Friday, November 5, 2010


So I was supposed to write yesterday about a dear friend.  I started it, honest!  But then I kind of got bogged down.  Well, there was the work thing too, but that wasn't really it.

I was having a hard time picking "my dearest friend".  What a hardship!  I have so many "dear" friends that it's difficult to figure out who is the dearest! LOL

It's true – I've got a LOT of friends.  That's partly because I grew up overseas (Hong Kong) in a very transient place, and now I live in another very transient place.  I've got a lot of different "sets" of friends… my HK friends, my old college/Hoodlum friends, my old "Bob's" friends, my work friends, my Nanny's friends, my trivia buddies, my Aroma friends,  my RHR friends, my family friends, etc. etc. etc.   Some of these "sets" overlap in weird ways too, but it is a bit nice to have a lot of friends who don't necessarily even know each other!

But, when it got down to it, I asked myself: "Who would you say is the one person on whom you can always count to be there, to make you feel better, to make you laugh?  Who will always have a piece of your heart?" 

And I realized that that one person isn't here anymore.

Hasn't been for about almost 27 years.

And that's why I couldn't write.

But… it's important to write about him, isn't it?  If it still hurts 27 years later, maybe writing about him will make it a little better.  So… let me introduce you to James.

James moved to HK when he was about nine months old, shortly before I was born.  His dad and my dad were both surgeons, medical Southern Baptist missionaries.  My understanding is that Uncle Don (his dad) came to HK to work with my dad (who James called Uncle Lewis) in the Baptist Hospital (which my dad had just finished building).  As it turned out, their entire family became my family's best friends.  Aunt Mary and my mom got on like a house on fire, their oldest son was the same age as my brother, and I was between James and his little sister Donna. 

I don't remember first meeting James (probably because I had barely been born) but there are SO many pictures of the two of us together as little little kids, I'm just imagining that we were best friends from birth!  I used to call him my "twin brother from another mother" (after the Dan Fogelberg/Tim Weisberg album of the similar name -- to which I was introduced by James, of course).

James was hilarious.  He was very very smart and could use words like a paint brush.  I remember in elementary or maybe even in Jr. High school, he convinced his parents to let him open up an ice cream store… in their living room!  I, of course, was his willing assistant, and I think Donna, Paul, and maybe even Devra got into the act.  I used to go over to their house to spend the night, and it alternated somewhat between staying with Donna or James… but mostly James.  I remember magic shows and other entrepreneurial adventures, and still love the fact that his parents let us do them!

And I remember hours and hours playing with James, Donna, Paul, and Devra creating towns with the Fisher-Price people, connecting them with the Matchbox tracks as highways… from James and Paul's room, all the way down the hall, turn left and all the way down to the living room and back. 

I remember playing circus under the dining room table.  They had this great tablecloth that looked like a "Big Top" and we would while away the hours under there with James's imagination keeping us entertained.

I remember one time when I was sleeping on the bottom bunk, and James jumped off the top bunk in the middle of the night.  I called to him but he didn't answer, so I followed him.  Down the hallway, down the stars, open the house door, down the driveway, and then he went out of the gate and closed it.  (I stayed INSIDE the gate!)   I heard him say something like "Oh crap!" as soon as the gate was locked, so I called him again and never heard such a grateful James.  Apparently, he had a bit of a sleep-walking problem! 

I remember in Jr. High and High school, we would sit in the huge living room while James introduced me to Fusion Jazz on the family's quadraphonic stereo (I especially remember that they had reel-to-reel tape!) .  Or, we'd just listen and laugh our butts off to Bill Cosby.

I remember visiting the family in Louisiana on one furlough – I think I must have been going into third grade – and they had two horses, a black one and a brown one.  Which James of course, had named "Bwack and Bwown Booty".  I sat behind him on "Bwown Booty" and laughed and laughed!

We had both started school at Kowloon Junior School, but he was a year ahead of me.  Then his family moved to the US for a furlough and they put him back a year because he was too young for the American system.  As I mentioned, we visited them in the states a few years later, and then they went back to HK and we stayed in the US.

When they returned to HK, James went back into the British system at KJS and then KGV (King George the 5th).  I came back for 5th grade and was sent to Beacon Hill School so I didn't get to see James at school at all.  So, I would head over to Essex Crescent nearly every day instead!

I started going to the American school (Hong Kong International School – HKIS) in 7th grade, and I believe James's family went back to the States while I was in 8th grade.  When they came back, James joined me at HKIS and we were in the same grade… and in some of the same classes.  That was perfect for me!  We had English (1st period) and Humanities (6th period) together, and along with my good friend Scott Morris, we put those teachers through hell!  But even they couldn't help laughing. 

