection request on linked in.  It was years ago, and I had given up hope. Last week, though, he accepted the connection. It had updated contact info, and I immediately reached out.  We set a date for coffee, strategically placed in between work and school. If it went well, we wouldn’t spoil every subject. If it didn’t, well, then I’d have to be going to school a little early.

My stomach tied itself in knots at the coffee shop counter.  On impulse, I ordered chocolate chip banana bread.  Chocolate chip.  Was he going to judge me as a corporate drone? Was I going to judge him as a loser? There were no answers, only chocolate.

Liam got there. He was the same as I remembered, but different, oh so different.  The close cropped brown hair that I remembered was now shoulder length, and blond, a stocking cap pulled down low.  His eyes were warm and brown, alight with recognition when he saw me.

There was the awkwardness of meeting a stranger, and he dithered over what to order before he just had them make whatever they were making for me.  We stood, not really wanting to start telling stories at the counter.  The way he talked and laughed was different; he was trying to hide the damage that drug use had done to his teeth.

When we sat at the table, he took his jacket off, revealing a black undershirt printed with barbed wire down the sleeves. He wore jeans, and a light, short sleeved plaid shirt.  As I summed him up, I also wondered how he was summing me up.  Was I still the same? What about my features has my experience changed? Do I look like a prep?

Then we sat down to talk, and we were in high school again, and this was my friend, through thick and thin.  He told me about his struggles and his redemption, and I told him briefly about my career and my marriage. Mostly I just listened.  I listened about the experiences he had after we lost touch, about getting in trouble with the authorities, and the road he’s been traveling.  I listened to him debunk a rumour that started about 7 years ago saying he had had a kid.  He’s still incredulous about that one.  The hour went by much too quickly and suddenly it was time to go. 

As we stood outside, spending a few minutes in our Minnesota goodbyes, I invited him to a barbeque.  I told him that I’d have to pick him up, because buses don’t come to my neighborhood.

“Oooh, you’re in the rich area now…”

I denied it so vehemently, even though he’s right.

That night, I was thinking through it again.  I plowed through a bag of cheddar ruffles, a monster cookie, and a Philly cheese steak sandwich before I came to my senses.  I decided finally that judging, and observing, are quite different things.  Just because I notice things like employment or imperfect teeth, doesn’t mean I use that information to form the whole impression.  The whole impression that I formed was that Liam was my friend, and although he’s been through a lot, he’s still someone I could easily befriend.  I sent him a message after class and let him know that I’d be interested in being friends.  Here’s hoping I’ll hear back.

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