“I Know When to Make an Exit”

IMG_20170703_151218We met my junior year at the newspaper office. I was news editor at our college paper, and he was one of our cartoonists. Back then, almost nothing was computerized, so he had to half-tone his comics every week. I remember thinking what striking blue eyes he had, and back then, he wore these blue glasses that matched.

We started talking. We found a common ground of a love for Roger Moore as James Bond and the movie and musical, My Favorite Year. We agreed that Duran Duran wrote the best Bond theme, even though he was a lifelong Sheena Easton Fan.

I think we started really hanging out when we both showed up to a play alone and sat together. We had a good conversation that night, and it sort of broke the ice. From then on, we were pretty much inseparable.

As senior year rolled around, we spent literally almost every waking moment together. I had become editor of our literary magazine, and I tapped his art skills to become our art director. We devoted our lives to that magazine, but we found time to play, too.

Ah, those college days were some of the best and most memorable of my life…

One night, I was in my dorm room alone, and I heard the fire alarm ringing loudly through the open windows. It wasn’t often we’d hear the alarm, so it jarred me.

An hour later, he called me. He sounded frantic. “Can you just met me by the library?” Of course, I could, and I worried the whole entire way, wondering what the hell had happened.

We at down on the wall in the darkness. With great hesitation, he said, “You know how I have these eating contests with my brothers…” He was one of six — three boys and three girls. He was the oldest son.

“Yeah…?” I said. I still had no idea where the hell this was going.

One of his brothers challenged him to eating one hundred chicken McNuggets. He bought his hundred McNuggets, returned to his apartment, placed them on a baking sheet  in the oven — on low, he swore to me — and went to check his laundry around the corner.

Upon his return, there were firefighters on his lawn, and the firetruck was parked right in front of his apartment.

“Oh, my God! What happened? Thank God you weren’t in there! Are you okay? Can you go back tonight?” I just panicked.

“No, that’s not the worst part,” he told me. “One of the firemen walked out with my baking sheet of burnt chicken and said, ‘Dude, your McNuggets are done!'”

To my credit, I didn’t laugh that night. Okay, inside, I was cackling like a wild hyena. And I didn’t tell a soul until the English department Christmas Party after I had a few adult beverages. But I played the supportive friend. He needed comfort. So I sat on that library wall with him until the wee hours. And it was that night that I realized we were going to be friends for a very long time.

To say that he helped me survive that year was a gross understatement. Over Christmas break, my best girlfriend passed away after a double-lung and heart transplant. He held me together when I had to go to classes without her. An amazingly detailed artist, he personally did the sketches for a big article I’d written as my last-hurrah for the magazine.

At the time, I also suffered from bulimia and anorexia. He was the only person I could say the words to, and he held me that night and we cried together. He always looked out for me to the bitter end, but that night, his protective nature kicked into overdrive.

I remember nights when we’d finish up late at the magazine, and we’d cut through the quad where there was a small fountain. Sometimes, he’d recreate the fountain scene from “My Favorite Year,” singing his best Tim Curry from the musical, and spitting out that line we both loved: “Say what you will, Young Stone. I know when to make an exit…”

Summer came, and I moved to New York. He made me the greatest Mix Tape ever. Music was a huge part of both our lives, and he included every song that meant anything to us — his beloved John Lennon, my wild boys Duran Duran, the Muppets and Led Zep’s “Fool in the Rain.” I don’t know if he realized how many times I’d play those songs over the years and think of him. We did talk about that Mix Tape, though, and we both agreed it was one to be reckoned with.

Somehow, in the days without cell p[hones and internet, we always kept in touch. Sure, we’d have periods when we lapsed, but we always managed to find each other again. He’d move. I’d move. Always something. But every time we heard each other’s voices, nothing changed. We’d play catch-up. And that friendship remained, even with the miles between us.

We discussed love and loss. We gave each other advice on how to deal with relationships. Having lost his mom when he was just six, he helped me through my mother’s death and told me stories about the woman I would never have the chance to meet but who gave me his life and his world as a friend.

He sat on the phone with me all night during the hurricane because I was so afraid. He came to New York to babysit my cat when I went to Paris. We kept each other entertained by going through the Eighties Billboard charts during a period where we were both unemployed. And we even had the chance to revisit our old college grounds together a few years ago. We ran through the student union, and stopped by the old newspaper office. I had tears in my eyes. I said, “I met you inside that door…” And he hugged me.

Most of the time, though, we picked on each other relentlessly, but that’s what I think we both admired in each other, our abilities to laugh at ourselves. Although he still cringed when I said the words “Chicken McNuggets.”

So often, we’d revisit our college days. “Remember when we were young…?” Eventually, thirty-nine slipped into forty. He always told me how old I was, but in reality, he was three months older than me. I loved those three months when I still thirtysomething and he was the big Four-Oh.

