A fews days rest and I’m still processing what was THEE blast of all blasts from the past. Unfortunately, the impetus for my return to Riverside after almost eight years (or at least a visit longer than one night) was the passing of a friend. It was an emotionally draining weekend filled with mourning and the subsequent celebration of a well-lived life, driving around to old haunts and houses, and catching up with people I haven’t seen in a long time; from good to estranged friends, to the most intimate of relationships, to the guy at one of my favorite old burrito shops, to a couple childhood friends I haven’t seen in 27 years.
After all this I’m realizing I have a tendency to avoid reflecting back on important aspects of my past that made me who I am today…like, it happened, I’m done with it, no need to dwell on it, just move on. As opposed to a healthy acknowledgment and acceptance, it’s an uncomfortable feeling and it’s always associated with some kind of negativity.
The whole idea is epitomized by my old childhood friends Bob and Casey. We go waaaay back, from waking up Christmas mornings finding out we got the same toys, to skating our first pools together, to fighting with each other over a stupid cassette tape of punk music. (I’d throw in getting into trouble together, too, but I’m pretty sure they always got it worse than I did when it came to that.) Over the years I heard these guys got pretty heavily into drugs, even ending up in prison, and a part of me never cared to see them again. Truth is, when I saw a message from Bob in my Facebook inbox last year, I got butterflies at the sight of it. But like anyone who grows up in the same town all their life, I knew a lot of people from school. Yet, after finishing I kept in contact with exactly one person, and he moved to Oregon when we were sophomores. And of all the people from my past to look me up, I was surprised it would be either of these two. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. We spent some of our most formative years growing up together in the same neighborhood. Of course it makes sense. But I’ve still been running away from them my whole adult life. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I’ve been running away from that part of myself my whole adult life.
In any case, given the weight of the weekend already I thought it might as well be the time to confront that part of my past I had buried so long ago, too. I asked these guys if they’d be interested in meeting up in our old neighborhood in Highland. They had reunited awhile ago, so I was the odd-man out. But when I drove up and saw they were already there, all the tension at the thought of the circumstance I now found myself in just evaporated into the 80-degree SoCal winter air. We automatically started sharing memories of the people and the places, amazed at how much it had changed, but genuinely happy to be there doing it together.
In my bio on my portfolio page I allude to the fact that the construction of a freeway devastated my neighborhood when I was 12 or 13 years old. Bob’s house was one of those that got demolished, while Casey’s ended up a house away. Mine ended up four houses away. Who knows if my previous career in planning had anything to do with this, but the irony isn’t lost on me.
As we reminisced, it was clear not all of our memories of the neighborhood were good. More so for them, because along with the aesthetic changes, they both had pretty traumatic familial upheavals as well. Nothing seemed to highlight this more than the fact that none of us could remember the last time we saw each other as kids. No memories of packing up or moving trucks or sad goodbyes….nothing. They both said a lot of their problems started around the time that freeway paved through our lives. (I stopped by Bob’s house the next day to make a portrait of him with his Coors collection…I love photographing people with collections…and after a night of thinking about it he said there really is a blank block of time in his memories from that period of his life.)
We ended up grabbing a few pitchers at a bar and catching up some more…27 years is a long time. After hearing their stories, I’m resigned to admit I’ve led a pretty boring life in comparison. The funny thing is these guys crave nothing more than that these days. They’re on the straight and narrow and want no part of the time when they were literally youths gone wild. I, on the other hand, have always had stability, more or less, until I moved to Oregon from Riverside. I quit a cushy county job, ended a relationship with a girl any guy would be happy to marry, and began living a much less secure existence that continues today. Nevertheless, I think we all agreed we don’t regret the things we’ve done, but rather, they truly inform how we live today. Or more commonly stated, we’ve learned from our mistakes and have no desire to repeat them.
It’s crazy the story of the tape we fought over got rehashed. When we walked out to our cars to say our farewell-for-nows, I just happened to have that damn thing in my truck. We got a kick out of that.
The most important thing I’m left with after this whole experience is that time really can heal. Forevermore I’m convinced that if/when your last memory of someone important in your life is clouded by anger, bitterness, guilt, resentment or whatever else, and it’s been years since you’ve seen them and a chance arises to reconnect over even the briefest conversation, you should do it before it’s too late. The release is truly liberating. And I can only hope all the important people from my past who I saw this weekend felt the same way.
It took Alex’s passing for me to realize this, but maybe that’s just one more gift he unknowingly left for me. Funny the way things work out sometimes.