This morning I found out that a friend of mine has died. His name was Nate Thibodeau.
I went to high school with Nate. He was a day student at the boarding school I attended for three years in rural Maine, near the border with New Hampshire. I really don't know how we connected, how we got to know one another. I do remember that he worked on the production of Spoon River Anthology that I was in my first trimester there. But how we met doesn't really matter all that much. For two and a half years, Nate was my best friend, and that's what matters.
But life intervened. During my senior year (Nate was a junior) he began having some personal issues. Nate was adopted and had recently reconnected with his biological family. The details aren't important but Nate ended up leaving school and enrolling in the local public high school. This all happened around Christmastime of 1996. I was set to graduate the next Spring. I only saw him once more before I graduated and left Maine and came back West for college.
Over the years I occasionally thought about Nate. I wondered how he was. I still had the phone number and address of his parents' house and one day I called to see how he was. I was given his current number and called him. We talked for a little while, reminisced about old times. I talked to him a few more times after that but we never really seemed to reconnect. I was in Arizona, he was in Maine. As so often happens with high school friends, we had gone our separate ways and had life intervened.
It wasn't until sometime in 2007 that Nate and I reconnected. I now had a Facebook account and was looking up some of the people I had known back then. This was also the year of my ten year high school reunion. I had some free time after the official school activities so I gave Nate a call and asked if he had time for a visit.
He was living about an hour away from the school so I drove to his town and we had burgers and beer at a local restaurant. His life was vastly different; he had two children and was running promotions for concerts. I suppose my life was was vastly different, too, but when you see the changes gradually over time they don't seem as profound as when you see them suddenly after ten years. And he seemed happy. Later that day I met his girlfriend, who would later become his fiancee. We parted after an afternoon spent visiting and remembering the old times, promising to stay in touch.
And we did stay in touch, to an extent. We stayed connected on Facebook, sending comments back and forth. But for the most part, life intervened. I was busy, he was busy, and like so many of the other people I know on Facebook I skimmed over my timeline every few days, would occasionally see what he was up to, but wouldn't take the time to comment or even just send a "Hey, Nate. How are things?"
This morning I found out that Nate had died. And he died nearly a month ago. I knew that he was having back surgery but I never took the time to wish him well. I never clicked over to his page to see if there were any updates. As it is, I still don't know what happened but there seems to have been some complication from the back surgery. He died on February 6, 2012. And I didn't find out until today. Life--my life--intervened. I don't remember what I was doing that day of my life but my friend was dying.
This year I will have my fifteen year high school reunion. I plan on going back to Maine and I was going to see Nate; we had talked about it. I was going to try to make it a longer visit than just a single afternoon. But I can't. I can't have a beer with him and talk about old times. I can't hear about how his kids are doing, how business is. All I have are the fading memories of an afternoon five years ago and the countless hours we hung out during high school, joking, listening to music, eating meals.
I don't know what the point of this blog post is. I'm not very good at expressing sorrow--giving people my condolences, telling them how sorry I am. But I feel these things very deeply. I find it difficult to talk about sorrow in person, face to face. But I can write about it. This is my way of dealing with it. And whoever ends up reading this, whether you knew Nate or not, I want to tell you this: don't let life intervene. Don't let the people you care about drift away with time and distance. Don't let the petty minutiae of life take precedence over the things that are truly important. We all know this is true but it's not until we lose someone we care about that it really sinks in. It's not until we stop to think about what is lost forever that we begin to miss what we might have had.