I went to High School in the late 80s in Irvine, California. My first year of high school, I dated a bit, but nothing serious. Then, my Sophomore year, I met a boy – let’s call him Z.J. – and I dated only him for the next 3 years. We were inseparable. We went to all the formal dances together (except one when he went with a friend of ours and I went with a different friend of ours and we double dated. I’m not quite sure why that happened, but at the time it somehow made sense.) We were in band together, and would go to weekend competitions and on road trips.
Through his family, I learned about a whole different life. His parents were divorced. Z.J. lived with his dad and step mom. He had a brother, but his brother didn’t always live with them. His dad had served in the Vietnam war and now managed construction projects. I went on hang gliding trips with them. I rode motorcycles and learned how to drive a stick shift car. I didn’t tell my parents about the motorcycles.
Z.J. had a quick smile and a mischievous look in his eyes. He loved to laugh and have fun. He had big curly hair and I loved him. One time when he needed a hair cut, I tried to cut it, but messed it all up. We had to go to the nearest cheap hair cutting place for them to fix it.
My family was very different. Looking back, I can see that we were stable and educated. My parents were married (and still are!) I lived with both of my parents, my brother and sister. For fun, my family would read books, go to performances, and watch 60 minutes. My dad was a doctor and my mom was a teacher. School was very important to us. It never even crossed my mind not to go to college.
I was mentally strong and Z.J. was physically strong.
As soon as High School ended, I broke up with him. I was ready to leave my hometown, start College and explore the bigger world. I didn’t see that he and I could do that together.
He soon met a girl, joined the military, married the girl and started having kids. I went to college, then law school. I dated a lot. We stayed in touch a bit. When I went to Law School in Oregon, he came to Oregon to visit one of his High School friends and we met up for coffee. That was in 1995 or so.
A long time passed. I finished law school and moved back to California. I eventually settled in a career and found a relationship that I wanted to stay in. Z.J. and his family were transferred to different states while in the military and eventually ended up in California. He and I reconnected on Facebook a few years back.
Through Facebook, I learned that he has cancer. It started in his thigh. He went through weeks of radiation, and last week, had it cut out. Coincidentally, he was at the hospital down the street from where I live.
So, on Friday, I visited. He doesn’t have his big curly hair anymore. He’s been in the military for over 20 years now, so I’m sure his hair was made to conform early on. But, he still has the twinkle in his eyes. Even after surgery, while on morphine, connected to a bag which was draining fluid and blood, he was still happy and was able to see humor in the situation.
I spent time with him and his wife. They met my husband and daughter.
He told me stories about his life in the military. I told them stories about my profession and having a kid “late.” We gossiped about people we used to know. We caught each other up on our families. We showed pictures.
On Sunday, he still hadn’t been discharged from the hospital. Star and I stopped by for about a half an hour. I brought an old pair of shorts of his that I still have and wear. He said I could keep them.
My mind is still very busy from all this. On one hand, he is so much the same as he was over 20 years ago. He is quick to smile and is still a passionate monogamist. He is physically strong even while dealing with the aftermath of radiation and surgery.
On the other hand, it is evident that we are aging. While dealing with this cancer, the doctors have found other signs of cancer in him that he will need to deal with after he is healed from this round.
There are some moments in life which make me reflect on life’s fragility and shine a bright light on the passage of time. This was one of those moments.