Monday, July 28, 2008

Lee

In fifth grade I met a kid named Lee.

We met in the STEP program; the program that our school did for the "gifted" students. STEP most often consisted of sitting a room with the other "gifted" kids and being able to "work" on our projects for a few hours a week. The teacher, Mrs. Johnson, let us decide what projects we wanted to do each semester - the more projects you did the more hours per week you had to work on them. The topics for these projects were things like "American Figures" where we had to choose a figure from American history, research them, then give a presentation as that person. We did that one twice; once for STEP where I was Johnny "
Appleseed" Chapman, and another where I was William Clark and my friend Krister - now a Harvard graduate working for the state department in Uzbekistan - was Meriwether Lewis. Another subject was mythology (I did a claymation video of Hercules' labors), and "what do you want to be when you grow up" (we had to make a diorama of what we wanted to be; I made an artists studio out of a chinese takeout box and cut up a decent part of desk in the process. We still have the desk and you can still see the chunks I took out of it.).

That was STEP. Or rather, that's what STEP was supposed to be. Most days we'd sit around and do whatever we wanted and then in the last 2-3 days before the project was due work our butts off and finish it. Most people would play on the Mac computers - Prince of Persia and a black and white Star Trek space game were favorites among my classmates, but I was too cool for the Star Trek game since I was a Star Wars fan. One day I brought in my SNES and hooked it up to the TV in the room and played Final Fantasy II (or IV, depending on how you count) for 2 hours. Another day I was playing with an exacto knife and sliced open my thumb. When I went and asked Mrs. Johnson for help, she was on the phone and said to wait a minute without looking; when she turned around after the phonecall, I was patiently waiting next to her with my hands cupped and overflowing with blood from my thumb. She almost fainted.

So that's the environment where I met Lee.

The first project we worked on together was with Will and Sam, two other classmates who would later become some of my best friends (and one a future roommate). We made a diorama (STEP loved these things) of the environment of a Tazmanian Devil. It consisted of a 5 quart ice cream bucket filled with dirt and some grass, twigs, and leaves spread about with a hole in the middle. An entire school quarter worth of skipped class hours for a project that took us about 10 minutes to do. I loved being one of the "smart" kids.

So, Lee.

When I first met Lee we got along well enough. We weren't best friends, but I knew his name and he knew mine. At the time, I had my friends and, frankly, I wasn't really interested in making new friends (this is a running theme in my life). Sixth grade was much like fifth, except Krister and I were in the same class and became pretty good friends. And I had a crush on Erin Frazee; she was a year younger than us but was in our grade, was a math prodigy, lived down the street from me, and being 12 and unsure how to talk to girls and scared that people would laugh at me for liking her, I mocked her instead of being nice to her. I was a stupid kid.

In seventh grade my parents requested that I not have a certain teacher my brother and sister had had (why I don't really know) and as such was put into a different "pod" than most of my friends. Pods were our schools way of integrating kids into junior high by having them be in classes with other kids who lived near them, presuming those kids know each other and thus making the transition easier. Because of my parents' request, I
was put into the orange pod; all my friends were in the red pod. Initially, I was not happy about this. At least, I wasn't until I found out that because of this transition, my locker was right next to Peter Gulsvig's, a kid I'd been good friends with in grade school. He was one of the best artists I knew then and now, he's unbelievable. You can check out his work at www.petergulsvig.com. He's also one of the most creative people I've ever met, even if things sometimes slip his mind (such as using a toilet that isn't actually connected to anything). Both of us being in the orange pod and our lockers being next to each other meant we saw a lot of each other. We had been close friends in grade school, quickly caught up on the last 4 years of our lives and became best friends again. I also became great friends with Will and Sam then, too.

In eighth grade, the pod system was removed and we were all integrated with every kid from our grade. With our last names being so close, Peter and I had lockers that were one apart, so we still saw a lot of each other. We'd play games all weekend long nearly every weekend, playing everything from RISK to Monopoly to running around outside at nighttime making up stories to Dungeons & Dragons. D&D was probably the most significant thing we did; not for the nerdery of it, but because Lee also liked to play and because Peter liked Lee he invited him to join us.

When we played D&D, we didn't play it in the serious dress-up-like-your-character style. We played to laugh our heads off and eat pizza all night long. One game had Lee playing an insane wizard who carried around body parts from old battles in a cart behind him. When we tried to enter a city the guards wouldn't let him in without a cover on this cart of old human limbs. When Lee was told this, he exclaimed, "It must be blue!" Being Lee, he did it in his character's voice (a very high pitch squeel) and screamed it out. At the time, I wasn't all to impressed - Peter burst out laughing and for years to come would reference this - now, I think it's one of the best lines Lee has ever said.

I'll be honest, at the time, Lee annoyed me. I don't know why, but he did. Still, Peter and Krister liked him, as did Craig and John and Sam and Will - this, by the way, is the same group of friends I would have for the next 5 years of my life - and so he kept hanging out with us.

Eighth grade was also the year I developed a huge crush on Ashley Kujanson; a crush that would permeate through high school and actually cause me to take French 3 so that my schedule would match up with her's. This crush is also the same reason I treated Krister like crap for the next 3 years. I still feel bad for that. Sorry, Krister.

