The greatest compliment anyone ever paid our friendship was in the second grade, when Miss Hipscher moved us apart. She said she could tell that we were good friends. We were such good friends that she was going to move us to desks in different parts of her classroom. She told us that we were never going to learn anything if we sat next to each other and talked all day.
What a great thing to notice about a friendship: You two are such good friends that I have to move you apart.
I flew from Chicago to Ohio. It was raining in Bexley that late afternoon, and the grass on Audie Murphy Hill was slick and dark. I looked up to the second floor of Jack's old house, to his bedroom window.
As kids, we had taped a cardboard box above his bedroom door, and had cut the bottom out. We rolled up pairs of Jack's socks, and we played shoebox basketball. After school, day after day, we would feint and lunge, we would try to fool each other with moves.
We loved those games. The laughter in that room, the shouts of triumph or defeat…it warmed our winter days.
He asked me now if I would walk over to Main Street with him. He was tasting his life: savoring who he was, and where he had been, who he had known. He was tasting it with a fierce and pervading kind of appetite.
When we lose our oldest friends, we realize our lives have been filled with their grand, invisible gifts.
It wasn't nostalgia; this was much more profound than that. This, in my eyes, bordered on holy. All these months, instead of making them about death, he was making them about his life. And I found it was the honor of my own life to be alongside him.
At the place on Main Street where Rogers' Drugstore used to be, we paused. "The air conditioning in that store was always so freezing," Jack said, tasting it. "And by the front cash register, it smelled like bubble gum."
At the Bexley Public Library, he fell silent. So much, I could tell, was flowing through him. "The way those books would smell, back in the stacks..." he said.
"The bubble gum at the drugstore, the books here—you're coming up with a lot of fragrances today," I said.
"They smelled like dust, and binding adhesive," Jack said.
He was tasting everything.