Growing up is full of introductions. They start off innocent enough and then sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Let me explain what I mean. You start off getting introduced to family members at a young age, some of these people will have profound impacts on your life, some won't. The trick is you don't always know which is which. Then as you get older, you get introduced to puppy love and crushes. Those seem to raise you to the highest highs and take you to the lowest lows, but then at that age everything is about extremes. It takes maturity to find the middle ground. Then more time passes and there are more introductions, some shake you to the core, some barely register. But growing up is full of introductions, so I wanted to talk about a few of mine that stick with me to this day.
The first is a girl named Whitney Williams. I was in sixth grade, she was in fifth and I thought she was the most gorgeous thing to ever walk this earth. I used to sit in my room dedicating Air Supply songs to her and dreamed of the day we'd walk hand in hand on the beach, or whatever other lovey dovey thing I had seen in a movie by that age. That led to my next introduction, heartbreak, because she didn't know I was alive. I think she did by the time it all ended, but she probably knew me as that crazy stalker kid who kept leaving her love letters in her mailbox and buying her boxes of chocolate. She certainly didn't know me as "Greg", whoever that was. It was an important introduction though because it started the process of learning a lesson that took many years for me to grasp. Life is not a movie, you don't always get to hold the boom box in the air and have the girl come jump into your arms. In real life they call the freaking cops. Now I didn't learn that lesson from Whitney, but it started there, and I think it ended about 20 years later.
Whitney was my first introduction into the world of real crushes and puppy love. It was an eye opener. Even though its not "real" love, its a powerful thing, especially for someone my age. I try to remember that when dealing with my kids and try not to belittle their crushes. I dont always succeed, but I try to keep that perspective. It may be fleeting and go as quick as it comes, but when it's there, its some powerful stuff.
My next introduction that sticks out in my head was a guy named Trace. He dated Whitney and he was my introduction into what a real douche bag is. He didn't treat her very well but no one was going to say anything because he was rather large and surly. Ironically, I believe he is a garbage man now. A quick aside, my first job out of college ended up taking me back to Oak Ridge on some business trips and I got to see how some of the kids I went to school with turned out even though I hadn't seen them in many years. There is an odd sense of humor in play out there and karma seems to be a real kicker for some folks. For instance, one of the kids that used to pick us when we were kids actually bagged my groceries. He actually remembered me. I don't know if he realized what a dick he was back then, or if he cared, but clearly the order of things had been made correct because ass boy was bagging my groceries. From schoolyard bully to a 26 year old grocery bagger, yes sir things worked out just fine.
Okay, now the hard one. This whole post is really about one introduction and its one that still bothers me to this day. There were a lot of other introductions between my middle school days and this specific introduction, but this sort overshadows them all. His name was Jeff. Jeff started hanging out at Circle K and we all became friends. Jeff was a funny guy, real smart in most every way. He had a very quick wit and was fun to be around for lots of reasons. Jeff and I were alike in many ways at that age so we got along well. Jeff was a year older than I was, heck most of the people that hung out at circle K were older than I was. Jeff was into a lot of things ,but he really got into car stereos. Not your normal kind of stereo, the kind that made your ears bleed. He had a little nissan something or other that he started off in, but would end up with one of the baddest Ford Thunderbirds around and the stereo was so loud that you literally couldn't sit in it with it up very high. It was awesome. Jeff and I hung out a lot. He was my roommate in college for the one semester I was at the University of Alabama. We had a lot of great times together, and some not so great times. Honestly, Jeff could, at times, be selfish and would sometimes be a little too focused on what he wanted and not focused enough on how he got it. I mean we all have our faults, I'm certainly no angel. But those kind of things happen as you grow up and you deal with it. Unfortunately it was Jeff that would introduce me to something I had yet to really experience. Loss. You see, Jeff died in a motorcycle accident. That was the first time someone really close to me had died when I was old enough to really understand and process it. I remember the night I got the phone call as clear as yesterday. I'm not going to rehash all of the events that followed, but its enough to say it shook me. It shook me hard. I just couldnt believe he was gone. That just wasn't how life was supposed to go. It takes things like that to make you realize that life has its own course and that you dont really know much about where it's going to take you. It was the first time that I was faced with my own mortality, because if Jeff could die, so could I. It's not an easy thing to come to grips with the notion that your time on earth is in fact limited and it forces you to reflect on everything. I think it still makes me do that when I think about it, and that's probably a good thing. I just wished that there was a less painful way to learn those lessons. I miss Jeff still today.
Not all introductions are so morbid. I was introduced to love, more than once. Those were good things even if they all didn't work out so well. I was introduced to the joy of being a parent and how that changes you. That's some profound shit too. That'll be a different post though, I don't want to get ahead of myself and jump around too much.
So life is full of introductions. The last thing that I want to say on this little ray of thought is that it's very important what you do with these introductions. None of them are a waste of time and they all have a lesson to teach. As I get older and reflect on things in the past, that's one of the things that I wished I had learned earlier. Even the little introductions can change you, and how they change you is up to you. If you try to keep an open mind, who knows what you might learn or who you might meet. You never know what life has in store and you never know how something very profound may come about.