That was also the year that I told Barb Strnad I wasn't interested in her because she shaved her head. That was a mistake and a half. I spent the next 4 years trying to get a date with that girl, too. Last I heard she's been dating a guy for like 5 years. I'm glad she found someone she loves, and kind of sad that I wasn't that someone. Barb was the girl who made me interested in redheads; I should really thank her for that.

I did a lot of really, really, really, stupid things that year.

So, Lee.

In high school Lee and I started hanging out more. I realized that the things I had previously found annoying were in fact awesome and over the years we became great friends. We hung out a lot during theatre and speech trips and I think it's safe to say he became my best friend.
When we graduated he went to the U of M, I stuck around in Moorhead because I was dating Lindsey, and we sort of lost touch. I'd talk to him every now and then when I'd go down to Minneapolis, but that was usually so I had a place to stay when I wanted to visit Lindsey, who had recently become my ex. I think Lee knew this, but being the kind of guy he is, he always let me stay as long as I wanted, would stay up all night with me (I was working overnights), and didn't even yell at me when I woke him up at 6am to let me in the dorms when he had class the next day. He sacrificed a lot of sleep for me.

Around this time Lee said one of the most significant things in my life. In the Summer of 2004, Lindsey broke up with me. I loved her with all my heart and wanted more than anything to marry her (I had asked, she had said 'yes'; we were going to get married that December). Looking back, maybe it was for the best; I don't know. At the time, I was broken. I couldn't sleep, I didn't want to do anything, I couldn't find happiness in anything. I cried. I cried a lot.

On the night of October 5th, 2004, I stayed up all night.
Something snapped inside me. I was utterly and completely broken. I didn't know what to do. By that time, it had been three months since Lindsey and I broke up and I had tried everything. I didn't know what to do next, so I just got on my weblog (then located on Xanga) and just started writing. At 6:45 AM on October 6th, I produced an essay that still holds as the truest, most accurate depiction of myself I have ever written. It was about my fears, about how I feel inadequate, about how even though I might say I'm confident and act like I don't care what other people think I really do. About how my greatest fear is that my friends don't need me and that if they could find someone who makes them laugh more or smile more or give them rides to the store that they wouldn't need me in their lives.

When I was done, I felt better. It's cathartic to express yourself completely. I still have a copy of that post (I had it framed on my wall for years) and it's still up on my Xanga site - if someone wants the link I can post it [due to requests, the post I made can be found here]. But the most significant thing that came from that post was the comment that Lee left. At the bottom of the post - at the bottom of a post that I believe to this day describes me and who I am more clearly and accurately than anything that has ever been said or written about me - Lee wrote this
[the image was added for this post]:

It's almost worrisome how, when one pours out oneself as you have, the rest of us identify so easily, but it also adds to the beauty of this human comedy. For what it's worth, I love you quite unconditionally.

I still remember that comment perfectly. I still remember how it made me feel. How, for the first time since Lindsey had left me that I felt like I was actually wanted. That someone in this world actually wanted me here and liked me for me.

I knew my family loved me, but they're my family - they have to love me. Lee doesn't. Even now I can remember that comment and it makes me smile even in the
hardest of times. It's the first and I believe only time someone I'm not related to has told me they love me unconditionally. It's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.


Two years later, Lee moved back to Moorhead because the U of M is freakin' expensive and his housing situation
had gone sour (which resulted in quite a long legal case). When he came back to Moorhead, we started hanging out again. I can't express how glad I was to have Lee back. We soon started hanging out almost daily. Half the time we wouldn't even do anything; we'd maybe play some video games, but mostly we'd just sit around in one of our living rooms and talk or cook something (Lee is largely responsible for my love of cooking). We did this for about the next two years.

Six months ago I moved out of Fargo-Moorhead for the first time. I moved to Provo, Utah. It was a slight change going from Northwest Minnesota to Utah. The scenery, the climate, the people, the culture, life itself is different here. There are a lot of great people here, but none compare to Lee. No one I've met makes me feel as comfortable as Lee did. He was always there, and we could both do whatever we wanted, up to and including squawking and screaming "KWEHH!" as loud as we could. It's a Final Fantasy IX reference. Well, some of it is.

Lee was - and still is - always happy to see me. I know there were days when he's sad or isn't feeling well, but I can't recall a single time when he has ever said, "I don't really feel like it" when I asked him to hang out. He was, and still is, always excited to talk and do absolutely nothing together. He's always willing to be there, even when you don't want to do anything. He can debate philosophy, discuss politics, science, math, and literature, cook just about anything, and be there when what you need is just someone who loves you.

He's my best friend. More than anything in Fargo-Moorhead, I miss Lee. I hope he reads this.

I love you, buddy.

2 comments:

Gismya said...

Damn you, you made me cry :P

"About how my greatest fear is that my friends don't need me and that if they could find someone who makes them laugh more or smile more or give them rides to the store that they wouldn't need me in their lives."

That part really hit me.. Because that describes me perfectly. The one thing I am the most afraid of is people that I'm hanging out with not really wanting me there.. I'm terrified of that ever happening.

If you would like to post the link to the post you are reffering to, I would love to read it.

Shelle said...

I’m really; really glad I took the time to read this. I’m not sure there is anything I can write that would accurately describe how quite simply put, ‘sad’ I was by the things you spoke about.

We should all be so lucky to have someone in our lives that understands the concept of unconditional love and epitomizes it so thoroughly.