Hearing our conversations, one would think we were emulating a real-life War of the Roses, but that’s how we played — and that’s how we loved.

Age became a running joke between us. About ten years ago, he was on a kick of reminding of the dwindling supply of eggs left in my body. He said, “You have so few eggs left that you rattle like jingle bells when you get up and down.”

That joke stuck around for another five years until he realized, “Hey, I said that years ago. I bet if I picked you up and shook you right now, that one egg in there would sound like a spray paint can!”

We were supposed to grow old together.

Skip ahead to this year. I lost vision. I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. I had two eye surgeries, two spinal taps and brain surgery. He called me every week and prayed for me. In fact, he was the first to call when I was in the ICU after brain surgery.

As I recovered, he made sure we kept in close contact. He wanted to know everything. Then I didn’t hear from him for a little over a week, and I started to get concerned. When he finally called me back, he told me he went to the doctor for penumonia and came home with a pacemaker.

Of course, that protective nature emerged again. He didn’t want to scare me when I was recovering from major surgery.

Throughout his life, he hated his birthday. I’d wish him one, and he’d ignore the voice mails and texts. Sometimes, I’d even get a “Fuck off!”

This year, he told me he wanted a birthday party. He mentioned it to his sisters. Within seconds, they made it happen. I made noises about coming in for the event. This was a birthday celebration for the man who hated his damn birthday!

He told me no. “You’re blind. You’re sick. Yo just had surgery yourself.”

I thought about it. And Fate spoke to me. We’d both had major health scares in a matter of two months of each other. I was going to get to Pittsburgh from New York City if I had to walk.

I called him. And I didn’t ask him — I told him, “I’m coming back for your birthday. Period.” (Cue up this song that we both loved in our college days. Hey, we were both English majors…)

I heard tears in his voice that night. He said I was the last person he expected to go, but he knew me so damn well. If I said I was going to do something, I did it.

Those days in June and July were some of the best moments of my life. We laughed so hard that I still giggle when I think back now. We stayed up late talking. We even kept each other awake with yours-and-mine Sleep Apnea. And we laughed about it. He even said to one of our friends, “Please, stay and judge the Sleep Apnea Contest!” and then he looked at me and said, “Quick–go to sleep!”

His party was truly a celebration of his life. We ate, we drank and we were all so very merry.

Throughout our friendship, we didn’t overuse the words “I love you.” We saved them for times when it really meant something — like when I left for New York, and when he had his pacemaker put in. And that made those words so powerful when they were spoken. I even remember that he once told me, “I don’t remember saying ‘I love you’ to my mom.” I assured him that he did. All kids tell their mothers they love them. He told her. He just didn’t remember.

We both made sure to say “I love you” when I saw him last. And I’m glad we both remembered it.

Yesterday, my world came crashing down when the phone rang. I thought it was him returning my text from Saturday. It was his sister on his phone. She was crying. At first, i thought he was in the hospital. But he had a heart attack and passed away instantly. He didn’t suffer, she promised me.

Immediately, I thought of her and his five siblings. His nieces and nephews lost one hell of an uncle who loved every single one of them dearly. I thought of his father, whom I adore, and the fact that he lost his son. And my heart just sunk for his sister who had to make all the calls that no one ever wants to have to make. She was worried about me. I was worried about her and their entire family. But she told me that he’s safe, and he’s with his mom now.

Right now, it’s just a continuous wave of sadness and anger. He had the kindest heart out of everyone I know. He was so damn brilliant. And he was such a talented artist. We had so many personal jokes that one could listen to us for an hour and not understand a word that was spoken between us. I’m listening to our tunes, and I’m finding clips that made us both laugh…and I’m not sure if it’s releasing my grief or making it worse. Hell, I don’t even think I’ve processed the fact that he’s gone yet.

I miss you, Drew..Uncle Drew…Andrew the Bold…Andrew the Mold. But you will forever be my Shi’thead. There’s a hole in my heart today, and I miss you so damn much.

But my heart hurts for your family as well. I have never witnessed such love between siblings as I did in their family.

And I really hope I get to see you again. Because I can’t imagine eternity without you there, singing “Fee tines a mady” to me or demanding “Who hurt you, Lionel? Who hurt you?”

Today, as I try to force myself to laugh through the tears, I hear him from up above, saying that old line from My Favorite Year:

Say what you will, Young Stone, I know when to make an exit…

 

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julietbraddock

Juliet Braddock loves eighties music, wine, food, theater and all things French. When she’s not exploring the big cities of the world—most notably Paris—she lives and writes in Manhattan, and is the proud cat mom to a very spoiled Russian Blue rescue.

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