Over time, the bond between Stuart and me strengthened noticeably, but not to the same degree as my friendship with Rick. Rick and I saw each other daily; lives interwoven like a taut ball of twine; a situation I learned to accept as normal. Didn't everyone have a best friend? A confidant? A constant companion? Someone with whom even the most personal of secrets were willingly, even eagerly, shared?
Stuart led another life with his posh friends and their wild parties, at which (it was common knowledge) drugs flowed freely. Also, his obsession with girls began to annoy the crap out of me; a new one every five minutes, or so it seemed. What was he trying to prove? Sure, I was jealous, and tired of constantly hearing about his sexual conquests. Blah, blah, blah...
"Chill, Kyle, that's what mates do for Christ sake. They tell each other about stuff like that. All the guys do. Well, all the guys except you."
"You disappear for weeks and then show up out of the blue like it's no big deal. We're supposed to be friends, Stuart."
"You're becoming way too possessive, Kyle, like some of the girls I know. Don't fence me in. Okay?"
Other times, he slept over at my house, or I his, and it was like we were comfortably cocooned in an intimate world; having quietly detached itself from reality. I sometimes read Kahlil Gibran's poetry aloud as we lay on top of the bed.
And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
There was a certain quality in my voice that Stuart found serene, almost hypnotic. He never mentioned it--hell, that wasn't the kind of compliment you paid to another guy--but it was apparent in his body language. My voice lulled him into a spell-like state of being.
Meanwhile, the secret question on both our minds was: Is this normal behavior for a couple of macho teens?
G'day, Captain. First, you need to understand the difference between `normal' and `natural'. I think you're confused, probably along with most of humanity. Everything is natural, otherwise it wouldn't exist. But not everything natural is normal. Normal is about averages. So the answer is: no, you are not completely normal, and the reason for that is you're not completely average. You excel in many respects, one of them friendship. You have a special gift, Kyle. An extraordinary gift for loving, caring and sharing. Share it your way, without undue concern or anxiety for the opinions of others.
I arrived home one afternoon after school and set about doing my usual backyard chores when I heard a voice. "G'day." I turned to see a kid on the other side of the fence. "I'm Graham. We moved in a week ago. Can I help with the chores?"
Yeah, right. I practically had to re-do everything he did. But his good nature and willingness to assist got to me. He looked about 11 or so. "I'm going on 12." He looked quite mature for his age, and was solidly built. His black hair and facial features reminded me in many ways of a younger Rick.
"How about I give you the Roo crap detail?"
"You got a pet `roo?"
"Roo's my pet kelpie."
With a name like Graham, I immediately nicknamed the little guy "grommet".
"What's grommet mean?"
"A kid surfer."
Throughout that year, he hopped the fence every day, whether to help with chores or breeze into my room like it was his own personal territory. My folks took to him as well. They loved him. We all loved him, and soon elevated him to family member number four. Or was the elevation his doing?
The grommet's obsession with learning how to surf was satisfied to some extent by Stuart and me. We regularly took him to the beach on weekends and let him ride our boards. Sometimes I got lucky and borrowed a friend's board. At least one of us stayed with him at all times to make sure he didn't get into bother. Generally, though, the surf at Main Beach was mush, minimizing any real danger. Besides, my dad taught me to surf in mush.
Despite Graham's lack of experience, he showed gutsy determination beyond his tender years. Each time he got nailed by a wave, he surfaced blubbering and coughing. Undeterred, he paddled out again to meet the next challenge. There was no stopping this fearless little grommet.
A guy at school owned a surfboard for sale, but my budget didn't stretch that far. I phoned Stuart and asked him if he wanted to contribute. "It's the grommet's birthday in August, and I wanna get him a leash as well."
Stuart, now quite attached to Graham, obliged: "Hey, mate, no problem. I'm happy to help out."
The morning of August 14 arrived and, sure enough, the energetic grommet bounced into my room. "Surf's up!" he beamed. "I checked already!"
"Happy birthday, Graham." I offered him a card I made myself.
He took it and read the message aloud: "'Happy Birthday li'l bro. From your big bro, Kyle.' Hey! That's really cool! So now we're bros; bros forever, right?"
"Forever." I handed him a package wrapped in gift paper that featured printed images of surfing.
"Gee, thanks! What's in it?"
The little guy sat on the side of my bed and slowly opened his gift. "Awesome! A surfboard leash!" He studied the gift for a few seconds, wearing a puzzled expression. "But... I don't have a surfboard."
