Happy Birthday, John Avery Sadler
My best friend would have been forty one years old today.
I had a fight. It was a big fight. It was the sort of fight where neither party will give in. Everyone has to be right and in the process everyone turns out to be wrong.
There are moments in life you will always remember. The vivid details of these moments burn your heart like a hot iron brand. My son Joseph was just under two years old on my hip as I carried him up the rickety wooden back steps of my grea-grandmother’s house. It was a perfect spring day, sunshine and blue skies. I struggled to get the door open with one finger, balance the child, diaper bag and hot cup of coffee. I remember the motion of Joseph’s solid 30 pound body sliding off my hip onto the worn hardwood floor of my great-grandmother’s kitchen floor. My father was at the table, steam billowing off the fresh cup of coffee next to him. His eyes scanned over the local newspaper — he did not look up as he spoke.
“Hey your buddy there, what’s his name, the one next door, died.”
“Who? I don’t talk to my neighbors.”
I stared at my father, frozen, as the physical reaction of anxiety crept up my torso, up my neck to my face. I was tingling, my throat was getting tight. I knew deep in the center of my being something terrible was about to be imparted on me. This was going to hurt like a bucket of boiling water to my face. The fraction of a second it took my father to respond seemed to drag on like infinity.
“You know, the Sadler kid.”
I dropped into the chair. The feeling was far worse that a bucket of hot water, it was like red ants were consuming me alive. I burst into tears. My father slid his chair back slowly and left the room, leaving me to compose myself. My best friend at twenty eight years old was dead of complications from heart failure after battling multiple sclerosis.
When we were children, John taught me how to launch my pink Schwinn bicycle off a ramp made from pieces of wood we found in the neighborhood. He taught me to hop fences. John taught me how to hit with a right hook, only wear Nike sneakers and never tie the laces. He taught me that orange Tic Tacs are the only ones worth eating and Butter Pecan should be my favorite flavor of ice cream. When other kids in our play circle called him fat, I raged and threw them all out of my backyard. His grin pulled from ear to ear as he hopped the fence, escaping my tirade.
“You are a dookie head!”
In our early twenties, John taught me how to smoke weed. He bought my baby daughter sneakers and hugged me tight as my youthful marriage to her father fell apart. John disappeared for a year. When a mutual friend had reconnected us, my gentle giant high school football star had been reduced to a wheel chair. We spent hours reminiscing about our friendship, the magic of our childhood. He asked me to apologize to a few people he had wronged. He was at a place where he needed to have resolve. I think he knew his time was severely limited. I wouldn’t accept that. I fully expected modern medicine to come up with some sort of solution. John tried to impart to me the serious situation of his health, he tried to make me understand the day of the argument. I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was his love and adoration of the girl next door that made him choose to allow me to live in ignorance. I hadn’t really lost anyone I loved at that point of life. I don’t think he wanted to be the first loss.
I wrote a column about wishing not too long ago. Funny thing about wishing, sometimes it is simply not the solution. There are so many situations in which we have the control to exercise our own positive possibilities. I could have stepped away from the argument with my friend — that would have afforded me ten more months of memories. It would have afforded me the process of his failing health. I could have been there for him, taken care of him, looked out for him until the end. I gave that up, in the name of being right.
Today my best friend would have been forty one years old. I would have baked him a cake, bought him a balloon, a gift. We would have giggled over our birthdays past and continued the celebration in twelve days when I turn forty two on April 24th. Twelve plus twelve is twenty four happy birthday months, Kathy and John.
I can’t take back the argument. I cannot roll back time. I can admit to my fault in hopes I can be an influence to someone else holding a grudge with someone they love.
The taste of pride being swallowed is far less bitter than swallowing a lifetime of regret.
Happy Birthday, John Avery Sadler. Dookiehead misses you.