Author's notes: These chapters were originally published as individual short stories, and are the completely true story of my growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. You may contact me if you wish at email@example.com, and I will reply. I'll also notify you of future installments to this series.
I've never mentioned him till now,
but Mario was my best friend in the whole world for from the time I was ten
till the time I got married. Ten months younger than me, he lived up the street
and I first met him in fourth grade. In school, he was a year behind me in
third grade, and to youngsters like us that single year made a big difference.
My friends were mostly older than me, and when Mario rode up on his bike that
first day to say "hi", I admit I was not impressed. It was 1970, I
was newly nine years old and summer vacation had just begun.
Mario's parents were of Italian descent, and he looked like an immigrant child who might have just gotten of the boat from Sicily, with his olive skin, curly black hair and dark, deep brown eyes. He had a wide smile, and was wearing hand me down clothes that were a little too big and definitely out of fashion. (I later found out that they were from his big brother James, whom he adored, and who was a full twelve years older than Mario! Imagine being a kid today wearing clothes from twelve years ago, and guess what kind of looks the other kids would give you.)
Everyone knew Mario was a mamma's boy. His whole life so far his mother had kept him close to her and so he had never ventured out to play with us other boys. But he had just gotten a new Sting Ray bike for his birthday, and rode down the street boldly to join my friends and I as we played baseball with a tennis ball in the street in front of my house.
Mario played with us for a while, but I concluded quickly that he wasn't cool enough for me, and meanly tried to ditch him by hiding from him in the house when the game ended. He knocked on my door a few times but I didn't answer, and he finally gave up and pedaled away.
But as the summer progressed he was certainly persistent, appearing whenever a game of hide and seek, kickball, freeze-tag, cowboys and Indians or baseball was beginning. He had emerged from under his mother's wing with a vengeance, and he had apparently firmly decided that it was me he wanted to be his new best friend.
Annoyed at first, I gradually warmed to the idea. He was so agreeable and polite that it was hard not to like him. My mother especially adored him; both because of the way he behaved and doubtlessly because of the way he looked, a small and adorable European immigrant child tagging after me in his ill-fitting Sears Catalog clothes from 1957.
Soon Mario and I became inseparable, and I began to spend less time with the older boys, which pleased my mother immensely. She had often made it known to me that she didn't like my preference for playing with older boys, as she clearly believed they were a bad influence on me as they spit and cussed during our outside games. I was only nine, and had no sexual leanings I could recall yet, but I know I always clearly preferred being close to boys taller and older than me: swimming with them, wrestling and tickling in the grass and lying lazily about my head propped on one of their laps while we watched cartoons on TV. I recall I was intoxicated by the smells coming from their newly minted sweat glands and by their longer legs, big hands and fuzzy cheeks.
During the next couple of years Mario easily spent more time at our house than at his own. His parents were older, and with Mario's siblings now all grown, they were clearly weary of raising children by the time he came along. Their living room was a showplace of white carpets and velvet furniture and his mother swept and dusted seemingly all the time. The few afternoons we spent at his house made it immediately obvious to me why Mario preferred to be at mine. At Mario's, our shoes needed to be removed and left outside on the steps. Even then, the living room with its vacuum sweeper tracks cut into the nap of the carpet was clearly off limits to boys. Cleaning compulsively and incessantly, she'd throw our baseball cards and drawings into the trash can if we walked out of the room for an instant, hollered at us to turn the stereo down the moment we switched it on, and even once turned off the TV right while we were sitting there watching it! She never had any food that we boys liked in the house, which hardly mattered because if we so much as set foot in the kitchen she would shoo us away, saying that the kitchen was for women only and boys didn't belong underfoot.
