This is a touching story from Craig Schwab of Glendale, NY. Touching not only because Craig writes frankly of a friend who is fading away, but because it is a story that more and more baby boomers could tell today. He calls it, The Missing Piece.
I think about how easily friends became friends when we had games to play. There was a simplicity to choosing sides on a ball field or a basketball court. Sizing one another up for winning a game later. In the beginning, all anyone wanted to do was play.
That’s how I met my best friend in 1968. We were both 12 years old. His father was the one who introduced us. I was playing basketball with other guys from the neighborhood. It’s amusing to me now, I knew all of those other guys before meeting my buddy Tom. I don’t remember any of their names now.
His dad asked us if Tom could join us. The other guys looked at Tom and walked away. I said to his father, “Is he any good?” His father told me, “There’s only one way to find out.” I hollered to the other guys, “The new guy is on my side.”
That’s how our friendship began. Tom and I were inseparable as kids. He was in my wedding party when I tied the knot in 1978. He watched me become a father and grandfather. I watched him experience the same life-affirming accomplishments.
Tom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s several years ago. We talk on the phone now. When I visit him, we go to a local diner where he orders the same thing every time: waffles and bacon. I talk about our youthful days of playing ball. Our high school days. He nods his head smiling. I wrote a book for him entitled, “Strangers with Shared Memories.”
In the book I tell stories that only he and I could fully appreciate. Tales from our shared 50 years together as friends. Our many trips to book stores all over the East Coast. I tell him in the book to stop fooling around. I desperately want to believe he’s still capable of pulling my leg.
The book, I now realize, was really for me. In it, I tried to piece together everything I could to bring him back. But the missing piece is, I can’t turn back time. I can’t reverse what’s already fading away.
I show Tom pictures on my phone. Every once in a while he gets a look of recognition on his face. I go home happy, thinking Tom had a good day. We had a good day.
Craig’s book about his longtime friendship is called “Strangers With Shared Memories: A Poetic Memoir.”