We were just a couple of Florida boys.
He was three years older and 10 years more handsome.
He taught me to drive his '65 Mustang -- white with red pinstripes. (I was not the legal driving age.) I remember backing into something hard and unforgiving to his bumper.
He introduced me to Boone's Farm Wild Raspberry. (I was not the legal drinking age.) I bumped into a few more things.
He introduced me to my first drive-in movie that was not, let's just say, of the cinematic chaste of my first regular theater movie, Mary Poppins.
Steve also taught me a tennis forehand, a top-spin ping-pong serve, and how to hurl a Sunday Miami Herald (in those '60s days, a Sunday Herald outweighed a condo) from a '65 Mustang without missing a single home on his paper route.
He taught me how to ride a unicycle. Why, I have no idea. I haven't had the urge since to drink Boone's Farm or unicycle -- and certainly not simultaneously.
We taught each other how to cram a 12-foot Jon boat into the back of a station wagon along with a 7.5 Merc outboard and assorted spin-casting rods and coolers and launch the whole show into any number of Everglades canals near our neighboring homes in South Florida. We learned alligators eat bobbers like popcorn. We couldn't fish worth a lick.
We drove into town to a foreign car dealership just to sit in new Triumph Spitfires until the dealer man kicked us off the lot.
We played games not named Resident Evil or Grand Theft Auto. We played real football and never dreamed of fantasizing about football. Weren't girls for that?
We jumped on sagging trampolines, applied professional wrestling holds on one another (indulge me and Google "Figure-Four Leg Lock" or "The Sleeper Hold"), and rode our Stingray bikes without wearing helmets -- or using hands, sometimes. We played hide-and-seek at twilight and ran into spider webs and were late for dinner, again and again.
We were ageless until we weren't. We were immortal until we weren't.
This past week, I finally paid my respects. There are no excuses for not doing some things sooner, so the best you can do is do something about it when you can and not expect a medal.
Twenty-seven years after the fact, I found the right cemetery, plot, row. I pulled a few weeds from his simple marker. Beloved son and brother. Funny how many dang weeds we pulled from his yard when I helped him mow and edge and weed every Saturday before we could play any game.
Memory does the hard, necessary work. Years ago, I sent this Donald Justice poem, "On the Death of Friends in Childhood," to Steve's parents.
We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.
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