Every day, Mario would change his clothes and come to my house immediately after school ended (yes, that's when kids used to wear nicer clothes to school and change into their "play clothes" when they came home, something that my own children today refuse to believe was once true.) Religiously, we'd go to the park and hit or throw baseballs for over an hour. Then, every day at 4:30 sharp, Mario had to go home for dinner. Mario's dad was a shopkeeper and he'd take his dinner break early, and then rush back to his shop to reopen it to catch the evening traffic. After his dinner, Mario would come back to my house, where we'd play some more till it was my dinnertime at 6:30. During the school year, Mario would then go home for the evening. But during the long summers he'd sit quietly in my bedroom while my family ate dinner waiting for me to return, and then we'd hang out till his 10 PM curfew each night, mostly just doing absolutely "nothing" together the way only best friends can.
By the time we were 11 and 12, we were nearly identically sized, and dressed exactly the same way. Our haircuts and mannerisms were so similar people often confused us for brothers. We could communicate perfectly with few words, talking with gestures and in incomplete sentences that were always clearly understood by the other. He was slightly more coordinated than me, but I was slightly stronger, so that while he might have been a little better at hitting a baseball, if I hit the ball mine nearly always went farther than his.
Even as puberty started for me, I experienced no sexual attraction for Mario, not even a tiny shred. Even at the time I recall considering this circumstance odd: there were the girls whom I knew I was SUPPOSED to like and didn't, and the boys who mostly made me feel confusingly tickly inside and whom I wanted to be close to in a way I didn't yet understand. And then there was Mario, whom I had no desire whatsoever to do anything with besides playing ball, watching movies, listening to music, or any number of innocent things young friends do together that don't involve sex at all.
But I loved him in a best-friends sort of way, and I sometimes shamelessly told him so. I'd hug him and he'd hug me back, like brothers might. (Too bad I didn't treat my own young brother Tad the same way. What a bastard I usually was to him!) Mario always smelled like some odd-brand laundry detergent his mother used, mixed with the scent of anisette and other Italian cooking spices that permeated everything in his home. I had no shame about loving Mario, and it felt completely OK inside. I had absolutely no illusions about undressing him or anything like that; in fact, I couldn't have cared less about seeing him naked. We had a house at the beach and Mario would often come along and we'd see each other unclothed all the time, but I never looked forward to these moments nor did I consider schemes for him be sexual with me. All I ever thought about was when we would next be able to go outside together with a bat and a ball to run around till our hearts and lungs felt as though they would burst with burning, happy exhaustion. At the beach house at night we'd sleep in the same double bed, and there were never a single moment of shenanigans. We just were two, red-blooded, all-American best friend boys who never went even a single day without being together with each other.
In an earlier chapter, I recounted how I had learned to masturbate quite by accident when I was twelve and a half or so, and by the time summer of that year rolled around, I was masturbating every day at least once. I didn't share this new knowledge with my best friend right away, assuming (quite incorrectly) that my having started puberty and having sprouted hair was a prerequisite to being able to masturbate and have an orgasm. But the next summer was a different story.
The summer we were 13 and 12, we spent many weeks together at the seashore. Mario's parents were clearly glad to have him out of the house, and I made such a fuss if I was asked to go anywhere without Mario coming along that it became an assumed circumstance that if we were going anywhere at all, including to the seashore, that Mario was coming with us. Because we were both olive skinned and tanned almost immediately, neither of us ever had to worry a bit about being sunburned, and so we spent endless hours without a care on the beach, at the boardwalk, at the ball field and in the surf, returning home only when we were hungry.
One night as we lay in the pullout bed in the living room after lights out, we talked before sleep as we always did. We had always excitedly shared all our plans and schemes, and we never laughed at each other's wild ideas. I imagined that there would never be any secrets between us. That night Mario confided to me about a crush he had on a girl in school named Sharon. Sharon was beautiful, I agreed. Blond, tall and slim, shapely and tanned, she had a figure like a woman though she was only 12, and tossed her head as she brushed her hair suggestively in class. With a broad white smile and sparkling blue eyes she was flirtaceous yet somehow seemed sincere, and was friendly and nice to everyone. I imagine every boy fantasized about Sharon, even me (a little bit) She looked like the quintessential "California Girl" of dreams.
Mario shared with me how crazy it made him feel when Sharon wore short midriff shirts that exposed her bare belly when she moved her arms around. Seeing her tanned middle peeking nakedly out like that made him feel funny inside, he told me. "Funny in what way?" I had quizzically asked. Mario was short of words, so I helped him out.