"Gotta start somewhere, bro." I stood, and asked him to follow me outside to the garage, where a surfboard leaned against the wall. "Here," I said, "you carry this one."
"Whose board is this?"
"I borrowed it from a guy at school. You can use it today, and we can all surf together; the three surf-cateers."
When Stuart arrived, we set out barefoot from my house for the beach. Stuart and I wore wetsuits, which surfers refer to as `wetties'. August is mid winter in Byron Bay.
"You're gonna freeze your nuts off out there, Graham--wearing only board shorts."
"I'll be way too busy to get cold," he said defiantly, puffing out his bare chest, obviously pleased and excited to be carrying a third board in `big guy' company. "Wow, this is a really neat stick. Now I look like a real surfer too!"
Graham stood a tad over five feet tall. The board was just the right size, fitting neatly under his arm. He was also blown away by the design; an airbrushed skeleton surfer emerging from a tube: `the green room'.
An hour later, after catching quite a few good rides, the three of us sat on our boards on the back line in sight of Wollumbin, the Aboriginal name for Mount Warning. "This is a killer board, Kyle. You gonna borrow it again?"
"No need to."
"It's yours, li'l bro," I said matter-of-factly. "Stuart and I put some bucks together and bought it for you."
What followed was a brief interlude of wide-eyed, jaw-dropping disbelief. "You're joking, right?"
"Nope," I said. Stuart, meanwhile, couldn't resist giggling at the grommet's bewilderment. "We figure you're good enough for your own board now. Besides, how are you gonna surf with us if we're always borrowing a stick? And then maybe not get one? The leash is new but the stick is used."
"I don't believe it! What have I done for you guys to do this for me?"
"Just keep us laughing, mate, that's all."
Later that afternoon, I was busy in my room with school homework when Graham breezed in. "Hi Kyle. Rave session today, man. Can I come in for a sec?"
"Stuart and I were watching you. You're getting pretty damn good. I reckon you'll be an ace surfer in no time."
"I need to say something."
"That board is the best thing anyone has ever, ever given me." He shifted some books without asking and parked half his butt on the corner of my desk. "My parents could never afford to give me something like that. I know it sounds lamo, but I think you and Stuart a pretty damn great to do that for someone."
"Not just someone, bro. I reckon you're part of us now--you've been surfing with us a while, and you needed a stick. Anyway, we both enjoy having you around."
"I thought I was being a pain a lot of the time."
"No way, bro."
"Now I know why you measured my height the other day. And all those neighborhood chores you do? I thought you were saving for a wetsuit. You said you needed a new one."
"Some other time. You needed a stick."
"I don't want you getting any ideas, Kyle, but I need to do something." The little guy threw his arms around me and gave me the most enormous hug, which took me by surprise. "Thanks, Kyle. Thanks a stack!"
"Hey, take it easy, Graham, you're gonna crush me to death!"
He relaxed his grip, and explained that he was just so happy he could bust. "By the way, I found out what you told my mom about the board, and she freaked because of the cost."
"Yeah, my dad did, too. Well, at first he did, and then he chilled. He wanted to know where I got the money from and I told him it came out of my savings, plus what I earned from chores. Anyway, after what started as a lecture about finances, he said something really special."
"He said he wished he was still a teenager and had a friend like me."
"Yeah, well I'm almost a teen and I've got a friend like you!" And with that, he hugged the hell out of me again.
"By the way, Graham," I asked as I disentangled myself from his strong arms, "didn't you freeze your ass off out there today?"
"I had boardies on."
"You mean almost on."
The little scallywag's talent for winning hearts was unmatched by anyone I'd ever known. Was it my imagination or did he spend more time at my house than his own? He and my dad got along like a house on fire, often discussing (or arguing about) football, cricket, swimming and other sports. Graham was a huge rugby fan, and a member of his school team, as well as the swim and cricket teams. And now he was a surfer fan, rapidly improving his natural talents.
Yet, the void left behind by Rick remained. Sure, Graham and Stuart were fantastic company and kept me occupied--and I did love them both--but nothing was able to replace Rick.
Replace is not the right word, Captain. You never replace a friend like Rick, just as you can never replace all those years you shared. They are part of history now, permanently, and will stay with you all your days. What you must do now is keep sharing your love. That's what it's there for, and your new friends are very fortunate to be the recipients. Stay on track, mate, you're doing just fine.