(To all of those out there reading this: One, Sally feel free to read this one. I don’t think there is too much in it that will upset you. Two, my editor took a few liberties in the editing process and I only recently discovered them. I left them for posterity sake though)
Many people have found that one of the negatives of growing up is you tend to grow apart from the friends you made as a child. It makes sense if you think about it; people change, move, get married, have kids, grow up, grow old, grow apart, get sick, and die. It is one of the negatives of aging. As a child the world is an endless array of possibilities. The person you ride bikes with down to the 7-11 to grab Slurpees, even though your parents told you not to go there without them, will one day have his or her own life across the country only to be heard from occasionally on social media. (Only a short 10 years ago or so, even this wasn’t possible, and the only way to know where someone ended up was through rumors and local lore with tales starting with, “Did you hear where Kat went?”). Fortunately for me, even with all of the crusades I ventured on, the many times I decided it was time to pack my bags and head to a different part of this globe, I am lucky enough to have one friend (this is not a retelling of the story of my best friend, so please continue before growing bored and assuming I have run out of wonderful tales to tell) who, through all of the hurdles Life put in our way, has remained one of the lynchpins of my existence.
Carter and I met in the first week of our 8th grade year, which for those of you keeping track at home was a mere 23 years ago next month. He was the new kid in school, having moved to the Northern Virginia area from New Orleans over the summer. He stuck out from the other kids in our school with his neatly quaffed hair, coke bottle wire-rimmed glasses, khaki shorts, polo shirts, and brown boat shoes. If ever there was a person who oozed conservatism, it was him. When I first saw him, in whatever health class we were forced to take that year, I immediately assumed he was rich. I am not sure as to why. I had never hung around rich people. I don’t know why his specific combination of khaki shorts and polo shirts made him rich as opposed to all of the other kids who wore the exact same thing in our class. I vividly remember sitting there, seeing him, and thinking, “He looks like he comes from a rich family.” Due to this completely random and arbitrary thought, I also assumed I wouldn’t want to hang out with him so I did what anyone in the eighth grade would do to someone they assumed was a stuck up and pretentious person—I acted stuck up and pretentious around him.
At lunch that day I was sitting with my friends, the same ones I had eaten lunch with every day in elementary school as well as the year of middle school we already had under our belt. I remember sitting there, joking with my friends, and seeing Carter sitting at a table adjacent to ours all by himself. I would really like to say that I walked over and invited him to join our table, but I cannot. Instead, I went about my day the way most kids did, ignoring anything or anyone that was new to them, walking the strange dichotomy where talking to strangers was considered dangerous while accepting new kids into the group without knowing anything about them was encouraged. Yet another example of the hypocrisy of adults taking the children of today and attempting to raise them into the best leaders of tomorrow. I remember feeling bad for him, but I was not yet the confident, arrogant man I am today. No, I didn’t have whatever special quality is required in order to go and talk to a complete stranger, albeit, a stranger who was in my grade, and in several of my classes.
Fortunately, over the next few weeks, Carter and I started talking in class. We played basketball in gym. We talked in Latin class (sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt, hic, haec, hoc, huius, huius, huius). We hung out in shop class, and slowly a bond began to form between us. I remember I was at my parents’ house one day, walking through through the TV room when the phone rang, and I answered. (Kids: this is before cell phones were available to everyone in the world; in fact, this was so long ago that the phone I answered had a cord attached to it). It was Carter, calling to see what I was up to. Up until this point in my life, the only reason anyone called me was to ask me if I wanted to do something, go to a movie, play outside, ride bikes to school and play on the playground, whatever. I wasn’t really sure what people talked about on the phone. I remember sitting at the office desk, feet kicked up, cord stretched as far as it possibly could go, chatting away for what my parents later said was “too long for two guys to spend on the phone together.” (For all of you who are not sure when to use ‘too,’ ‘to,’ or ‘two,’ use that sentence for a quick reference). That was the first of an almost infinite amount of times he and I would talk on the phone for what many may say is too long for anyone to talk on the phone, and I have absolutely no idea what we talked about.
With that phone call, something special happened. A bond was created. Over the years, it would get tested by typical high school drama, tried by the injustices of video games, and prove warranted with lucky last second shots in driveway basketball. Throughout middle school and high school, we remained close friends, even though somewhere around junior year, we had a falling out due to my penchant to make up stories and pass them off as reality. (A quality I have honed into quite a wonderful little life. The key was to focus on the truth of the story and then describe the living hell out of the details until people believe you’re talented). When I left for basic training, the summer after junior year, I really didn’t think he and I would be friends anymore, but when I graduated and returned home, I was ecstatic to see him sitting on my parents’ couch when I walked in to my house. His family was my family, and my family was his. While he was fortunate enough to have blood brothers, I was not, so the inclusion of him into my life was more than a friendship; he had become the brother I always wanted.