"Does it sort of tickle in your stomach?" I asked
"Yes", he answered.
"And tickles lower too, like in your balls?"
"Yes", he repeated, more quietly this time.
"And, do you think of her when you are in bed at night and imagine you might hold her?"
He paused for a breath, and then again answered, "Yes", he said.
"Do you sometimes have a boner when you think of her?"
His pause was decidedly longer this time. "ummmmm....un-huh..." he admitted.
"And then do you rub it when you think of her?" I continued.
That last question had surprised him, "Huh? NO!", he answered. "Why would I do THAT?" I took a deep breath. I knew at that moment that as his best friend it was my sacred responsibility to teach Mario how to masturbate. It would happen tonight, and I wanted to be sure to teach him just right.
"Mario", I said. "You are going to need to trust me. I've never steered you wrong have I?"
"No", he answered honestly from next to me on the bed in the dark room.
"Then you have to try what I am going to tell you to do. It is so cool you won't believe it."
"What is it?", asked Mario, his voice seeming to quiver just a little bit.
"Do you have a boner now?", I asked.
"A little" he said. "Why?"
"Here's what I want you to do", I guided. "Just put your hand around your boner. Don't squeeze too tight, but sort of move your hand up and down on it. Don't rub too hard, just enough so it tickles, and don't stop no matter what. I am going to tell you a story while you do it, OK?"
"OK", Mario agreed, but I could tell he was afraid. But he knew I would never tell him to do anything bad or something that would hurt him.
We had thousands of miles of experiences together under our belts that had built this mutual trust. When the older boys at the park had tried to get us to smoke cigarettes with them in the woods and called us chickens when we refused, I was the one who led Mario away, comforting him as he fought back tears at the insult to his courage. We both disapproved of drugs and drinking, and agreed that we would never get involved with these. When Mario had fallen off his bike and skidded across the newly paved gravel on our street, leaving his knee looking like a bloody bowl of shredded wheat, it was I who had picked up both him and his broken bike, called for help and sat with him while he cried without shame next to me on the curb. Likewise, Mario knew I slept every night with a special blanket, a secret that I knew he'd never tell another soul.
"Mario, try to imagine that Sharon is here right now", I began. "Her long blond hair is so beautiful and when she turns to look at you she is smiling and asking you to come sit alone with her. She's wearing that top you like where you can see her belly button, and her tummy is bare and tan. She wants you to see it."
"Wow", said Mario sort of breathlessly.
"Are you really hard now?" I asked.
"Oh yes", he whispered. "What else is she doing?"
I went on. "She wants to hold you, and when she does her soft breasts push against you and she smells so good. She says that she likes you the best and that her mother is not home and wants you to see her naked, but only if you will come up to her room. You follow her up the stairs and as soon as you go into her room she asks you to unbutton her top".
I guess I had a pretty good imagination, because I had never done any of these things with a girl in my life, but I was confident I could tell a story that would make Mario go out of his mind. I continued in a hoarse whisper lying next to him in the dark.
"As you open the buttons she licks her lips and smiles. She tells you she wants you and she thinks you are so strong. When you finish the last button, her top falls open and you see the most luscious, tan and naked breasts you could ever imagine. 'Feel them, Mario', she begs, and you do. 'Feel my nipples', she begs, and as you do they get stiff and hard. You ask her if you can lick them and she tells you to kiss them and...."
"Oooh oooh OOOOH!" gasped Mario, laying beside me and thrashing suddenly like he'd grabbed a live wire. "Ohhhhhhh! Oh my GOD!!!" then he suddenly stopped moving and lay still.
"Did 'it' happen?" I asked, knowing full well that 'it' had.
"Oh Brad, oh my God—what was that???" asked Mario with reverent wonder in his voice. "What the heck just happened to me?"
"That's what I wanted to teach you about", I said. "That's called jerking off." Doesn't it feel awesome?"
