Z was the first person I met at the new high school where, as a senior, I was enrolled after my folks relocated from the city to the suburbs. This wasn’t an easy transition for me as it meant leaving behind longtime classmates and friends to start over at a place where I had no social standing and knew no one.
It turns out that Z and I were kindred spirits. We celebrated our new friendship by cutting school together. There would be many such episodes before graduation in June. Along the way, in part through Z, I gained entrée to groups of other students that include the core members of the imaginary Frazier Thomas Band. These are my close friends for life.
Even then, Z was a quiet iconoclast. It was still the 60’s. Everyone had long hair, letting their freak flags fly to borrow the phrase from the musician David Crosby, except Z, whose hair was closely cropped. Bell bottoms and tie-dye t-shirts were the fashion. Meanwhile, Z wore straight-legged slacks, or Levis, matched with a starched and pressed Oxford cloth button-down shirt.
And when everybody else took off for college, Z dropped out as soon as possible, gassed up his beater VW van, and took off for parts unknown in the West. Despite having no degree or practical training, he managed to land work as a newspaper reporter, whose beat was the entire vast Zuni nation. This gig eventually led him to seek employment in mainstream reportage.
He also worked in government for the State of New Mexico for many years. He lived in Albuquerque. During this time, he met Joanne, a lovely woman from the East Coat who has been his wife for many years. However, I don’t think they were together consistently. I know Joanne became an attorney after completing law school in the East. Nonetheless, they eventually got married and they have one adult son, whom I have never met.
In fact, other than very occasional phone calls, for large chunks of time during adulthood, Z and I mainly lost touch.
At first, and for a time, I suspected that Z might have been mad at me over a perceived slight that occurred during a Thanksgiving holiday when he came back home to see his mother. This would have been many, many years ago. However, the truth is I have no proof that he was ever mad. And, if he were angry, I couldn’t say why. Of course, I note that I also did not make any special efforts to maintain our friendship.
Yet, one interesting feature of our occasional conversations, there was never so much as a hint of any simmering animosity. However, I thought it a bit strange that Z inevitably would ask me to tell him about the doings of the remaining Band members, though I knew he stayed connected with at least two of them because they each had separately told me so. I’d think, well, it’s just Z.
The thing is, whenever we would speak, I still felt a deep connection to Z. He would be as comfortable for me as old shoes. I suppose the feeling was mutual since we maintained our relationship, lo these many passing years.
Today, Z and Joanne are both retired from gainful employment. Z collects a pension from the State of New Mexico. The “kid” is grown up, single, and living in California.
Z and Joanne lately permanently settled here in Tucson where I am spending the Winter. My being here is influenced, however slightly, by the fact that Z and other of my friends also live here.
Staying in character, Z lives in a comfortable home with Joanne, but one located on the extreme outskirts of town where the saguaros stand tall against the Tucson Mountains and wild critters roam free. Meanwhile, people seeking to escape the snow and cold back home will continue to make the pilgrimage west, including other old friends from back home. During winter, Tucson is an easy place to gather because it’s mostly sunny and warm.
I am happy that Z and I have now fully connected these past two years while Lola the pup and I have been wintering in Tucson. Life seems to have come full circle, which is a satisfying feeling.
Now, some people will claim it’s never too late to reconnect, but they’re are wrong. It’s something I realized when Lee died. Moreover, with every passing day, it is harder to deny the truth that we have limited opportunities in life to reconnect with our people, no matter how arduously one desires things could be otherwise.
This fundamental fact of life makes the time and opportunities that we can control precious.