I was biking in my Ohio hometown the other day on a visit when I pointed to a house set back off the road: “I had a friend who lived there,” I said to my husband. “See that white mini-van?” There was one barreling down the driveway toward the street we were on. “The house from where that’s coming from.” The van stopped at the end of my friend’s parents’ driveway. I looked to see whether it might be my friend’s father, but it was Larry himself. Larry and a van full of kids.
He got out of the car and we hugged. It’d been decades since I’d last seen Larry—it was many holidays ago, when we were both back in our hometown for college breaks. He was living in DC then. I was living in another part of Ohio. I don’t know anymore why we lost touch or when it happened, and standing in front of him all these years later felt, as it always does when you had a good friendship, like those years in between didn’t matter.
I guess it might not have been the best time to walk down memory lane, not only because Larry was hustling to get to a movie with his kids and his sister’s kids, but I was not thinking about them when I blurted out that I still had my American University t-shirt that I got when I visited him in college. I know what you’re thinking: What’s concerning about that? Wait, there’s more.
When Larry didn’t seem to remember that I had in fact flown to visit him in DC, I reminded him with a story: since I was underage at the time, he had borrowed a friend’s ID for me to use so we could go to a bar called The Library. The friend was from Scranton, PA, and though she did not really look a lot like me—maybe she had brown hair? That was about the extent of our likeness—we figured it was close enough. It was the first and only time I ever used a fake ID, and of course Little Miss Square that I am couldn’t even manage to do that well. As soon as The Library bouncer checked my (fake) ID, he grinned and said, “I’m from Scranton, too—what high school did you go to?”
Crap. I’m sure I stammered or turned red or both. “Scranton South?” I said.
He was not smiling anymore. “There’s no Scranton South,” he said. “Oh just go on in.” He shooed me through the door with a wave of his hand.
Okay, so maybe telling that story in front of Larry’s van full of kids with their windows rolled down wasn’t exactly the perfect time to do so, but too late.
And anyway, the Larry I remember would have wanted that way.
Larry’s the friend who taught me how to play poker. He also kept me laughing in high school. We shared a music stand in orchestra, both playing the viola moderately poorly. Well, I did anyway. I was so bad that maybe Larry was a lot better and I just couldn’t hear it. One time, at a concert, we had to play a particularly difficult section of music designed to showcase the viola section—in other words, we couldn’t get away with just letting the violins screech over us—and so what did we do? We moved our bows perfectly to the notes but didn’t let them touch the strings. I’m gonna say that was Larry’s idea, even if the truth is I don’t remember whose genius idea it was.
We laughed, and yes, we talked a lot in orchestra. And all these years later, our beloved orchestra conductor, Shirley Mullins—who is someone I respect and appreciate immensely for putting up with those of us who didn’t play so well, for taking us on orchestra trips to Indiana and Chicago and Columbus—remembers me in part because of my friendship with Larry. I know this because I saw Shirley a couple of years ago when visiting my hometown, and I walked up to her and started to thank her for all she had done for me.
The truth is I had been thinking a lot about Shirley and wanting to tell her what an impact she’d had on me, and I had worked up a nice little speech in my head over the months of imagining it. After all, I never would have picked up the viola if she hadn’t put it in my hands and encouraged me. I know a lot more classical music because of her. I learned how to read music better because of her. And some of my best high school memories are from orchestra concerts and trips, the times we traveled together by bus, lugging our instruments in and out of gyms and hotels and halls. I fancied myself a little special to her because for years I took attendance for her in orchestra. You know what she said as soon as I launched into my I-can’t-thank-you-enough-speech? She interrupted it with: “I’m sorry that I kicked you and Larry out of orchestra that one day, but I needed to make an example of you.”
What? I was kicked out of orchestra one day? And wait, not only do I not remember it, but this is the one memory that first comes to mind when you think of me?
Apparently, as she explained, she kicked us out of for talking too much. Which doesn’t surprise me. Still, my heart broke just a little that day.
But I wouldn’t trade Larry’s friendship—or the talking, or the laughing—for an untarnished reputation from my beloved orchestra conductor. No one needs a lot of trouble, but a little is what makes a good memory, even if you need to be reminded of it later.