It was something we started in high school, Johnny Mac and me. Only when we started we didn’t actually know we were starting a tradition that would last for years to come. We’d been friends since the 4th grade. He showed up halfway through the year and there was no hesitation about him. That first day, during the recess and lunch, Johnny took on all comers at the tetherball pole. I didn’t actually play that day. I was in the crowd that slowly gathered during lunch. The next day he smeared the queer like we’d never seen before and while I played, I made sure I never touched the ball. By the end of the week, he was like his own planet, and I was an orbiting satellite, held there by his gravitational pull.
I was never really able to leave either. Oh, sure, over the years things happened that pulled us apart at times. He played soccer. I played baseball. He got Ginny to date him in the 10th grade and I didn’t talk to him for months after because she was supposed to be my girl. Eventually, I went off to college and he joined the Marines. But there always came a time when he pulled me back, or I went back on my own.
After that first time, our senior year, 1984, it became a natural force. We hadn’t talked much that year and I’ve never really understood why. We had some classes. English and Government. I was long over the Ginny debacle. That she slapped him and told people he was a jerk helped. That she was my date for the Junior Prom helped more.
The thing is, though, that sometimes even a planet and its satellite has times of distance. Mine was an elliptical orbit with moments when I approached too close and we almost crashed and periods when we were far enough apart he was just a faint image in the darkness of space. Senior year was like that. Until it wasn’t.
February 29, 1984, became the invisible force that ensured I’d stay in Johnny Mac’s orbit for years to come. It began innocently enough. Johnny and me doubling up with Ginny and Johnny’s girl of the week. The Junior Prom the year before had led to something a bit more with Ginny. We were thinking about the same colleges. Thinking about a life beyond high school that may just have been together. You know the way it is at that age. Everything seems possible. Dreams are reality. In the quiet moments when we talked about these things, we imagined “what ifs” as though they were “will bes”. There was a small liberal arts college in Oregon we both wanted. It was all real. Until it wasn’t.
That February night of our senior year, Johnny Mac and I decided at the last minute we needed to do something. Out of the blue he called me and I said sure let’s roll. As though there had never been an interruption in our friendship. We were solid. Whenever we needed to be.
I still remember my mom whining at me about the weather when I walked out the door. A storm was coming, she said. Maybe I oughta stay in. Have the kids over and she’d make some popcorn. We could play pool in the basement. Don’t you think, she pleaded. I didn’t think. I went. We were young and invincible. No storm could hurt us.
It was kind of odd. I had yet to realize the inevitable nature of Johnny Mac and me. Those kinds of things only come years later, when you’re old and you ponder how things got to where they got. Nor did I really care. It was a Saturday night and he offered me a night out. We hadn’t spent much time together, but all of a sudden we were compatriots again. Rolling in his car. Him and me in the front. Ginny and Johnny’s girl, Kate, in the back. Laughing as the wipers scraped the windshield and the rain drummed the roof of the car. We were driving into town for a movie. Footloose.
…. More to Come ….