I ASKED ANDY how his night was. He said he was up until 3 a.m. We were due in New London for our 20th high school reunion, 100 miles away.
There was traffic on I-95.
We talked about New London and high school: missed opportunities, past embarrassments. Who I was in high school directly led directly to my decision to go to the United States Naval Academy, a decision that is still affecting my life.
I asked Andy if he liked high school, and he said yes.
I didn’t dislike high school, I said; maybe I just disliked myself.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
When we stopped for gas, Andy smoked a cigarette and checked his phone.
Driving again, I told Andy about my best friend Matt, who graduated the year Andy did, but from the high school of Montville, one town over. Matt and I competed against each other in cross country and track. Over the years we got to know each other better. Me, a naval officer. Matt, an army officer, combat veteran, Silver Star recipient. Red Sox ballcap, Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots.
Then, we both left active duty. A little while after that, Matt died by suicide.
I didn’t tell Andy, but I thought my life was over after Matt died. I wasn’t suicidal, I just thought that if that had happened to Matt, then that could happen to anyone, including me.
I appreciate Andy’s friendship now that Matt is gone; I didn’t tell him that, either.
Five minutes away, we stopped at a liquor store. Andy bought a 12-pack of hard seltzer and I, a four-pack of craft beer. Katrina and Doug sent me Facebook messages, telling me to hurry.
Andy and I drove past the entrance of Eugene O’Neill Theater, toward Waterford Beach.
I asked Andy if he had any last words, and he said no.
We approached the pavilion and I heard the music, saw the line of cars. Amanda saw us first; she walked our way and held out both her arms to say hello. Greg saw us next. They told us we’d just made it in time for the picture. More faces I recognized: Jon, Doug, another Jon, Katrina, Tracy, Jeff, Ramel, Pete. We posed for the picture.
Doug’s my oldest friend; our parents started babysitting for each other when we were four years old. He’d traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and four children.
Ramel began speaking, holding the mic, and presented a series of gift cards to Brenda, who organized the reunion. Everyone gave a little cheer.
Later I grabbed a few slices of pizza and said hi to Melissa, then Rosa, and their respective children, and to Jeff, who is a writer, like me. I asked Jeff how his dad was doing. Jeff’s dad was my Boy Scout Scoutmaster for five years. His name is Ronald and my nickname for him was Camper Ron.
Greg, who was also in Boy Scouts, was sitting at a bench with Stephen. He asked me to join him. How are you, he asked. Good, I said. I thought, Good, and other things.
The DJ and food truck began to pack up. People began leaving. Ramel back to New York City. Doug and his family, back to their hotel. So soon.
I’d been late.
People started making after-party plans. It was still early. Andy and I left and drove to his parents’ house. I saw his mom, Nancy, for the first time in 20 years. His older brother, Mike, too. Mike became a police officer four years ago.
Andy and I took an Uber to Greg’s place. We drove right past my old house. My parents live in Pennsylvania now. We got out on State Street, outside Greg’s studio. Jon was also there. Like Greg, Jon was in Boy Scouts, too.
Greg has the entire floor to himself, and uses one of the rooms to make his art. It’s full of paintings, records, desk, plants. Greg offered us something to drink from his mini-fridge and put on Kendrick Lamar. He showed me binders full of old Boy Scout photos.
Greg also showed me a “Free Colin” t-shirt from our freshman year, signed by our classmates. They’d made it to protest the two days I had to spend in TOR, the Time Out Room, in school suspension, for something I got angry about.
It reminded me of my anger. Of Matt’s anger.
Others arrived. We drank beer and seltzer and talked. After a while Andy, Jon, Greg, Amanda and I went out and walked toward Bank Street. I was buzzed, hungry.
Only the late-night menu was available at Hot Rod’s Café, so I couldn’t have a salad. I ordered wings, fries and a Sprite. I couldn’t finish the wings or the fries.
We talked of going into The Oasis, but it was too loud in there. It’s late, we said. We walked across the train tracks, and along the water.
When we finally got back to Andy’s parents’ house, he put on the episode of the television show that he produced. Every ten minutes he asked me what I thought. I told him I’d never seen the show, so I had trouble following. I also told him it was good. Afterwards I went upstairs and slept in his brother Mike’s old room.
In the morning I saw Andy’s dad, Frank, for the first time in 20 years. Frank is a retired police officer. I told him I’m a writer and his eyes lit up. Me too, he said. I didn’t know this.
He showed me the poetry that he published when he was still a police officer and told me about the book that he started writing but never finished. I drank my coffee and we talked for a while.
I saw that it was 11 a.m. This day is flying by, I thought.
Before I forgot, because time is of the essence, I told Frank to please finish writing his book.
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