"Awesome is not the word" said Mario, a little too loudly. "How come you never told me about this before?" he asked. "How long have you known about this and didn't tell me?"
Warning him to keep his voice down, I told him I learned a year ago, but didn't tell him then because I thought he wasn't old enough then. Mario had many questions, and I still remember some. Why was it sticky? Why did it happen? Most funny to me was, he wanted to know if any other boys knew about this too or were we the only ones in the world who knew how to do this secret thing? But most of all, he wanted to know how soon he could do it again.
I felt so proud. I had shared the coolest, most grown up secret I knew with my best friend. It had worked out so that as he learned in a way that he was happy and was neither scared nor embarrassed after his first time. Now I could finally confide in someone else that I did this too without being shamed by it. Up until then I don't think I had ever admitted to anyone else that I masturbated.
"Wait till tomorrow night", I suggested. "Sometimes you can do it right away again but there's a good chance since this was your first time you'll get sore and it will hurt." Mario accepted my advice and after another round of his questions we both fell asleep.
The next day Mario excitedly and privately mentioned his new discovery several times to me, and that night couldn't wait for the others to turn in so we could open up our fold out bed. As soon as the lights had been turned out, Mario was ready. "Brad, can you tell me another story while I rub my boner? And this time can you do it too?" I agreed, proudly feeling that I was solely responsible for guiding my younger friend over the bridge into manhood. I told another story like the night before, this time rubbing my own penis while I narrated. Light from the streetlamps outside cast thin parallel bars of light on the sheets as it passed through the Venetian blinds, as they swayed and clicked in the gentle night breezes. It wasn't long before we both had our orgasms lying next to each other. Mario was so happy and grateful, and I just thanked God that he was my friend and that I had been born a boy.
I had no desire to watch Mario masturbate, nor to touch him, nor anything else that I so strangely but powerfully wanted to do with so many other boys. Putting this story into the proper time frame, this was the same summer I had begun my sexual relationship with our neighborhood friend Jake ("Jake and the Telescope", see link above). Unlike my platonic feelings for Mario, I craved Jake in a lustful way, wanting to smell him, hold him, kiss his blond hair and even taste his sticky cum. I wanted to hear Jake moan and watch him quiver with orgasm and watch his jizz shoot out on his tummy as he climaxed from my touch. When I slept with him (which happened sometimes) I liked to hold him close, which he silently allowed, then I would feel him all over the next morning as we awoke at dawn, neither of us speaking a word as I completely unbuttoned his pajamas, both tops and bottoms, to lovingly expose his naked body and explore it in the morning's first light.
Back at home, we lived in a neighborhood full of kids, and so Jake was Mario's neighborhood friend too. Though I previously said that I hoped Mario would have no secrets from one another, I acutely realized I would never have shared with Mario what I did with Jake. I truly didn't understand why I was so physically drawn to Jake, yet knew that this wasn't a topic I wanted to explore with Mario, on that day or probably ever, for that matter. When the three of us were together, Mario, Jake and me, I never dropped the slightest hint about my feelings for Jake; I would never have betrayed my first lover like that! Mario, newly worldly with his education about masturbation, made veiled jokes about the topic in front of Jake one afternoon as we sat in the yard. Then he came right out and asked Jake if he knew about jerking off. Jake played dumb, acting with disbelief, denying any knowledge of the topic, no matter how much Mario pushed. I smiled silently to myself, knowing full well that Jake masturbated too and that privately any time I wanted Jake would willingly allow me to undress him and stroke him till he came all over my hands and face, an event that had happened most recently between us just a few weeks before. It was exciting having Jake as my secret lover, and it didn't (yet) make me ashamed at all.
Mario only ever slept with me at the seashore; his parents had an odd rule that he wasn't allowed to attend sleepovers unless he was in a situation where he absolutely couldn't be home in his own bed at night. So, we only ever masturbated together at the beach house. Summer after wonderful summer we grew up together, and without fail rubbed ourselves to sleep every night we lay beside each other in bed.
