I was refilling my beer when I was approached by a guy I would later know as Big Eddie. It was an innocuous enough start to what would become a friendship of the ages and a conversation that would last, literally, a lifetime.
“Mind if I bum a smoke?” he asked.
“I guess not,” I said, shaking a Marlboro Red from my pack. “How you fixed for socks and underwear?”
“All the world loves a smart ass,” Eddie said.
“And I am a well-loved man,” I replied.
Within an hour, we were best friends. We remained so for decades until brain cancer up and snatched him away a couple years ago. The conversation evolved over the years as miles and life circumstances intervened. We saw each other rarely but kept in touch with occasional letters and phone calls. That is until the internet blew up. Then we were able to resume the conversation with something akin to immediacy again. He in California, me in Texas. Both of us on either ends of the network killing time at our offices appearing, for all the world, to be busy at legitimate work-related tasks.
God, the stories we told, the memories we shared. Tales of travel, of ridiculous misadventures, of how both of us eventually found the great loves of our lives and how we planned – someday – for all four of us to meet, perhaps over an umbrella drink on Kaua’i, and laugh and cry and tell tall tales to our lady loves into the wee hours. They would likely think us silly. And they would likely be right. But, oh, what a time we would have in that time that we would never have.
Cancer is a rotten son of a bitch. I hate it. It broke my heart to receive emails from Ed late in his battle, his mind no longer working the way it once had, the words harder to arrange in the right order. The writers code that “All the correct words are right there, it’s just that getting them in the right order can be tough” seemed more true by the day. Eventually, too soon it seemed, cancer won. And although I feel that our friendship survived that battle, our conversation ended that day. And life has been strangely silent for me since.
I love my wife, and we have wonderful conversations and share many dreams. There are other friends and acquaintances and life is good and can often be full. We have been blessed with great children and grandchildren. But what is it about a friend then, a true best friend, that seems irreplaceable.
Shortly after Ed’s death, I swapped email with another of his good friends and we shared a few “Big Eddie” stories. He sent me a passage written by Antoine de St. Exupery, saying it had given him solace in the past and that perhaps it could for me as well.
“Nothing, in truth, can ever replace a lost companion. Old comrades cannot be manufactured. There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories, so many bad times endured together, so many quarrels, reconciliations, heartfelt impulses. Friendships like that cannot be reconstructed. If you plant an oak, you will hope in vain to sit soon under its shade.
For such is life. We grow rich as we plant through the early years, but then come the years when time undoes our work and cuts down our trees. One by one our comrades deprive us of their shade, and within our mourning we always feel now the secret grief of growing old.
If I search among my memories for those whose taste is lasting, if I write the balance sheet of the moments that truly counted, I surely find those that no fortune could have bought me. You cannot buy the friendship of a companion bound to you forever by ordeals endured together.”
Yeah, what he said. Damn. Ol, Antoine sure has no problem finding the right order for his words.
• • • • • •
It was my wife, Diana, though, who offered what may be a solution to the problem of the now silent conversation with Eddie.
“You need to get it going again,” she said.
“Uh, he’s DEAD,” I said.
“No he’s not. Not in your heart, and you know that. You need to start writing to him again. You still have stories to tell, laughs to share, good times to recount. Do it. Start writing your “Letters to Eddie” again. It would do you some good,” she said.
I knew that she was right. I checked with Ed’s wife (sorry, I cannot yet bring myself to use “widow.”) Connie agreed. “Do it, Mark,” she said. “I want to read what you have to say to Eddie these days.”
I have thought on it for months, but thinking on it is a sorry substitute for doing it.
But writing letters to a deceased friend? To fill him in on what he’s missing? Well, that goes a little beyond crazy. But Eddie and I always went a little beyond crazy. Ask damn near anyone.
Actually, there’s only one person who needs to be asked.
Whaddya say, Eddie? Is it ok if, from time to time, I drop you a line and let you know what’s happening on this side? They say it will do me some good. What’s that? You say you like the idea? Cool. I will do it then. As time permits. There’s more time where you come from these days. Time here on this side is too damn short, my friend.
All the best,