Sunday, September 8, 2013

Distant Memories - You Can't Go Home Again

Today I was remembering Bob, an old college roommate I hadn't seen since 1965. I decided to type his name into Google and check the images. In the past I had located a few old friends that way.

Bob was such a character back then that I thought his life journey might have led him to be visible on the Internet. But none of the faces looked familiar. A lot can happen in 50 years. Bob was a chain-smoker. Maybe he died of lung cancer. Or ended up in prison for a white-collar crime. Or instead, maybe he's a family man with a dozen grandkids. Probably he's just an old guy who doesn't look the same anymore.

Bob was a bright guy, but he was so eccentric that I was sure West Point couldn't contain him.

When we were sophomores, I introduced myself to him, and he said, "I can't call you Denny."

I thought he was joking. "Why not?"

"I used to know a guy named Denny, and I hated him. I need to call you something else."

"Like what? Everybody else calls me Denny."

"I don't know. What's your middle name?"

"Edward."

"That's good. I'll call you Eddie. Does that work for you?"

That felt strange. No one had ever called me Eddie. But I told him Eddie would be fine.

And that was that. He called me Eddie the whole time we were roommates that year.

Bob was a strange dude. Of course guys didn't call each other "dudes" back then. But I remember that when we had to report to formation or class by a certain time, Bob would nap on his bed until the absolute last minute, then hurry to where he was expected to be, joining the rest of us with no time to spare. Sleep was that important to him. He used to say, "Ten minutes in the rack is ten minutes away from West Point."

Coursework wasn't important to him. I never once saw him study or prepare for class. But he made good grades anyway. It was amazing.

One thing that was important to him was his girlfriend. She would come to West Point on weekends, and he would sneak her into the gym and take her up to the fourth-floor room where the wrestling team worked out, which was covered wall-to-wall with thick mats.

One day he decided this sanctuary was too risky and uncomfortable. So he and another friend launched an improbable project of constructing a get-away apartment in an abandoned 19th century jail they found in the woods high above the main campus. They put a lock on the door and began collecting throw-away construction materials from the massive building projects that were going on at West Point at the time. After weeks of enterprising problem solving and construction work, the "Cooter Cavern" as they called it was ready for occupation. (If you're not sure what "cooter" means, Google it.)

Bob and his buddy used this apartment when their girlfriends came to visit. This was the happiest period in Bob's life as a cadet. But one cold day in December they took their dates up there only to find that the lock had been removed and their handiwork had been ripped out.

This sent Bob into a depression so deep that he decided he couldn't abide the discipline and B.S. of cadet life anymore. So he resigned and went to a fine university in the Middle West. Ironically, they accepted him as a junior, because he had so many credits from West Point's heavy academic load.

And I never saw or heard from him again. I guess I never will. As I said, none of the pictures of the many Bobs on the Internet looked anything like him.

It's just as well. Fifty years is a long time, almost an entire lifetime. All that incomprehensible water under the bridge can change a person. I'm sure Bob is no longer that crazy teenager I remember. If I were to meet him again, we would be total strangers to each other. To be friends, we'd have to start over.

And that's how it goes. That's real life.

Which is why I don't go to high school and college reunions anymore. Even though I'm curious about some of these people, I've decided that it's too late for me to make friends all over again and stay in touch. It doesn't work for me. Maintaining a friendship takes effort, and it's too far for me to go.

Maybe this is what novelist Thomas Wolfe meant when he wrote, "You can't go home again."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2013. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

elizabethwestmark.net said...

I found an old college friend of Buck's on the internet about 15 years ago. Someone he hated losing a connection with. This one has a good ending. We met, and now Jim and Betty and the two of us get together several times a year and communicate frequently. It's become a treasured relationship with two extraordinarily fine people. We got lucky.