The best friendships I’ve ever had were formed fairly early in life when I was around nine and ten years old. Those friendships, which still persist to this day despite the disparity in geography and the whirlwind of family and career commitments, have endured, while others have come and gone like changes in fashion.
It helped that the people I saw everyday remained constant for a long time, especially during those formative preteen years when the best and strongest friendships usually develop. The first three years of school were very much about getting comfortable and finding my groove. By fourth grade, I had become a better student, but I had also developed a keener sense of self-awareness, which is necessary for strong friendships.
Around this time, a new student, Keith, moved to our neighborhood. He had moved from a neighboring county with his mother and sister to live closer to her family. We had very similar backgrounds deeply rooted in the working class aura of our community. Keith settled into our class quickly because he had a great sense of humor, and, even at a young age, had an amazing artistic ability. He remains one of the most talented and creative people I’ve ever known, but that ability to find humor in everything set the stage for one of the most enduring and treasured relationships I’ve had in my entire life.
Keith became another brother to me, and over the ensuing years we had more fun than probably should be allowed and got into a little trouble along the way as boys are wont to do. In eighth grade we thought it would be funny to annotate pictures in a Sports Illustrated magazine with the words we thought or wanted the subjects in the photos to say. Those words weren’t G-rated to say the least, and when our over-serious, bug-eyed eighth grade teacher busted us, we held back our snickers as he almost blew his top (and those bug eyes) in the hallway outside our classroom.
We were both huge fans of Miami Vice back in that show’s heyday, and we talked about it all of the time. (For the record, I was the only one of us crazy enough to emulate Don Johnson’s iconic sartorial style – in high school of all places.) We loved fast cars as a result of that show; although, Keith was the only one who ever had a real fast car, a Ford Galaxy. He’d get that thing going down a straight-away, engine rumbling under the force of its pistons, and we’d cruise through those rural roads in North Georgia back before development and traffic clogged them shut.
I had a rickety Ford Escort that rattled like the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere at any speed above 40 MPH, but that didn’t stop me from racing with Keith. In high school, when we both worked the close shift at McDonald’s, we’d see how fast we could make the seven-mile trek home in the early morning hours when no other cars were on the road. I don’t remember any of actual times, but we closed the gap perilously close to stupid fast. Luckily, we didn’t get hurt or arrested.
Now, we are grown men, or pretend to be for our wives’ sake, but we have so many good, funny stories from growing up that it’s not hard to revert to back to being 17 again when we’re together. Brothers are like that.
James is another guy I grew up with who’s like a brother to me. Our relationship is very different in that it was sometimes contentious. I’ve known James since we started in first grade, and we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but James is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I could always count on him to provide a counterpoint in an argument and say something to make me think. He’s not arrogant or bombastic, nor does he revel in the “I told you so” victory dance when he’s right, but he’s sharp, subtle, and almost always spot-on.
If we had grown up in the philosophical height of Greek civilization, James would have been Socrates, challenging those around him to reconsider their points of view. It never failed when I made a point that James would have a different point of view. It was equal parts aggravating and thought-provoking. From him I learned to appreciate having different perspectives, something I frequently seek out today when evaluating a problem or issue.
There were others with whom I developed a close bond as we grew up together, not all were guys. Jodie and Michelle were very close friends with whom I have many fond memories, but these deep friendships almost seem suspended in the amber of time, a relic from a carefree era. The space of time may make the memories fade, but that connection, the brotherhood, never wanes.