The night of his first call, the phone rang promptly just after 11 p.m. one Wednesday night, exactly like he said it would. Not being one to talk on the phone, I couldn't help but smile when I hung up at nearly 2 a.m. It felt good to have a conversation like that, with an intelligent adult where I had to process the things being said, I couldn't just smile and nod.
We covered a lot of ground that night. It was the beginning of a tumultuous friendship, the kind where no secrets were allowed to run through the trees, occasionally popping behind one before glancing back to see if it was noticed. Because there was no room for secrets, our friendship would be plagued with honesty in a way that I didn't understand, but knew was clean at the end of the day.
Sure, I wanted him to be more than my friend, as evidenced by the way my face morphed into the Cheshire Cat's when I heard his voice on my answering machine a few days after that first call, but I had a feeling I'd miss him if he weren't there, so just friends would do.
A few months later my friend was due for a birthday.
As we get older, birthdays truly are just another day. We make a big deal out of our children's birthdays because we want them to know how special they are but we don't make such a big deal for the adults in our lives. We make a phone call, buy a gift if we can afford it, do something because we're supposed to, but we rarely go out of our way to make someone feel special.
I wanted to get him something notable for his birthday. Something that said, "I listen to you and I think you're a big deal!" Ulterior motive? Naturally. We were still only just friends.
Filed away somewhere was that first conversation. I remembered him telling me about the record player he had in his living room that belonged to his grandfather before he passed away and how he'd like to start collecting old jazz albums.
Not knowing much about jazz, I looked around in cyberspace trying to find someone good, someone respected and loved in the jazz world. I found Charlie Parker and then I found a brand new Charlie Parker record (that's right, a new old jazz album) and had it shipped from England. In all, it cost $43 and, while it wasn't the most dazzling gift ever, I was darned proud of it.
I think it missed it's mark a bit.
When I gave it to him, he looked puzzled, truth be told. I patiently explained the rationale behind it and continued to feel good about my mad gift giving skillz.
It was the thought that counted, for me anyway. It had been a long time since I had such a strong inclination to make someone aside from my children feel special on their birthday, like someone listens to them and thinks they're a big deal. I was telling him that I was trying to build a foundation of valuing his friendship.
I very much liked the way that felt.
Friends first, true friends.
If you see my friend lurking around here today, tell him I fully appreciate all of our foundations: the truths, the airports, the smiles, the tears, the clouds, the dirt, the mountains, and the lakes.
You can also tell him Happy Birthday.