One afternoon at the seashore I was taking a nap, and Mario climbed next to me on the bed. It was broad daylight, but he wanted to do it right then. "How about if I do you?" I asked him sleepily. It was just a passing thought, one that gave me no real excitement, almost like offering, "want me to scratch your back?".
"No! That's gay," said Mario.
"It doesn't have to be", I said, and I bent my leg at the knee as we lay on our sides facing each other. Through his swimsuit I pushed my knee gently into his groin, rubbing it firmly with each movement of my leg.
"Oh wow!" said Mario with surprise. "That feels so good".
"Then just let me use my hand," I said, reaching out to touch him there. "That's a lot easier for me"
"No!" objected Mario. "That's gay Brad!"
He had drawn the line. Rubbing him with my knee was going to be OK, but rubbing with my hand would not. And so, I worked my knee back and forth, telling him another sexy story at the same time. He closed his eyes and smiled, and I continued to move my leg back and forth till my muscles burned like I had run a mile. My story got hotter, his expression grew more intense, his mouth fell open, and gripping my shoulders and thrusting his clothed groin towards me he came inside his bathing suit with a loud gasp. There was no shame, no bad feelings... Nothing. Nothing except two best friends doing absolutely everything together like I imagined all best friends would.
Because I had no sexual feelings for him there was never any confusion for me about the status of our relationship, a problem for me with many other boys. On our league baseball team, Mario was catching the day I was pitching and hit their best batter in the helmet, (on accident, I might add. I had terrible aim and often couldn't hit the strike zone when I wanted to, let alone hit a guy in his head) and he charged the mound. Mario tackled him from behind and when the angry boy got up to face me Mario stood between us with his fists balled up ready to fight for me if he needed to. When not on the ball field, Mario and I could rebuild any major part of my car seemingly in an afternoon. We wordlessly communicated what tools we each needed and what procedures were needed next as we did complex tasks like completely rebuilding my car's suspension, and it never occurred to either of us that we wouldn't get done in time or it wouldn't work properly once finished. After all, I needed my car to get to my part time job the next day, and failure wasn't an option.
Even in the freezing cold of the dead of winter we'd spend part of every day outdoors, tossing a football back and forth till one of us got the smart idea to throw it as fast as we could to the other, like a frozen rope through the air. That made it fair game for the other to respond with a bullet of his own. "I can throw as fast as Roger Staubach!" I'd shout gleefully as I whipped the ball at Mario as hard as I could, stinging his hands mercilessly when it arrived there a split second later. "Big deal. I can throw as fast as Joe Namath!" he'd reply, sending the ball singing back in my direction, making painful contact with my ice-cold hands with a loud smack that could be heard up the street.
I absolutely couldn't be gay, I surmised. Gay guys could never rebuild a car or throw a curve ball. I didn't walk gay, and I didn't talk gay, certainly didn't mind getting wet or dirty, and I had a tough friend like Mario. Gays didn't like football or lifting weights. I did all of these things; therefore, I was without any question straight as could be. I wanted this to be the true answer with all my heart and soul.
"Gay" was Anthony DiPietro, Mario's lisping neighbor with the fluffed-up permed hair, handlebar moustache and a pair of pink tinted wire-rimmed glasses. Anthony was an interior decorator, for God's sake, and swished around wearing his tight designer pants and fancy suede platform shoes as he moved racks of drapery fabrics from his home to his car. "Mario, Brad!" He called out girlishly to us one afternoon as we threw a ball in the street. "I have some suits I don't wear any more. Maybe you'd like to see if they fit you?" We politely declined to go in the house with him, and Mario made me laugh out loud when he suggested privately that all of Anthony's suits were probably pink anyway. Imitating Anthony's sing-song fruity voice and prancing around like limp-wristed idiots, we both tried to do our best, most gay-sounding impressions of Anthony after he went back inside. But there was one thing about Anthony that I couldn't reconcile—he was married and had two beautiful young daughters who were our classmates. If he was so clearly gay in our eyes, how was it that he was married to a woman and had kids? I decided it was best not to try to figure this one out.
