Regret is not an emotion I tend to get wrapped up in. Whatever decision I’ve made I can usually accept… good, bad or otherwise. However, one thing I have often found myself ruminating on and yes, ultimately regretting, is how I have not nurtured certain friendships over the years and allowed them to wither and rot on the vine like an over ripened tomato. And ask yourself… as an adult, how many new friends do we, and can we, really make? Case in point… my friend Marvin.
Marvin and I met in 1999… he came to the lab where I worked at the time as a project manager… me a chemist analyzing PCBs residues. This particular lab goes down in my mind as the best job I’ve ever had the pleasure of working… with the best possible group of people to work with. From the lab director down to the lowliest employee… more people seemed to get along and enjoy each others company than any place I’ve worked before or since. By the time Marvin arrived, we had already established great friendships and the weekly Friday night gathering at the Ale House… a bar so rednecky in Petaluma there were usually more people in the joint than teeth in most patrons mouths.
He and I certainly got along initially… but nothing extraordinary… until I found myself in the midst of a separation from Mrs. Blahg (which by the way, had a very happy ending… just a bump in the marital road). A bowling league was formed… much more drinking ensued… many evenings of drunken chats and all of the “getting to know you” sort of things. Then my truck blew it’s final head gasket and I ended up buying a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle… orange no less… and the generator died on my way home the first night! Although I managed to get home that evening by the good fortune of some random guy on his way into the city who happened to find me broken down at the side of a dark country road… the car was stuck! And more fortune smiled upon me when it turned out Marvin used to have a Beetle and would be more than happy to help me fix it. From that point on, I knew I had a great friend.
After many more months of hanging out at the Ale House, a String Cheese Incident concert, a night in his awesome hermitage in western Marin amongst the redwoods and a wonderful reconciliation with my Mrs… we became like two friends who had known each other for years. During this time I was also planning my first backpacking trip with my oldest of friends from my childhood. A couple of months before embarking on our Lost Coast adventure, my friend broke his toe and I had a bunch of a equipment and a planned trip flapping in the breeze. Marvin to the rescue….
He had a great deal of experience with backpacking in the Sierras and elsewhere… and although it had been a while for him since his last trip, he was admirably game to pick up where my childhood friend left off and was willing to not only go with me, but to teach. That four day trip into the wild lands of the most rugged and inaccessible chunk of coast in California became the four days I reflect on more than most things in my past. I have often imagined that trip being the basis for my great unwritten novel. I wasn’t so much of an adventure that we had, but more of the sort of trip two people can have where we get to know the best and most vulnerable aspects of the other and feel real love. And of course… not a romantic love, but the love of friendship… the love of knowing I am there for him and he for me. We discussed how, in the event of some calamity on the trail (which seemed completely reasonable on this trip) we would return a “part” of the other to our families because we wouldn’t be able to haul the other out… our first night in a shared tent I dropped out candle lantern from the ceiling of our tent onto his crotch… complete with hot wax… his laughing at me for taking some very heavy and unnecessary items in my pack, yet allowing me to do so to teach me a valuable lesson… which culminated in my crawling the last 100 yards of our first 5 miles into camp (I wouldn’t let him take my pack for me… I had to finish it myself)… discovering what may be the finest campsite of all time on day 2, which we called “Hobbit Hollow” and the first night there which felt more like home that home… our inadvertent pentagram of candles… the jumping at the sound of either mice or a skunk… the very stoned conversation where we seemed to answer the nature of society as thought of as a giant living and evolving organism… the mistake of mixing vodka and hot chocolate… and finally, on the way out after eating a ridiculous amount of berries like a pair of animals after four days in complete isolation (one night we were the only two humans in the area… about 5 people 7.5 miles north… about 4 people 4.5 miles south…. and us in the middle in a redwood valley pressed against our own little beach), looking up and seeing a family car camping, our grunts at them and the drive back up the 5 mile dirt road in his van… as my body relaxed and got used to sitting in a moving vehicle and not hauling a 60lb. pack… my body gave the final release, and the berries did their trick. With feet on the dash, I though I was letting out a little gas… oops, crapped myself. We pulled over, me not knowing what to do with my filthy skivvies and Marvin suggesting throwing them off the cliff (cotton is biodegradable), my doing so but getting them caught in a tree. So help me, that was the funniest thing of all time!
