I was 14 and my life was hard in the family way. My parents had recently divorced, we had moved to a new neighbourhood and I had started high school. On top of that- all the things a teenage girl experiences with changes in her body, self image and where she stands socially. Without a strong support system at home I was admittedly a little lost.
I can't recall the first time I met Kyle the details of it have blurred over the decades since but he lived across the street from us and quickly became a favourite at our house. He called my Mom Mrs G and from Day 1 called me Wenders. I knew in my teenage mind straight away that he had a crush on me and because I didn't feel that way for him it was easy to use it to my advantage. Please don't mistake this for being awful- I was never a mean girl but he lifted me up to a place I hadn't been before and it was fascinating. We were the same age but I was a year ahead of him in school and so he somehow thought walking with me gave him some kind of 'cred' Ridiculous really- I certainly wasn't popular but you see -even the idea that he thought I was cool and treated me like that was special and helped to give me a bit of the confidence I was lacking. Here is a message he sent me a couple of years ago:
"The first day of Grade 10 (Grade 11 for you)..the pleasant surprise of finding you at my door waiting to walk to school. You so pretty with your honey smacked hair..so full of energetic mischief..completely irresistible. You automatically brought me "cred" in the halls of school. Watching the stars from our backs that summer and spending the evening of my 15th bday with you and Mrs G (you got me a cake!).. All good memories. Happy memories. I miss you. Love you Wenders. K"
We spent a lot of time together, we would fall asleep talking on the phone at night and once when he was sad I gave him my most favourite Kermit the Frog that I'd had since I was a little kid. It was the kind that was made of wool so it itched a little bit and it had velcro hands so you could wrap it around your neck for a hug. Those Christmases we would sneak rum from my house and drink egg nog together when everyone else thought it was gross. We were at such an awkward age walking to high school together making each other laugh like kids but secretly wondering what each other looked like naked. We were Kevin and Winnie and those were our Wonder Years.
That summer we were 15 was when I began to discover boys- but not the best friend across the street kind...for me it was the older cooler hotter boys who went to a different high school. I had a little crew of friends and of course Kyle was not a part of that but when I would return home at night after having been out and about, and probably trying my first coolers or beers, I would go to his house- sneak into his backyard and scratch on his bedroom screen. He would laugh at me and say sarcastic things and we'd whisper and laugh and I'd cross the street to home feeling loved. We never kissed, or had any physical contact- but we did get close...once. I had been out with my friends and gotten 'drunk' when i got home and went to his window he came out. My Mom and her boyfriend were out or away and so I was home alone. I can remember Kyle being highly entertained with me and so of course I played it up. It was the one and only time it crossed my mind to really flirt with him and see where it went. Looking back it was all for attention and to be true I'm sure that the older boy I was crushing on wasn't into me and so there was good ol' Kyle. I let him help me stumble inside put me to bed and tuck me in- and despite the fact that I probably would have let him touch me over the shirt or kiss me he tried...nothing.
I moved away the next year to another Province and because I'm old and this was well before the internet existed for us we wrote letters. It was a devastating time in a young girls life to make such a major change and the transition was difficult. I missed my life, my friends, my Kyle. One evening that first winter I was handed a piece of mail that had a mixed tape in it entitled "Kyle's Tunes". It was full of music from his 16 year old heart and while I don't remember exactly how I reacted to it then I can say that when I found that tape last week it meant everything to me. I have held onto that relic for almost 30 years and could have never known that I would see him only once again as an adult. We always kept in touch though and when I look back through our entire message history in Facebook I see that over the past 10 years we were always as close as when we were young. We shared emotions and confided in one another about our relationships our wins and losses and celebrated our happy moments like when he was about to propose to his girlfriend, or when he was opening his business and when I got engaged and had promotions in my jobs. We even made efforts over the years to share a cyber rum & egg nog together to mark the Christmas season.
Kyle and I shared a very important time in our lives with each other - a time when young hearts are so open to being filled up and broken so easily. Our friendship and love helped to shape me and provide me with a stable place to just be me. A young girl confused about her worth, value and place in the world. After my family broke and we moved and things were so unstable he was a rock to cling to. "I guess sometimes the ground can shift between your feet. Sometimes your footing slips. You stumble. And sometimes you grab what's close to you and hold on as tight as you can". -The Wonder Years.
Living apart from each other for our entire adulthood was a blessing in disguise. It took our time together and encapsulated it in perfection and now that he is gone, nothing can ever change that. My very favourite thing about Kyle and I was that we always said what we were thinking and feeling and we always told each other exactly how important we were to each other. After he passed, I was able to go back and read all of our messages and I was at ease knowing that we were solid. Knowing that we had always said it all and as cliche as it sounds I would urge you to do the same. Write to your friends, your family when they cross your mind- tell them how you feel or how important they are to you. Don't wait- life is too short to not lift someone up and the loss of innocence and what futures may hold can feel sad and lonely.
"...guess I just needed to reconnect with the first girl I ever loved. And that unrequited love stayed pure all these years because it wasn't tarnished by any arguments, no messy breakups or heartbreak. It was my special secret that I kept locked away and then it grew quickly and naturally into a very sweet friendship. One that I will always cherish."
This week I pulled out my Walkman(!) and previewed that 30 year old tape and turned it into a Spotify playlist. This evening, in honour of my sweet friend, I will pour myself a rum and egg nog, and listen to this mix he made from his heart. Feel free to join me in its teenage angst -its there for the taking under Kyle's Tunes. Rest in Paradise my dear sweet friend - and, to return some of your last words to me.....shine on you crazy fucker!