A Birthday Wish

kidsIt was grade 7 and I had yet to kiss a girl.

Lana was a quiet, unassuming gal with glasses and blonde hair. She was friends with the loudest, most boisterous and annoying girl in the entire school. They were a strange match and I could never understand why Lana would want to be friends with this gal, but at that age, I probably would have given anything to be friends with popular people. I don’t think that Lana was friends with her to be popular though, I think that she genuinely possessed the ability to see the best in everyone.

I remember the first time she addressed me. She was in a different class and we didn’t really spend any time together and I, as unpopular as I was, would not have been someone that she would speak to for any other reason than to ask me to move out of the way.

I remember that she wore a blue dress that day. I remember that her arm was in a cast. I do not remember why. I remember that we were on the way to band class and that a couple of the more unpopular kids, like myself, had found an even more unpopular kid to gang up on. I do not remember what she said, I just remember that as she walked by, her flute case in her good hand, that she had addressed me. And that she smiled. I recall saying something in reply and immediately regretting it and feeling stupid for having said it.

Everyone used to go to Wheelies on the weekends to rollerskate. I would go, skate by myself, and go home. I enjoyed the music and I enjoyed rolling on wheels. It’s a funny thing to say, but I just enjoyed feeling like I could lose control at any minute, but that the wheels beneath my feet were completely under my command. I still do. Although, I’m less likely to enjoy the feeling in a rollerskating rink on Saturday afternoon these days.

At the end of the afternoon, the lights would go dim, and the girls would line up on one side of the rink, the boys on the other. Some romantic, slow hit from the time would play. Perhaps, it would be Against All Odds by Phil Collins or Missing You by John Waite. I seem to remember I Can Dream About You by Dan Hartman being a regular as well.

The girls would leave their side and one at a time, and they would skate by the boys until they had decided on someone that they wanted to skate with. Off they would go, hand in hand, or if the boy was an especially good skater, he would skate backwards, her hands on his shoulders, his on her hips, like a hormonal A-bomb set to go off at any moment.

I did not, not once, hold a hand, or a hip whilst listening to Dan Hartman in a darkened rollerskating rink. This is not something I regret, it’s just a fact.

Somehow, at the end of another lonely Saturday afternoon, I ended up talking to Lana. Before I knew what I was saying, I said, “Do you wanna go out with me?”

Amazingly, she said yes. All too quickly, she would say now.

It was then up to me to accompany my new girlfriend home. I had my bike and she did not, so I walked beside mine, chatting moronically all the way. We discussed Purple Rain at length, although neither of us had seen it. To that point in my life, it was my best day ever. I would have no problem placing it in my top ten, even now. Without a doubt.

Who knows what kids talk about and who cares? I had no idea what duties a boyfriend was supposed to perform. I’m not sure that either of us had a very strong grasp of the concept. I know that we saw each other rarely, but spoke on the phone occasionally. I remember smoking Avanti LIghts in a park. Walking on a sunny afternoon. Awkward kisses.

And then we went back to school.

We didn’t talk much at school. It was awkward. I was still a social pariah and she was popular and then, one day at gym, Jackie walked up to me and announced, “Lana doesn’t want to go out with you any more. ”

Oh.

Oh, well.

There isn’t a person on the planet that doesn’t remember their first love. Or their first heartbreak. The remarkable thing is that, years later, I called Lana, completely out of the blue and we agreed to meet each other. It had been more than 15 years since we had seen each other. We went to a party at that annoying girl’s house and saw many people I had known from back then. I was still a pariah. But, at least an interesting one by then. All of that is fine, and that one can never go home is certainly true, but what is spectacular about that evening is that Lana and I ended up talking with each other until the wee hours of the morning. And we became friends.

It was especially good timing as I was experiencing tumult in my life like I had not experienced in years. Lana admired my desire for change. She still had the ability to see the good in everyone.

And over the next few years, she became as close to me as anyone ever has been. She supported me when I needed it, lent me an ear when one was I required, and even kept me from starving on more than one occasion. But, more than anything, Lana has given me the kind of unconditional friendship that one normally only sees when watching Oprah. She has never faltered in her kindness. She has always given me the straight goods and has accompanied me on a strange journey, the sort of which very few would possess the intestinal fortitude to remain at someone’s side for.

Who would have thought that so many years later, this person would come into my life and be such a catalyst for change, such a knight in shining armor? Who would have ever believed that so many years later we could share so much with each other? What a fucking wonderful thing that is.

I forgot Lana’s birthday this week. I have no excuses, I just forgot on the day. And I’m sorry.

Just let me say this. Ooo, you make me live, Lana. You, you’re my best friend.

Thanks for everything. I wish you all the happiness in the world.

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