I made stick-on labels with my plastic label maker that said, "Anthony DiPietro is a Gay Fag" and stuck them high on the 25 MPH Speed Limit sign that watched over our street. Every time we'd walk pass that sign, we'd bombard it with anything we could find... rotten apples and wormy peaches from the nearby trees in the summer, chunks of muddy ice and snowballs in the winter. After several years of this abuse, the sign surrendered with a sigh and ripped off of its post, clattering to the ground. The town's street department promptly put it back up, repairing it with huge metal washers around the bent and torn mounting holes. They didn't take the Anthony DiPietro labels off of it, though, and I continued to assault that sign till I grew up and moved away years later. It doesn't take a psychological genius to draw parallels here between that sign's message, how I treated it... and how I felt about myself inside.
Mario and I were still best friends when I discovered Ryan, whom I will tell you about in a chapter still to come. I fell hopelessly in one-sided love with this younger neighborhood boy when I was seventeen. Knowing me as well as he did, Mario was keenly aware that something very odd was happening between Ryan and me. He was very jealous, but mistook my attention and time spent with this other neighborhood boy for something it was not; as Mario feared that Ryan was (simply) replacing him as my new best friend.
I tried to explain the nature of my feelings about Ryan to Mario, but the words wouldn't come. I had desperately tried to keep my affection for Ryan deeply hidden from everyone. I was so torn in my desire to be simultaneously honest with Mario about my confusing sexual attraction to Ryan, while still trying to maintain the façade of macho straightness that I had cultivated so well over the many years. It was an impossible task, one that was so fraught with conflict that it could not be reconciled, but I tried anyway.
"I like Ryan because he is cute and nice and makes me feel really good inside", I explained.
"That sounds gay, Brad", said Mario.
"But he is fun to be with. Don't you think his is fun to play ball with and stuff?"
"I don't know", said Mario, totally unconvinced. In truth, Ryan was not a good athlete, and we had to slow down every game when we included him. Recently, unthinkingly throwing a baseball to Ryan at the same speed I would have fired it at Mario had created a terrible scene, Ryan missing it as he reached up in slow motion with his glove, the ball having already hit him in the face before his hand closed on nothing but air in the ball's wake, blood quickly streaming from his nose. I had been oh-so-sorry, holding my cotton t-shirt shirt on Ryan's spouting nose and fawning over him as he tried not to cry, holding him and taking him home and getting ice and acting in Mario's eyes like a girl, most likely. Mario had looked on at Ryan with disgust. Any boy who couldn't catch a fast throw aimed right at his glove didn't belong on the baseball field as far as he was concerned, and deserved to have a bloody nose as his reward.
"But he is horny all the time and when he gets hard it makes me hard too," I admitted.
"If that's true then you are gay", concluded Mario with brutal honesty, staring away from me, his voice as flat as a lake. "Don't be a fag, Brad. If you are gay I don't want to hear about it. Don't tell me any more."
"I'm not gay", I protested weakly. "Let's drop the whole subject."
And we did. Mario never brought it up again and I never mentioned Ryan in any sort of affectionate way in his presence ever again. I had then confirmed a lesson I had long suspected to be true: that if the people I cared about knew I was gay that I would lose their friendship forever. This was a powerful core belief; one that once absorbed stayed with me for the next two decades.
One night soon thereafter Ryan, Mario and I sat one night and watched TV in Ryan's family room. I sat next to Ryan on the sofa and Mario lay on the floor in front of us. Intoxicated by my closeness to Ryan, I took a huge risk and slipped my hand first onto his lap then into his pocket and to my extreme delight he didn't object at all. A rather horny boy, his penis grew immediately long and stiff. My fingertip found a hole in his pocket's bottom and wiggling my fingers to make the hole larger; I soon felt his erect boyhood nearly nakedly through just the cloth of his thin white briefs. I was drunk with the thought that I was having a forbidden sexual experience with Ryan just inches away from Mario. I almost wished that Mario would have turned to see us, to expose my horrible secret once and for all, breaking the tension I felt and so he could learn about the real me that I wanted him to know and accept. But it didn't happen that way and even shortly afterwards I was quite glad.
