And now she’s dead.
It’s one of my great life regrets, I threw away the invitation to her birthday party. I remember exactly where it happened, dropping it through the grate during recess. I’m not sure she saw me do it. Maybe I blocked it. But somehow she knew, and we were friends.
This was second grade, maybe third. Back in the sixties, before it was de rigueur to invite your whole class to the festivities. You only invited friends. But you got to a certain age where you only wanted the same sex, before you got to that age when you wanted both sexes once again. And somehow, the boys in my class, decided they didn’t want to go. So they threw away the invites, and I did too. Call it peer pressure, call it trying to look cool, but it’s troubled me ever since.
I thought life would go on forever. That I’d ski at every ski area in the world. But time is running out of the hourglass, yet I still believe. Call it blind optimism, like someday I’m going to become rich and famous. You need that carrot in front of your eyes. But when the destination is pulled away…
I got into the internet early, for someone of my age. I got a free subscription to AOL before most people knew what it was. Not that I used it much. I did have a modem, 1200kbps. I had to buy the program “Microphone” to make it work. I printed out conversations on my dot matrix printer. This was too much effort. AOL was less effort, but it wasn’t until a college student read what I wrote in “Pulse” and asked me if I had an e-mail address that I dove in deep. She told me she had a boyfriend. It turned out she’d never met him, he went to a college hundreds of miles away. This was when this was incomprehensible. I’d have experiences online and people would be dumbfounded, they had no idea what I was talking about.
And then I started to look up people I knew.
For a while there, I was the only person findable. An old college buddy, a summer camp friend, they saw me on the internet and made contact, it was groovy, it gave me a little thrill to make these connections, in the late nineties, long before Facebook, long before you realized you’d never lose touch with anybody you ever knew in your life. Oh, you could stop looking for them, but your digital breadcrumbs were searchable, findable, you could not hide.
And then, around the turn of the century, a little while thereafter, everybody started to pop up.
First I looked for old girlfriends. In some cases it took me years, a decade, to find every single one, because they get married and change their names. You’ve got no idea where they’re living. I found my two Camp Laurelwood girlfriends. I found that woman I met on the train to Boston. I never made contact, never ever, I just liked feeling good that whatever we shared was still there in the ether.
And then Facebook hit and zealots started collecting friends, isn’t that why I moved to California, to get away from all that? I hate the pecking order, I don’t want to discuss my SATs, where I went to college was meaningless until they protested Charles Murray and it was all over the news last year. But I like it that way.
But I also like that all my old buddies are still out there, living their lives. I peek in on them from time to time.
My old ski girlfriend ended up very close to where I met her, in Southern Vermont. She’s a teacher, moving from gig to gig.
I don’t think I’d connect with any of them today, we’d relive the old times and lack further conversation. But, like I said, I like that they’re still out there, chugging along.
But not Judy.
Judy was not prissy. Not a girly-girl. And when she finally popped up on the radar, it occurred to me she might be gay.
She didn’t show up for years. There are certain people who live off the radar screen. They don’t play online, whether it be by age or choice.
But there she was, in Aspen. Really? I’ve been to Aspen so many times!
At first I found out she planted flowers.
Hmm… What kind of job is that?
Then I read about her sports adventures, but there was no marriage record, no man involved.
And part of me wanted to apologize to her, not in some twelve step way, but because it continues to haunt me, ’til this day. I acted badly, AND I LIKED HER! She was NICE! She was COOL! She probably thinks I’m a jerk and I’m less worried about her perception of me than…wanting not to hurt anybody.
I don’t want to hurt anybody. If you’re a public figure, acting badly, it’s fair game. But if you want to make fun of a friend, trick somebody, call them a bad name, that’s happened to me too many times, I’m not gonna do it, and when I’ve done it, I’ve felt awful thereafter, like that letter we sent to Brad…
So, with these people who go through my brain, like I said, I check up on them. And I have no idea why Judy Budzik’s name passed through me tonight, I decided to look her up on my phone.
And her name showed right up in the Google results. This had never happened before. Ah, there must be more information!
And I clicked through and found her obituary. I was shocked, she died at the end of 2016.
But the picture didn’t look like her. I knew it was her, because they said she was from Fairfield, she went to Andrew Warde, but then I clicked through to the Connecticut obit and…
It was her. The same smile on her face.
It happened suddenly, she left behind a cat and her friend Kristin.
And that’s when I realized, it’s happening, the tribe is being thinned, people are being cleaved off.
Robert took his own life. I think about how much he’s missed. For ten years, I thought about him every damn day.
Chip got the Big C! He used to call me after midnight, he was convinced he was gonna beat it, but now he’s dead too.
Sometime it will be my time. After all, Judy was only 63. And her birthday was only three days after mine.
So now it all doesn’t matter. She’s gone, the only person who might remember, and for all I know, she might have forgotten, even soon thereafter.
And I realized I could go that fast too, in Judy’s case it was sudden.
But even more I realized life is not forever. It doesn’t make sense. You’re young and trying to get ahead, you think it’s a game. Then you get old enough to know the joke is upon you, it’s not about possessions and achievements. Sure, it’s about meaning, but even more it’s about family and friends, laughs and experiences. Which can’t be toted up.
I know, I know, they’re separating babies from their parents. I abhor this as much as you do. But this endless Trumpism has defeated me. We on the left keep crying foul and it makes no difference, and even if we win this one, we’ve lost on the big issues, and it doesn’t look like we’re ever gonna win.
So it comes down to the personal. How we live our lives. How we treat one another.
I treated Judy Budzik badly. It’s haunted me for decades. Should it still?
I don’t know.