Spread out before us; a multicolor mosaic of plastic. The future building blocks of some huge unimagined greatness. This was a standard rainy day afternoon for us. A bin of Lego pieces dumped on his family room carpet, astronauts mixed with pirates mixed with knights. No plan existed, for our creations were made up as we went along. We'd work individually, eventually combining our buildings or vehicles into a larger singular entity. And, as with most things, the fun was in the journey not the destination. We never finished a single Lego build. Not one. And that was the point. We didn't want to run monorails around our city, or fight hidden rangers in an enchanted forest. Before we started, we knew we'd never get around to putting the final Lego piece in place.
I've had a recurring dream these past few weeks. With each one, I wake up with the singular shock and sadness I had when I heard he'd died. The dreams revolve around a childhood experience, each one different. Playing in his backyard, riding our bikes, delivering newspapers, playing capture the flag. We're young. And upon waking comes the realization that we're no longer children and he's no longer around.
Friends since birth (we lived in the same neighborhood), we spent most of our free time together. Ski trips, vacations, school assemblies, birthdays ... we're together in most of the old photos stuffed into books in my parent's house. And back then, we never thought about how one day we wouldn't really know each other. How we'd live in different cities. How painfully short life can be.
After high school, we fell out of touch. We had different interests and moved to different parts of the country. There was no fight or falling apart, simply a drifting away. I'd often search his name on the internet to catch a glimpse of where he was or what he was up to, but he managed to be one of the most un-Google-able people on the planet. (So careful was he with his privacy that I'll refrain from mentioning his name here.) And so when I received news that he was sick, my heart sank with shock and disbelief.
You want to hear that your childhood friends are doing well. They've become fantastic artists, they've met the love of their life, they've journeyed to exotic places. You don't want to hear that they're fighting a horribly cruel disease.
And yet, his name popped up in my Gmail. A "thanks for checking in" message sent from his email address. The first I'd heard from him in about ten years. When he felt better, he came into New York to hang out a few times. We filled in the blanks of the last ten years. We laughed about times past. We put a few more pieces into the unending project of our friendship. And when we parted ways as he got onto the train at Grand Central, I told him to do a better job of keeping in touch. He laughed.
He died. Those are two painful words. Those are two unbelievable words. Words that are too small to carry such a profound weight. My best friend from childhood is now spoken of in the past tense.
I purchased a Lego kit recently. An intricate representation of Frank Lloyd Wright's "Fallingwater," a set I figured would be more appropriate for a 33 year-old man to purchase. Subconsciously, I'm sure, this was to pay some sort of tribute to him. To hold onto a memory we once shared. As I put it together, I often thought of those afternoons with him, with Lego pieces and dreams spread out before us. And when I finished the kit, I thought about how much more enjoyable it would have been had he been there to complete it with me.
But he, like those Lego projects from long ago, has been left unfinished. We never got to see him put the final piece in place. But what we do have are the fun and memorable experiences of watching him snap his pieces together, and for that I'll be forever grateful.