Eleven years ago, my high school friend John Voland died. He was the first of my contemporaries to pass away, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. He was survived by his mother, Jean, brother, Mark, and his daughter, Hayley, then 14.
John wasn’t a particularly health-conscious person. He battled weight for years (he was 6’4″ and big), and his death from a heart attack was in some ways not surprising. We hadn’t spoken in years, not out of animus but lack of proximity; I’d moved to Seattle and then Cleveland, he’d remained in L.A. freelance writing.
The last time we saw each other was a little rough. My wife and I met John at DuPar’s on Ventura Blvd., a regular haunt following poker games, for lunch, and John was agitated and distracted. We talked at the time about how much we loved living outside of Los Angeles, and he denigrated our decision as moving to “the sticks.” His behavior was rather off-putting, and so we quickly wrapped up the visit and went our separate ways, as it turned out, forever.
I thought of him often, wondering how he was, worried he might have some problem that perhaps I should have helped him with. When he died several years later, I felt guilty, like I had failed him somehow. I also worried that others in our coterie of pals might also be struggling. We’d been a tight group — Josh, John, Ken, Bill, and David formed a fairly regular six-some for poker or hearts or playing music or whatever. And of these, I’d lost touch with just about all of them.
Now, Josh and I are Facebook friends; Ken, following his usual pattern, was back in touch for a brief time; David and I corresponded a bit, and Bill disappeared.
I’m not sure what made me think of John today — maybe it was running across news of his brother’s death again (in 2010), or the impending 40th high school reunion next year, or maybe just finishing graduate school prompted a reflective mood.
I find that I wonder what he might have written, whether we might have regained our friendship, whether we had enough in common to stay in touch. One thing is for sure – once, we were great, close friends, and that memory is something to keep close.
I’m so grateful for my friends now, so thankful they’re in my life — Jon and Patty, Janet and JJ, Lori and Jamie, Jim and Jodie (wow, lots of “J’s”), Heather and Brian, Greg. We are only on this earth for a certain allotment of days, and none of us know how many.
If there are people in your life who mean something to you, be sure to let them know.