I lived in Atlanta in 10th grade, and we didn't really write all that much, but when I got back to HK, we were inseparable again.  His girlfriend Tracie wasn't really that excited about it at first… I left Atlanta the day after school ended, which was about a month before school ended in HK.  So, James convinced me to come to school every day and hang out on the Village Green, an area set up in the cafeteria for hanging out purposes.  It was great!  It was made up of four large blocks (about 6' by 15'?) covered in green indoor/outdoor carpet.  James, Steve I. and I would move them around into interesting shapes and sit in precarious positions reading, playing cards, or whatever.  And then Tracie (who I knew from 7th – 9th grade) pulled me aside and said, "He's MY boyfriend!"  To which I laughed and said, "Yeah, but he's my BROTHER!"   Then I explained using our last names, which when combined was the name of our dads' fairly well-known partnership at the time, and how I'd known James since birth, and she went "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

James and I had 11th and 12th grade together at HKIS, and he was still the amazing, senstive, creative, wonderful guy I'd always known.  In 11th grade, my parents and I moved to an apartment on Nathan Road, which was no where near anybody else, and made me fairly depressed.  But James would go out of his way to walk me home and cheer me up (usually involving something like wearing his underwear (CLEAN!) on his heaed), so I wouldn't feel lonely.

We moved back over to 30 Oxford Road, and for some reason, James started coming to stay with me after school.  We'd get home at about 4:30pm and I'd make cheese omelets.  We'd turn on Sesame Street (only show on the English channels at that time), or play piano and sing, or we'd joke about soccer, or something.   I think our upstairs neighbors had gotten the trampoline at that time (which had travelled from the Harvey's house (28 Oxford) to our old house on York Rd to the house on Essex Crescent and back), so sometimes we would sit out there and plot our take-over of the universe… no, not really.  We'd just talk.  About life, the universe, and everything.

And then we went to college.

I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and he went to Baylor University in Waco, TX.  Once again, we didn't write that much, but we would call each other at least once a month.  Freshman year was hard on me,  and the worst was that I didn't get to see James at all that year.  Sophomore year was weird because I got mono for part of the year and didn't know about it until it was almost over.  (Messes a person up!)  But I was able to get back to HK during summer and hang out with the teenage Devra, which was fun!

 Junior year was the worst.  I sort of "unofficially" dropped out of school for one semester, and then officially dropped out the next when Vanderbilt put me on academic probation.  A lot of that time is a bit of a blur for me, because a LOT went on in my head then.  I went back to Vanderbilt the next Fall and thought I was doing well until my English prof failed me – even though I had aced every test and paper – because I didn't show up to class enough.   When I went to protest it, I found out he had gone on sabbatical so I had to wait a year.  Needless to say, the things coming out of my mouth at that time were NOT the most complimentary!

I had also met a guy and gotten engaged.  I found out later that he was sleeping with a friend of mine and decided, "uh, this is NOT going to work!".  But at the time, I was just a bit of a basket case.   I was out of school, living with my boyfriend, and working part time at a sub sandwhich shop (along with my boyfriend).  I felt like I was having a meltdown – nothing was going right and I just didn't know how to change it back to the right path!

And then one night, I was working at the Sub Base and I got a call from my brother.  James had killed himself.  He didn't know all the details, but he knew that I would want to know as soon as possible, because he knew how close we were.  I felt like I had been stabbed.  I was very lucky that my (very dear) friend Megan was there that night because I just could NOT take it all in!  I took over washing dishes in between phone calls and crying jags – and washing dishes surprisingly helped a lot.

Megan called my boyfriend to come pick me up (I not only didn't have a car, but I didn't know how to drive), but he couldn't do it.  I found out later that the reason he couldn't do it was that he was tripping his brains out – this was AFTER he had told me he wouldn't do acid anymore, so it was just one more thing.  He also had the gall to give me crap for getting a guy he was not very fond of to drive me home.  Needless to say, every bit of my anger and grief and vituperative bile came out at him, and at all the other people tripping balls at my house.   (Also needless to say, we didn't stay together for much longer.)

I went back to Hong Kong for a month to recuperate, and I'm sure my parents were very worried about me.  This was in 1984 and I suddenly realized why George Orwell picked that year – it was a horrible year!  But the absolute worst part was that James died because he didn't think anyone loved him.  I did!  And I still do.  And I always will.

I learned something very important that year:  do not ever assume that your friends know that you love them.  Tell them! 

OK, I'm going to stop crying and leave the office now…


Emily Grace said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. And I love you.

Anonymous said...

I remember the day I got the call. It was from Dad ... on my birthday. James took his death on Feb. 16th, but by the time they called me it was the 18th. The previous two years had been pretty devastating for me ... not like yours and James and I had not been as close as you had ... but he was like a little brother to me. Somehow God had prepared me for a death. I didn't know who, but when the word came ... I went, "Oh, that's who You meant." I had actually called a couple of friends to make sure they were okay. I had the same response, "How could he not know he was loved?"

Now, I know. Depression left untreated, is a fatal disease. It sucks. I'm sorry you were alone. In those days I thought that a long distance call more than once a semester was an extravagant luxury. I am thankful that we have so many ways to stay close now. I love you my sister. Never doubt it for a minute. You are loved. Thanks for sharing about our James.