I grew up with a guy named Joe. We had Art class together. He was younger than I was. He was cute. We were both shy. Our relationship was never like that. Artists have a way of being able to connect with each other when they cannot connect with others. Joe’s sister, Tracy, was in one of my classes. She had red hair. She sat in front of me: Manus, Narramore….Back in those days, we all sat alphabetically.
Joe was three years behind me in high school. I knew who he was, but I was a senior. He was a much better artist than I was. I can remember being in Art class with him and comparing my work to his. What in the hell was I doing in an Art class with this guy? I could not compete in any way. He would still tell me that my stuff was really good. Was it that he could not see how amazing his own stuff was, or was it that he was only being nice to me? I could not discern….
One thing is for sure: you can never know what is going on inside someone else’s house. And, then when you do find out, you will wish you hadn’t. And there will be absolutely nothing you could have done about it in the first place. What I saw was a shy, sweet boy with beautiful dark eyes that had so obviously seen way more than they should have at his age. He didn’t talk much, but he did have a good sense of humor.
I graduated that year and left for school and for my own experiences of living that I would later deem more valuable than anything a further education could provide for me except that one thing that could provide more money…that little piece of paper.
I heard through the grapevine – the things that were happening to Joe. They weren’t good things. I remember chuckling a little when I heard about him running drugs in an old ice cream truck, which was a last resort for cash. ( Shameless, You MUST have heard Joe’s story! I cannot imagine you thought that up for your show on your own!) Then I worried…. In our little town? He was not going to be able to pull that off for long. And I was right. I don’t remember the specifics, but his sister died from complications of diabetes while Joe was in a detention center. By the time it all went down, I was either cleaning up the last giant mess I had made for myself or was getting married. Time runs together for me back then.
Years went by. Joe and I reconnected on Facebook. He had married a girl who grew up in the neighborhood where I live now. They have two little girls. When I see Joe’s FB posts about his family, it is so obvious that he loves them more than life itself. I found out that Joe is a furniture designer-which didn’t surprise me at all. His work is famous and sells to movie stars and the like. He has made the life for his family that he did not have for himself. He is a true and loving husband–the kind he wanted for his mother. He is a true and loving father–the kind he wanted for himself and his sister.
I am sure that doesn’t make it all better. I am sure it doesn’t make the pain go away. It probably helps. Recently, Joe started sharing some of his writings on Facebook–small excerpts about his life. Usually they are very dark and they hit me right in the gut and make me cry. I cry for the boy I knew and didn’t know back in high school. I wish he would have let me in. I wish I could have helped him somehow. At the same time, I know that the only way I could have helped him would have been by being a listening ear…..things weren’t perfect in my life either, but a lot of the imperfections in mine were of my own making. There is a difference.
Joe is my miracle friend. He lived a life that most people either don’t survive or can’t escape. He did survive and also escaped and lived to tell the story. He is the epitome of perseverance and determination. Joe– I am proud to know you and call you “friend”, and there is nothing but love here for you now.