Once we graduated high school, life really started to get in the way of our friendship, but through it all we somehow managed to remain friends. Initially, he moved to Alabama to go to school at Auburn (Even though he an LSU fan). He and I would communicate through sporadic phone calls and emails, both worried about how the other was doing, since both of us were going through what some may say were the toughest breakups of our lives. The pain of losing our first loves proved difficult for both of us, and while we may have resorted to the impetuous and immature tactic of self-mutilation and wallowing in sadness, we slowly and most assuredly pulled our way out of the darkest depths of high school sorrow. I cannot say if anything I said had anything to do with his redemption, but I know for a fact that a few of his words of encouragement were enough to get me through to the next day. Even though he and I were separated by multiple states and held to the archaic forms of communication of the late 90s, we were still more than equipped to stay in touch, because when you have that type of connection with someone you make the necessary strides to keep in touch, because that is what it means to care for someone.
It’s a weird feeling when you look at your best friend and you believe you may never see that person again. He moved down to Alabama for school and, shortly after, his dad accepted a job there, and everyone, except his older brother who was living and working in Alexandria, relocated back down to the dirty south. (I am not sure if that is something I can say not being from the south, but I live(d) in Florida and Tennessee, if that counts for anything). At the time, though, it made sense that we would move apart, grow apart, and eventually never see each other again. Hell, there are many people from high school I haven’t seen since graduation. You sort of convince yourself it was another of those high school friendships and you try to remember all of the good times, or at least the times that helped shape you into the person you are today. Slowly, as time goes on, you forget about your high school friends, assuming you will see them at weddings and reunions, but one day you wake up and you realize you haven’t seen them in years, and even though you may be friends on social media you have no idea what they are up to, where they are, who they are. Then you take the time and remember the day you were in a car accident with them, or the time you set a shed on fire, or when you got high with them for the first time and found yourself in an awkward conversation with their mother where you were doing your damnedest to not look like you are struggling from crippling cotton mouth. You smile as you remember, hope they are doing well, and go and hang out with one of your new friends, hoping these relationships don’t suffer the same fate as your high school ones.
Luckily, when you find a friend you consider a brother (or sister), this doesn’t happen.
I dropped out of college, and so did Carter. He moved back to Virginia, and after a few months he and I moved in together. We got a small two bedroom, one-and-a-half bath next to a grocery store and a McDonalds. How the two of us didn’t end up obese is beyond me. We spend our time sitting outside on the patio playing backgammon, smoking cigarettes, and debating philosophy until the sun came up, working on the one great philosophical theory that could change the way people view the world. (It’s a simple premise that can be summed up by the math equation 2 ≤ 4).
Those nights were filled with friendly debate, honest conversations about heartbreak and healing, talks of the future, where we saw ourselves in the years to come (neither of us were right, and, probably, neither were you), and, most importantly, hope. He and I had an abundance of hope that spilled from our words and filled our bodies with potential and possibility, because the two of us knew after these conversations that no matter how dark our worlds felt, at the end of it everything would be OK. It was, at first, my favorite place to live.
Unfortunately, for him, as well as for me, this was also the time I was discovering the joys of drugs, thanks to my new girlfriend, “Michelle,” and an almost uncontrollable desire to fit in with everyone around me. I don’t blame him for moving out, and, while I was afraid that my decisions had hindered our friendship for eternity, I knew I would always remember him as my favorite roommate. In all honesty, I don’t know why he put up with my antics for as long as he did. He was fortunate enough to be blessed with an infinite amount of patience. (Some would argue I am wrong here…it’s possible he only possessed that quality when it came to me.) I am aware that my choices put us on the fence of doubt when it came to our ability to pay bills on time, to get our rent in on time, and to live happily with another person.
For all of you out there who have yet to move out of your parents’ house, I have two words of advice: one, move out of your parents house. They are tired of you being there, and it is time you stood on your own two feet. Two, when you move in with your first roommate, buy your own food and have them buy theirs. Of all the places I have ever lived, with all the roommates I have ever had, having one person eat too much of the food you all split down the middle will cause more disagreements and negative feelings than any other issue…unless you sleep with the roommate’s girlfriend—that will also cause massive amounts of ill will and hatred (but that’s another story) .