One conversation we had on that trip ended up having massive consequences for both of our lives…. he was moving to Hawai’i. He had a job offer to run a department in a sister lab in Honolulu. I was at once both happy for him (he is a surfer, makes sense) and saddened that he would be leaving. After his interview and getting the job he then informed me that he would have a position for me if I wanted it! The Lost Coast trip was in September, he moved in October, I moved in November and Mrs. Blahg got there by January. I had moved to Hawai’i!!
The first two weeks I lived with Marvin on the couch of an old friend of his. How kind to allow a stranger to come into your home and sleep on your couch for two weeks!! Big props to Phyllis for that…. the the next two weeks we lived together in his new home in the Nu’uanu valley, until I moved out in December into my mine and my wife’s home on Punchbowl. Before Mrs. Blahg arrived, Marvin and I were inseparable. One particular day always stands our for me… the day the ocean seemed to whisper to us that it was taking a wee nap, and we should get ourselves to Hanauma Bay. The Pacific was living up to it’s name… it was glass. So calm it allowed us to snorkel out further than we ever had… to diving into the coral canyons beyond the inner reef… to floating serenely in witches brew and seeing the moonscape below… the turtles… the laughter… the sun… my friend.
We had our little spats… when Mrs. Blahg arrived I was back to focusing on her and our life together. Marvin was always there with us… with the group of friends that he had introduced me to and the very welcoming nature of both the island and these people. Our two years there would not have been as rich and fulfilling if it weren’t for these friends… and certainly without Marvin, I would have not only never been there, but I would not have had such a great time. I had a few difficult moments in those two years, and he was always there. He ended up meeting his future wife Masako (who is simply fantastic) and fortunately my wife and his got along amazingly well. He was there for me when Mrs. Blahg became pregnant with my first daughter… and there for us when she was born. I am of course leaving out a great deal of the experiences we shared that I think of often… hiking up and through the Nu’uanu stream, my failure at Lanipo (he knows what I’m referring to) and seeing The Two Towers together shortly before I was to leave and a wee bit after the birth of my daughter and my grandmother’s death and the conversation that followed that felt like a setting sun. Basically, the things friendships are made of….
However, all great stories have their ending… and our time in Hawai’i was up. Due to job issues on my wife’s side and wanting to be closer to our family now that we had a newborn, we left the island… I left Marvin. We saw each other a few times over the next couple of years when we returned to the island… at least 3 or 4 times before our daughter was 2 (airline tickets get expensive!)… he came by our place in San Francisco once during a whirlwind trip to the mainland… when my wife became pregnant with my youngest daughter, Masako was pregnant with their first! My youngest daughter and his son were born about 36 hours apart… and in those five years… he has never met her, and I have not met his son. Also there was an aborted plan for Mrs. Blahg and I to return to the island with our two girls, but due some other issues with her work and the fear of setting up my family for failure because I wanted to go back… it fell through. And the sadness I have felt in the last 5 years because of what I consider a great loss of friendship is palpable.
That is the story… and although I’ve left a great deal of it out, I hope what I’m getting across is clear…. a great friendship is rare… and I appreciate having that friendship so much it hurts when I realize I get so wrapped up in life and my own little foibles… that I don’t nurture the friendships I should. Although I’m referring specifically to Marvin, the names could be exchanged…. Winslow, Chad, Jordan, John, Kevin, Erick… all friends that I have had every intention of calling, of getting together, hanging out, playing music, having a drink or two, simply letting them know how much I do care…. how much I miss them… how much I wish they were part of my life. And knowing it’s my fault. I can pick up the phone, but I always think because of either distance or previous commitments I can’t make it happen. I’m not very good with just chatting on the phone… yet they are all just a phone call away.
These are the times my insecurities come screaming out at me… I usually assume I’m being a bother if I call or want to hang out. I’m often reminded of an old Peanuts comic where Charlie Brown is annoyed that he always has to call people and they don’t call him… so he doesn’t call anyone, just stares at the phone. In the end he realizes he has to be the one to do it…. and I know I have to be the one to do it. And I often regret that I don’t just pick up the phone… I regret that I don’t do more… and “sorry” really doesn’t cover how I feel. “I miss you” covers that best…
Cornelius J. Blahg