This is a story about one of my oldest friends. I spent a lot of time with him and his family during all of my teen years over a seven-year period. Through most of them we were constant companions. We were once the best of friends. No matter what, when I hear the words “childhood friend”, I think first of Marcus and all those crazy days we spent together. (Marcus is not my friend’s name. I’m using it to protect his and his family’s identity.)
Marcus and I shared a lot of adventures amidst our active lives. They included attending the same classes in school, working at many jobs side-by-side, the V.W. then the G.T.O, our travels around the beltway of D.C., and the many people, especially the girls we came to know.
All day on Sundays and at least one night during the week we attended church together. Marcus and I were a couple of cut-ups, always laughing and the biggest fans of one another’s comedic skills. I still use lines today that Marcus and I coined all those years before. For every memorable event we shared together there are probably at least a dozen I’ve long forgotten about. But I do remember when in about 8th grade he was in the hospital. It was bittersweet to get him laughing so hard on the one hand, but then on the other he had the nurse throw me out of his room. Apparently the pain I was inflicting, by getting him to laugh uncontrollably, was just too much to bear as he recovered from having his spleen removed a couple of days before. Go figure!
Marcus and I sorta ran away from home once together. Not that we wanted to leave home and never return (thereby teaching our parents a lesson they’d not soon forget), but it was more our version of skipping school and taking a short vacation. And it wasn’t like most kids of our day who would sleep a night or two in the same neighborhood at a friend’s house. Instead Marcus and I hopped a United 747 flight out of Dulles and flew clear across the country to southern California’s L-A-X. We had no clue what we would do once we arrived but luckily, while admiring the palm trees outside the airport, Marcus remembered family friends who lived in near-by Carson.
We were gone about a week and marveled at the sights and sounds with surfin’ music blasting from KHJ on the car radio as we visited some of the best beaches and all the other things Socal had to offer. 17-year-old boys, livin’ the dream. Like I said, ‘crazy days.’ We did most of that on my dime. I wasn’t always the best influence in Marcus’ life.
Later we joined the Air Force under the buddy system and endured the rigors and challenges of basic training together at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. It was nice in those difficult days to have a friend close-by.
Later that same year I would be Marcus’ best man at his first wedding in Los Angeles. We’ve lost contact repeatedly over the years since then but — just as often — always manage to somehow bump into one another from time-to-time. The last was in June of 2004 when I was visiting out of state. I was walking into a Costco, Marcus was walking out, and there we were reunited once again. It had probably been, at the very-least, ten years since we’d last spoke to one another. We visited for a couple of hours sitting outside that Costco entrance. We laughed about the past and talked about our lives together and apart.
Among those memories was the time Marcus — negotiating a rapid short-cut through a shopping center parking lot — rolled his V.W. on it’s side. We crawled out, and in front of a crowd of on-lookers, pushed it back onto it’s wheels, hopped back in and within seconds continued to race on to our destination. (I think we lost about a half-quart of oil.)
By the time we had met that day at Costco Marcus had been married for over twenty years with a large family. Just like he’d been doing for most of his adult life he was running his own business, never wanting to work for anyone else. Despite promises to the contrary, and in the fashion I had become used to, we lost contact once again.
A year or two ago I heard through the grapevine Marcus had lost a leg below the knee due to some ailment. It was a difficult adjustment for him but he managed with time to overcome the challenge, but I’m told he now relies on the constant assistance of pain killers. Marcus was a born salesman, charismatic and talking a good game, he used it often to his advantage even as a teenager. You know the kind. The one who could sell ice water to an Eskimo. He always had money and lots of toys, log cabin homes, expensive cars and most anything his wife ever wanted. He seemed to have the world by the tail with lots of business savvy. From our earliest days together it was clear he could have done anything he wanted and been hugely successful. But every time we became reacquainted once again, it was also obvious; Marcus was living on the edge, pushing the outer limits of the envelope, flirting with the boundaries of the law.
I and my family owe so much to Marcus and his family as a boy. Their influence literally changed our lives for the better. His mother is gone and his father, one of the finest men I’ve ever known, suffers from dementia. His large family of siblings are spread around the country and I’ve come to know a few of them, after many years of no contact, through the Internet.
This is not the whole story, but suffice to say, Marcus was unique, and our relationship has been a long one. It’s amazing how the years can pile up and all the changes that can come along in our lives. Things do have a way of catching up and it breaks my heart to know how they have turned out for Marcus.
Last week I learned my long-time friend is in prison. Marcus is facing a long incarceration after multiple convictions in his conduct of several business ventures. All are business related crimes, and run the gamut of adjectives including racketeering, swindling, fraud, bad checks, work for hire never completed, and theft by deception. It is alleged Marcus has a thirty year history of criminal activities costing innocent victims hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If somehow these words should reach my old friend’s attention I want him to know how much I once valued our friendship, and in-fact Marcus I still do. For me those youthful memories of our times together are hard to forget, nor are they easy to cast off as better-forgotten. I owe you and your family a debt of gratitude I will never be able to pay.
I’m lucky in that I don’t have to judge Marcus and would never assume to do so. That task is left to another with far greater wisdom. One who knows us the best, and with an eye for things of an eternal nature, better than any of us could ever hope to have.
I’m reminded of the words of a song — a big hit during those early days of our friendship so many years ago. I leave them… for my friend Marcus:
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do
Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.