Calvin Carbaugh had been my best friend since kindergarten or first grade. He was the first friend I spent the night with. We used to sleep on his living room floor and watch porno movies on cable with the sound down. He shared my love of comics, and used to draw all the time. He loved Venom and the X-Men, but didn’t mind Batman, either. And he was a fellow pro wrestling fan. I was at his house the year Ric Flair won the Royal Rumble. He had a gorgeous dog with long red hair named Flame, and his parents had a horse and a few cows, as well. He lived out in the country and referred to me as a “city boy” because I lived just outside of Clear Spring, population 400. Starting in 11th grade he went to the Career Studies Center, and I hardly saw him after that.
I remember B.J. Reiff, with whom I was inexplicably close friends for about two years. We shared interests in Star Trek and politics, and B.J. briefly picked up the writing bug from me. The major difference between the two of us was that B.J. was dumb as a stump. He was also huge, with a head that looked like flesh stretched over a cinderblock. He thought of himself as Captain Picard, but he was Worf all the way. He had the hots for Mandy Sherman, who dated Jason Owens for awhile in 9th and 10th grade, and was way too sweet and polite to just tell him to get lost. He would write her notes in class saying things like, “Promise that I will be the first guy you go out with after you break up with Jason.” He swore if he ever won her over, he would shower her with gifts and take her out to eat at the finest restaurants every night. When I would ask how he, as a jobless high school student, intended to pay for all this, he would get rather upset.
Evan Mathiasen went to Clear Spring for a few years before he moved with his family to Oregon. He was hung-up on Kate Moss back then. He told me, “She was discovered by a photographer on the beach when she was only 13. He looked at her and said, ‘Have you ever considered being a model?’” He had this awe in his voice, like he was reciting a passage from the book of Genesis or something. Evan came over to my house once, to help me shoot a video for an English project. I had to make a commercial for a book, in this case William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories. Evan starred as a man frantically searching for the book. Unable to find it, he determines his only alternative is suicide, so he lays down on the bed and slashes his wrist with a humongous kitchen knife. I’ll always treasure the look on Evan’s face as he acted out the wrist-cutting: like a man on the brink of utter bliss.
There was Stephanie Lohn, who I pined over for half of high school and a few years afterward. Senior year she was in my guitar class, which was absolute agony. Ashley was in that class, too. She was a freshman, small and cute, with this defiant way about her that made her seem to be perpetually shaking her fist at the world. If I hadn’t been so hung up on Steph, I would have found it quite attractive.
Brian Stottlemeyer was my friend since the first grade. He was always much taller than I was, and smarter, too. He was a Star Trek fan, too, and even dressed up as Data for Halloween one year. Senior year I developed a kinship with Brian because he loved Marci Andrews from afar much as I did Steph. After graduation, Brian and Marci wound up together. She was a year behind us, so Brian took her to her senior prom the following year. They got engaged, but Brian called it off and broke up with her not long before the wedding. Said he couldn’t do it, he just didn’t love her anymore. Marci didn’t take it too well. The last time I saw her was in January or February of 2005, when she was working at Borders. I saw her and smiled and the only thing she said was, “Have you talked to Brian lately?” Told me all I needed to know about how she was doing.
Brian was part of a whole group of guys I hung out with from time to time. There was Dave, of course, who I’ve known since the first day of kindergarten, who has been a great friend for years, and whose little brother, also named Brian, has been a great friend to Ashley since they were children as well. I remember Tim Mason, the track star, who insisted Cal Ripken Jr. was the greatest ballplayer of all time. I always loved Cal, so I didn’t argue too much. And there was Mike Lanning, who is still the funniest guy I have ever met. Mike could make me laugh better than anyone I’ve ever known. Something in his tone, some minor turn of phrase would set me off.
I remember Vic Kretzer, too. I made fun of him mercilessly for being fat, but he was a terrific writer and poet, and could give just as good as he got. We’d have phone conversations that lasted hours and consisted almost entirely of insults thrown back and forth, with conversation about comics or movies thrown in here and there. Vic was the first of my close friends in high school to get laid, with a woman about twenty years his senior, no less. Last I heard, they were still together, too.
When we were all sitting on the stage at graduation, our principal Mr. Peckyno turned to us and said, “Remember this time. Because this is the last time you will all be together like this. You may keep in touch, you may have reunions, but there will always be someone who can’t make it, someone who has moved, someone who has passed away. Look around. This is the last time you will see all of these people together.” Less than a year later Christina McLucas, a girl in our class, died. It was some kind of brain condition she’d been grappling with for a long time, I think. I was never close to her, but we all knew her. Mr. Peckyno was right.