CJ Kaplan loses a childhood friend and gains some perspective.
I’ve recently come to a rather maudlin place in my life. A significant number of my contemporaries have lost one or both parents, forcing them to consider their own mortality far earlier than they would have liked. And seemingly by osmosis, it’s made me consider mine.
It’s fucking depressing.
And it makes me understand why people have mid-life crises. Not that I’m considering having one. But, it’s certainly much more appealing to chase youth than to wait for old age to hunt you down.
When I got together with some high school friends before Thanksgiving, we joked about the senior-esque ailments that were now afflicting us. We could no longer hear the television unless the volume was cranked up to triple digits. We couldn’t read the tiny type in the text messages our kids were sending us—texts that told us how ancient and out-of-date we are. We had aches and pains that were the result of walking up a flight of stairs, taking out the trash and, in one case, sleeping.
After a few hours of laughter at the expense of our glory days, the talk turned to darker matter. In addition to the parents who had passed on, we also had a classmate who was dying of liver cancer.
Evan Schumacher moved into our neighborhood when we were in grade school. His family had come from Michigan and, although they cheered for all the Detroit teams, they fit right into our suburban Boston town. Evan and his younger brother David became fast friends with all the neighborhood kids in the manner that most pre-adolescent boys integrate into a new setting. Somebody said, “Hey, do you guys want to play football/basketball/street hockey/baseball?” They said yes and that was all it took.
Now, it would be disingenuous to say that Evan and I were lifelong friends. We played on a couple of basketball teams together, hung out a little bit in junior high school and then sort of went our separate ways after freshman year. Like so many childhood relationships, our friendship didn’t end. It just sort of lost momentum.
But, even after college, we kept tabs on each other. I followed his exploits as an entrepreneur and he would occasionally comment on one of my articles. When I moved back to my hometown and started a family of my own, I would often see Evan at one of his nephew’s basketball or soccer games. We’d say hello, catch up a bit and wish each other well. More recently, I heard he had gotten married, had a few kids and was starting yet another business. So, I was shocked to read a Facebook post this past summer saying that Evan had cholangiocarcinoma and that it was spreading rapidly.
During Evan’s 19-month battle with cancer, David kept a public journal of his brother’s deteriorating health. David, who was always a terrific writer, peppered these updates with funny stories from Evan’s youth. When he mentioned the snow football games we used to have in our neighbor’s yard, I sent him a note that I hoped would give Evan some cheer.
As someone who participated in a few of those snow football games on the Demaio’s field (when we weren’t trying to sled/surf down the hill that fed into the field), your post made me smile. It also brought up a couple of memories that I hope will make Evan smile. The first was from our freshman year at NHS. We used to walk to the bus stop at Village Lane every morning. The Police’s Synchronicity had just come out and everybody was listening to it. But, Evan had a tape of their first album, Outlandos d’Amour (the one with “Roxanne” on it) that we both preferred. So, every morning for about two weeks, we’d walk to the bus stop with Evan’s boom box blasting the first side of Outlandos d’Amour the entire way. Two Jewish kids pretending to be tough listening to three British guys pretending to play reggae. Whatever the opposite of intimidating was, we had found it.
The other distinct recollection I had was of Evan, me, Greg Heller and Mike Tannenbaum coming home from a USY game. My dad was driving and Evan was in the backseat insisting to anyone who would listen to him that he could break dance. He went on and on about it until my dad stopped the car in the middle of Country Way and said, “Fine! Prove it!” So, Evan got out of the car and stepped into the glow of the headlights. My dad turned on the high beams for added effect. Then, without the benefit of any music (or even a beat, for that matter), Evan started to gyrate and shimmy while all of us roared with laughter inside the car. He locked, popped and who knows what else for about two solid minutes and then ended the routine by spinning on his back on the cold cement. When he got back into the car, we howled and applauded until my dad told us we were all idiots and continued on the way home.
Evan, please know that your old neighbor (and fellow Outlandos d’Amour fan) is thinking of you.
On Sunday mornings, I play basketball with a group of 40- and 50-something men. We all played in our youth and some of us (not me) are still pretty good. I love this game because it’s as much about socializing as it is about exercising. And I also love it because every so often I get that feeling I used to have when I was younger (and more talented). It’s the sense that a shot is going to go in even before you take it. I can’t say how you find that zone, but it’s combination of rhythm and touch and confidence. And when you feel it, the sensation is electric. Then, more often than not, it’s gone.
I come to the gym each Sunday morning in search of that feeling. I guess it’s my way of chasing youth without the sports car or the 23-year-old mistress. But, that doesn’t change the fervor with which I pursue it.
This past Sunday morning, while I was pounding the hardwood looking for that perfect shot, Evan Schumacher lost his fight with cancer. I found out later that afternoon as I was lying on the couch feeling the effects that running up and down a basketball court for ninety minutes have on a middle-aged man. My legs throbbed and my back stung as I got up to tell my wife the news. Only this time I relished the aches, was grateful for the pain.
Photo credit: Keoni Cabral / flickr