I believe in the power of innocence, and it has nothing to do with age. Children aren’t the only innocents among us. Some of us grow old, fast, and refuse to see the world as a child sees it. My best friend, Paul, did not grow old. I laughed with Paul and at him for much of my young adulthood. We listened to Aldo Nova and Led Zeppelin on his old record player with the sonic boom speakers that shook his parent’s house. For hours, we’d listen and talk about movies and games and the latest girl that made Paul swoon.
I can picture Paul now, his pear shaped six-foot-six frame, mimicking Fred Sanford from the old comedy before telling every Andrew Dice Clay joke ever written in uncensored format. It didn’t matter whether we were coming from McDonald’s or Church. Paul was always Paul–one of those great constants in life that never perishes with age and responsibility.
That’s why June 10, 1992 stands as the moment my innocence found its greatest challenge. Time came for prayer requests at the end of choir practice at my Church, and I learned the terrible news that Paul had died a few hours earlier in a car accident. The woman who requested the prayer didn’t realize that a few words broke my soul so badly that a fault line developed sending tremors to this day. She ran out into the hallway, where I had collapsed in my grief, surrounded by ministers, and apologized to me with undeserved guilt.
Since that summer day in Alabama fourteen years ago, I have moved on in life. I’ve written two manuscripts and have regular contact with a Hollywood producer in addition to my more traditional, daytime job as a software test analyst. And I forget to take things less seriously until a tremor of memory hits me out of nowhere and it hurts like hell, for a moment. In another moment, I remember Paul for what he was.
I remember Paul flirting with a young lady at a local department store before backing into a rack of clothes, knocking it down, and stumbling almost headlong into another woman and her young child just before regaining his composure in time to head away from the girl and toward the escalator. I remember him leaving for the gym in a white T-shirt, white shorts, white socks and, you guessed it, white tennis shoes before losing his balance on the outside stairs. A “thud-thud-thud” followed by a moan brings me to the door just before Paul heads back inside with muddy stair marks on his backside.
It may sound trite, but I believe that Paul was too good for this world and went on to a better one. God enjoyed his laughter too much to leave him here and I must confess that I took his friendship for granted, like many of us do with those closest to us.
Fourteen years after Paul Ritchie died, each memory teaches me something about the power of innocence and the strength of laughter between two friends and, somehow, that makes the rumblings of this life so much easier to bear.
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