The fifteen-year friendship Mario and I shared began to collapse when he began dating a very willful, possessive girl he met as they attended City College together, one he eventually married. It seemed like she did all she could to keep him away from his friends, especially me. Insidiously, she allowed him to go places with me, but then she'd include herself as well, hanging on him like a drapery, and then quickly asking him to take her home because she was bored. I saw less and less of him as the months passed by, but he arranged my bachelor party several years later and when the festivities got a little out of hand and she returned home and came face-to-face with the dancing girl who had showed up at another friend's request, she blew up like a volcano and completely forbid him to see me any more. I was heartbroken; a friendship that spanned more than half of my life had been taken from me. I couldn't imagine living life's adventures without Mario by my side.
You know, recounting stories that happened so long ago has a real benefit: We don't have to guess; I can tell you what eventually actually happened to some of the actors, now twenty years later.
I didn't see Mario for nineteen years after that. Then, this very spring, while helping coach my son's Little League team, a man on the sideline approached and spoke to me. "Can you still throw a football as fast as Roger Staubach......?" he asked. I glanced in his direction. He was a mustached gray-templed man with a noticeable paunch and a receding hairline.
"Huh? ..........? I said. Who...." And I suddenly realized that it was Mario standing beside me! I dropped the clipboard I was holding and just hugged him tight without even thinking. "I missed you so much!" I said. He had just moved into the same town as me, and unknown to us our two identically aged young sons were on the field together at that moment for their game. I doubt I would have immediately recognized him, but because I still look a much like I had twenty years prior he recognized me when he saw me standing there. Mario had four children, was a successful CPA and had moved several times over the years.
My brain spun into overdrive. If you've read my stories and wondered how I can recall so much vivid detail about people places and events long passed, you can imagine how many stories and good times flooded back to me at that moment and how much I wanted to ask Mario. After we exchanged pleasantries, I began to gush with memories.
"Remember when I hit the batter in the head and you tackled him so he wouldn't punch me, and you got thrown out of the game as a result?"
He looked at me somewhat blankly. "I did?" he replied. "I don't think I remember that."
"OK- Remember the time Anthony DiPietro wanted us to try on his suits?" I asked gleefully.
"Who is Anthony DiPietro?" he asked.
I was crestfallen. I reminded Mario who Anthony was, and how we had always mocked his effeminate behavior.
"Oh, him," said Mario. "I don't really remember that. But I'm disappointed I would have made fun of him because of how he talked!"
"Huh?" I suddenly thought to myself. Who was this imposter?
In rapid fire, I reminded him of several people, pranks, jokes, and other highly memorable (to me) experiences from our youth. He confessed no recollection of more than half of them. Somehow, he had lost his connection with this part of our lives that had instead been burned truly permanently into my own memory banks in vivid 35mm Technicolor complete with its stereo soundtrack. Soon, almost formally, he smiled widely and shook my hand as if I was nothing more than a business associate, excusing himself as he rejoined his smirking wife sitting in the bleachers.
It's hard for me not to make more of this than it really is. Perhaps I have an unusual skill for total recall of the past, while Mario does not. So what if he doesn't remember the time I pushed the rolling desk chair down the bowling alley instead of my ball that Saturday afternoon in 1977, watching it careen off the gutters before crashing into the pin machine at the end, getting us all thrown out of the establishment by the manager that day? Does it matter that he doesn't remember the time I got my hair stuck to the driveway just before the senior prom because on that very hot afternoon I had laid my head on a spot wet with gasoline while I worked under the car, fusing my scalp to the asphalt so that we had to cut big pieces of my hair out with scissors so I could escape?
Instead, maybe he could tell me about the performance of the stock market over the past ten years in great detail, or name the actors in every movie he's ever seen, or recite the birthdays and social security numbers of all his family members-- or any number of truly more important things I can't seem to keep stored in my own brain. But I'll admit that his lack of remembrance of things that to me were so vitally important when we were growing up really did cause me to feel a little sad, in spite of myself.
I still love you, Mario.