Carter and I went our separate ways after that. He was working at a pool hall, I was working at a restaurant, and while I would hang out at the pool hall, he and I weren’t as close as we once were. He had found one group of friends, I had found another, and these two paths seemed to remain divided but equal for a while.
When Michelle and I decided to move to Arizona, I was almost certain, once again, that he and I would never see each other again, or even keep in touch that often. I didn’t have a computer, cell phones were nowhere near as prevalent as they are today, no Facebook, Twitter, even MySpace wasn’t a thing at the time. When I left he wrote me a letter, an actual letter that I still have today, telling me how great of a friend I had been (despite all of the dumb shit I did to mar our relationship) and how he wished he had a fraction of the courage I possessed.
When I read that letter, I am not ashamed to admit, I cried a little.
Not surprisingly, Michelle and I didn’t work out, and I found myself on the road back to Virginia, unsure of what I was going to do next in my life. I did know that I was going to be hella glad to see Carter again. I was going to have that stability in my life, at least. Once again, I knew he was going to be a pillar of my sanity as I traversed the emotional minefield inside the caverns of my mind. Without him in my life, I don’t know if I would even be today.
After a few more years of searching for answers in the arms of drugs, partying, and relationship after relationship ending in tragedy, Carter and I found ourselves roommates once again. This time we both had grown up jobs, I was off the drugs, and neither one of us was dealing with any heartbreak that was stronger than a girl one of us had a thing for who didn’t return the feelings. Those were great days, filled again with long, intimate conversations. We had mostly quit smoking, and we spent our afternoons drinking cheap beer while watching movies before going out at night, only to return home safely, ready and able to do it again the next day.
Then, one day, Carter decided he wanted to move.
He had taken some time to think about things, and he wanted to leave Northern Virginia and begin to make his way back down south. He wanted to return to the land from which he came. In his overly analytical mind, he had deduced that if he left NoVa and took a job in Richmond, it would be the first in a series of moves that would conclude with him living in a place where he would be able to buy sweet tea in every restaurant, eat non-instant grits for every meal, and say things like, “Bless his heart,” as an insult. Being the rational and understanding friend I am, the one who had left the state multiple times over the course of our friendship, I became upset and figured our friendship was over, even though he would only be about 80 minutes away (60 if I was driving and there was no traffic). Once again, my over-active brain with its flair for the dramatic was convinced that this time he and I would never see each other again.
That decision changed a lot in our lives. I was forced to find a new roommate, which led to me looking for a new place, which led to me buying a condo, which led to me not being able to make that mortgage payment when the real estate market crashed, which led to me realizing that no matter how many days I put a smile on my face, I was withering on the inside, and if I didn’t change my life quickly I would probably end up dead. It was then that I decided to move to Nashville. I discovered this newfound confidence in myself because, over the years since Carter had moved to Richmond, we had stayed friends. We spoke regularly, and I saw him multiple times a year at necessary family or spiritual events such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ fest. We also occasionally found online sites to play backgammon against each other.
Upon moving, I finally accepted that no matter what happened, I would always have him to talk to whenever things got dark in my world (which all my regular followers probably realize is pretty often). In the three-and-a-half years I lived in Nashville, I feel confident saying that I talked to him more days than I did not. We had transcended a friendship that required a geographical closeness to be able to grow, cultivate, and survive. I have lived in many places in this world, and I have friends spread out across the globe, but the farther I was away from them, or the longer I went without seeing them, the less we talked, until we withered into mere social media acquaintances who wish each other happy birthday when the reminder pops up on screen, or who congratulate each other on major events in life whenever a photo is posted alerting the world about something important.
There is a coffee shop in Nashville I have written about before, a coffee shop where I spent hours on hours on days on days sitting, writing. I was pretty close with the staff before I left and moved to Florida, and while I miss all of my friends in Nashville more than I ever thought possible, I miss the Frothy Monkey and their staff almost as much. One day as I stood at the counter, ordering my usual, Josh told me I looked tired. I told him I was tired, and then informed him I had spent the entire night playing online backgammon and talking with my best friend from Virginia until 6:30 in the morning. Josh got this admiring smile on his face, knowing that talking to a friend you hadn’t seen in a long time can be a wonderful experience. “That’s awesome, man,” he said. “How long had it been since the two of you spoke before that?” I smiled at him, and looked down, almost embarrassed about the answer, and said, “About a day.” Josh laughed, and I explained that Carter and I speak almost every day, for hours each time, and we never run out of things to talk about. I’m not sure what emotion he saw on my face while I told him that story, but he smiled and said he was a little jealous and wished he had that kind of relationship with his friends.
