When I was in second grade, a new kid came to my elementary school and I fell in love. He sat behind me and we became fast friends. He had blue eyes and brown hair. He was funny and rambunctious. He was a rough and tumble kind of kid. He was smart, good at math and good at sports.
This young love of my life and I would ride bikes in Campbell Park and to the percolation ponds to watch crawdads get pushed over the falls’ edge by the rushing water. We’d use sticks to help them along if they didn’t fall by the grace of nature. We’d play horse in the school basket ball court with the other boys. We would shriek and laugh, and climb trees, and collect bugs. We called each other best friend.
The first time I spent the night at his house, I was unaware they had cats. I had asthma and was allergic to cats. Before the night even began, it was very apparent that I couldn’t breathe. I was embarrassed to say anything because I wanted this keep this new friend so badly. I didn’t want anything to jeopardize our friendship.
My wheezing got so bad that his dad drove me home. I remember getting out of his father’s truck and his father walked me to my front door. He and my dad talked a bit as I went into my house, took my Marax and a huff off my atomizer, and then went to my bedroom and cried. I cried because I was scared he would not want to be friends anymore. A following weekend we tried again. This time I had my atomizer and Marax with me. It was a success and began a tradition of trade-off sleepovers.
We would play board games, like Battleship and Risk. We would stay up late, drink soda and eat popcorn. We would watch Creature Features and try our hardest to stay up to watch Saturday Night Live, but usually end up falling asleep. We put underwear and t-shirts on his German Shepherd just for laughs. We’d play Captain and Tennille and dress up with items from our costume box. This was the only time I have ever done drag.
His mom always cooked the same dinner the nights that I stayed there: ham with a honey glaze, green beans with lots of butter, and au gratin potatoes. Typically, there would be pudding for dessert.
He had bunk beds. I always wanted bunk beds. He slept in the top bunk and I slept in the bottom bunk. In the morning, we would watch cartoons and his mom would make us pancakes or waffles. He taught me that peanut butter on pancakes is actually quite delicious; something that I still enjoy.
He lived across the street from Campbell High School where we would play on the track, wander the halls, or throw tennis balls from the top of the school’s theater fire escape. One adventurous day, we climbed through the broken, boarded up windows of the old Campbell Elementary School and wandered around the ghostly halls and classrooms. It was scary and interesting and dangerous. It was amazing fun!
We also spent a lot of time teasing his little sister, but found ways to include her in what we doing many times. I always tried to be generous with his little sister considering that I personally knew how older siblings could be a wee bit inconsiderate to the youngest.
One night, we were playing Casino with his little sister. I was the rich tycoon – the high roller – who was betting large and winning big. He was the card dealer and the roulette caller. She was the mysterious woman who came into the Casino and captivated the attention of all who were there. She gambled and won. She wagered hard and anteed up her cash, her furs, and her jewels.
During one rousing roulette game, the wheel spun fast, the ball put into motion, and the caller asked for all bets. I gave the caller my bet. As a high-stakes gambling man, I enjoyed how focused and direct this woman was. She was glitzy and glamorous and was clearly in need of the money. She was gambling a high stakes game and hoping for a high stakes win. She did not know that the caller and I had rigged the game to fall on numbers of my choosing. The caller and I were in cahoots and all winnings would be divided between us! Bwah hah hah hah! We had it all figured out and we going to make out like bandits off this gambling dame.
The lady, in her high-society trill with all the confidence of a seasoned winner, said “Black. Twenty Two.”
The ball spun around clockwise. The wheel whirred around counter clockwise. The tension filled the casino floor as all eyes were on the lady, her jewels on the table, and the anxious look in her eyes. The caller and I knew we were in the clear and were already scheming how we would spend our spoils.
Then the unthinkable happened. The ball slowed and plunked right into the black twenty-two cup. The lady screamed with glee and the caller and I hollered in disbelief and also in joy that his little sister actually won.
Occasionally, just to elicit laughs from each other, we’d say that phrase and giggle like it just happened yesterday. During this time of my youth, I tape recorded most interactions. I still have the cassette tape that was used to capture the entire “casino interaction,” including the statement “Black. Twenty-two.”
These types of memories continued until sixth grade when his family moved to the Pacific Northwest. Once school finished, and early in the summer months, the family moved away. The morning that they left Campbell, I rode my bike to their house. Their station wagon had suitcases and coolers inside. The moving van was packed and bolted.
I said my goodbyes to his mother and father and sister. I said good-bye to him. I gave him a card whose contents I cannot recall, but I assume it was filled with “I’ll miss you, Keep in touch, Call sometime,” kind of phrases. We hugged briefly and then the next thing I recall is standing there watching the station wagon drive down the street. I watched the car until I could no longer see it. They were gone. He was gone. I was alone.
I took my bike and walked into the Campbell High School baseball diamond dugout. I sat there and cried. I cried long and hard. I had lost my best friend. I had lost my first love. For the first time my heart was broken.
I neither heard from him nor saw him again. I am unaware of any of our childhood friends that have kept in touch with him or have heard from him.
I joined a website where you can search names, addresses, and phone numbers. I searched his name to see what would happen. Nothing. I entered his sister’s name and found her name and a phone number. I clicked a link to see family relations and saw her father and mother’s names. There was no listing of his name.
The mystery remains … what happened to him?
Maybe one day I will summon the courage to call her to see if she can put me in contact with him or at least shed light on his whereabouts. I am afraid of what I might hear. Maybe he wouldn’t want to hear from me. Maybe he doesn’t remember me. Maybe his memories of our friendship aren’t as deep and meaningful as mine.
And if I do call her, maybe I won’t get far enough to find out his fate. Maybe she won’t even remember me. But if she doesn’t remember me, maybe I can jog her memory with a little story about three little kids in a little bedroom in Campbell, California playing a little game of roulette in a big casino, with a big bet, and big win on black twenty-two.