Sadly, even though I knew Carter and I were close, I naively assumed everybody shared a similar relationship with his/her best friend. It wasn’t until someone expressed a teensy bit of envy that I understood the depth of our friendship. I also found out, in my research to find out if other people talked to their best friends that often, that people found it weird that he and I spoke so much. People would ask the question, “Have you spoken to Carter recently?” I would respond by telling them we spoke on an almost daily basis, and they would look at me with an odd look and say, “Really?” I always find it unnerving when I get that reaction, even though it happens almost every time. I never found it weird because he and I had been like that since that first phone call. It was the norm for us. I feel bad for people who don’t have that closeness with someone in their lives, and I am thankful to be so lucky.
I could never ask for another friend as wonderful as Carter. He helped me through a lot of problems throughout my life. I know if ever I have an issue I don’t know how to handle, I can call him and talk to him about it. Even if he doesn’t have a solution, I know that by talking to him, I will eventually work out the problem and come to a reasonable and, occasionally, mature decision. For example, I recently got upset at a client of mine for essentially being a terrible human being, and in an email to him I spelled out all of the ways I despised him. Then I threw in a quick jab at the end of the email about how I knew it didn’t matter how bad of a person he was, the hepatitis that would eventually kill him was the result of a lifetime of being an asshole. Carter admitted that while it was a funny email, and probably exceptionally cathartic to write, he highly recommended I not send it due to the fact it would probably end up hurting me in the long run, effectively shortening any hope I had of a career in that field.
For 23+ years Carter has been one of the greatest, most influential, understanding, accepting, and forgiving people in my life (only eclipsed by Sally, my dad, and my most amazing little sister). I wish everyone in the world could have a Carter, and for those of you out there who do, you understand the pride and happiness I am filled with thinking about our friendship. Even when I think about our disagreements, and exceptionally heated debates, I smile knowing that those have brought us closer to each other in the long run. It would almost be safe to say I know him better than I know myself.
Because I know him so well, I can say, while standing up with him in front of a church filled with people, (on July 10th at 3:30 in the afternoon, lasting what seemed like 20 or more hours) I saw a look on my brother’s face that was filled with more joy, more pride, more happiness than I had ever seen on his face before. He, the future doctor, who spent a lot of his twenties searching for what he wanted to do, where he belonged in the world (even though he always had a place as a son, a brother, a nephew, a grandchild, an uncle, a Matt Wright impersonator by my nephew, and a friend to so many), and who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, he had found all of the answers so many of us search for throughout our entire lives. I was with him when our basketball team won the championship; I have seen him erupt with joy over winning a poker tournament; I have witnessed his elation when he won a game of backgammon; I have even seen him ecstatic over simple conversations. But I have never seen anything near the excitement, joy, and pride that beamed from his face when he finally married his new bride “Susan” (I’m feeling very unoriginal in my fictitious names today apparently).
Even though I understand that Carter starting his new life, with his new bride and the approach of his new career, could possibly mean the end of our almost daily conversations, also the fact that I am suddenly not the most important person in his world (please…that is just ludicrous, I will always reign at number 1), I am happy he has found all of the happiness I always hoped he would find. With every ounce of emotion this self-diagnosed narcissist has festering deep inside his heart, I wish my best friend, my brother, Carter, all the happiness in the world on his new adventure. The only way I know how to express this feeling is to pay homage to one of my favorite writers by paraphrasing one of his lines: “When you left, deciding when and where to go, you checked your timepiece, it read ‘now’ and ‘there’ letting you know the time was right. The moment you crossed that line all of our timepieces stopped and didn’t start again until you looked down at yours and it told you it was time to return. Remember the line of that song that goes ‘time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go’? Well, you grab time by the wrist and tell it where you will go. Fate may control everybody else’s destiny, but you control the destiny of fate. You’re the one who sinks the nine on the break, draws the ace to complete the straight, you are the impossible man who, somehow, continues to look up to and admire everyone in your life, as we do you.” And we always will, and we wish you all of the beauty you deserve in your life.
You’re my brother, you always will be, and I love you in a way that proves I am not as narcissistic as I claim to be. I am proud to call you my brother, and even though my parents made someone as amazing as me, they never could have given me a brother as amazing as you. Always be as happy as you were on that day, and know that no matter when, no matter what time, no matter where, I’m always down to play a game or two of gammon.