Fratres ad Vitam

Photo credit: Kaitlin Piofcyk – http://www.kaitlins-photography.com

 

My buddy, Hugh, got married a couple weekends ago. I was in the wedding along with our other best friend, Grant. Hugh and Grant mean the world to me. So this week, I’m just going to retell stories of some of my favorite experiences with them, followed by something I learned from my trip out to San Diego.

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The Fall of 2004 was a rough one on the gridiron for Westfield High School. Our football team went 0-11, and honestly, we really only had a chance to win one of those games. Being a first year player, I got very little playing time (though I did get the last tackle of the season, so there’s that), so I blame the rest of the team. They sucked.

It was during that season that Hugh McShane made his first impression on me. We were on a long bus ride back to the school after a particularly tough game against McCutcheon. They were a crappy team just like us, and we actually led a good portion of the game. Alas, based on the record I mentioned above, you know how that game ended. It was our seventh loss of the season.

During the trip home, everyone sat quietly in their seats wearing forlorn and disinterested faces. Losing sucks, after all. But Hugh, on the other hand, was taking things a little harder than the rest of us. I don’t know if it was because we could have won the game. Or maybe it was because we should have beaten McCutcheon. Whatever it was, he finally snapped.

Wham! One jab to the seat back in front of him. Wham Wham! A combo. Then another. And another. Then it was just a bevy of fists flying wildly at the poor, undeserving seat back in front of him. It was loud enough to get everyone’s attention. We all looked over and there was Hugh, tears streaming down his face. Bitter, hot tears of frustration and disappointment. His face bright red and now glistening. Fists and teeth clenched tight. He was furious. He was terrifying.

It was that very second I knew we were going to be great friends.

We had to be. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to get on his bad side.

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Grant and I were hanging out one Saturday night just waiting for something to happen. As is usual in Indiana, we had to make our own trouble. A group of girls we knew were going out to dinner, and we decided we wanted to mess with them a little, so Grant and I cooked up a dastardly plan. Like all teenage boys, maturity and reason were two of our greatest strengths, so we planned to stalk one of the girls (jokingly), kidnap her in the middle of a busy restaurant parking lot at the busiest mall in Indiana while wearing ski masks (jokingly), drive 30 minutes away (jokingly), then call her friends and demand a ransom if they ever wanted to see her again (jokingly).

I wish I were making that all up. Unfortunately, we filmed it all. But I don’t know where the tape is.

This girl (a.k.a. the victim) wanted to get back at Grant and me. So she enlisted the help of her good friend, Hugh. I’ll try not to go into too much detail, but…they won.

Hugh’s youth pastor at his church was a sheriff. The pastor sheriff came to my house on a Sunday night in full police gear pretending to be on-duty, took me outside, then proceeded to tell me there had been a manhunt all night for someone who had kidnapped a young woman in a restaurant parking lot, a witness had gotten the license plate number off my mom’s van I had been driving, which led him to my house. I did not crap my pants, but it was the closest I’ve ever come to that sort of accident. I promptly explained the entire “mix up”, sold Grant out in less than 10 seconds, and pleaded with the sheriff to not arrest me. About the time I was starting to have a panic attack, all my friends came running out of the bushes laughing and hollering at me because I’d just been the victim of the greatest prank ever accomplished. Unfortunately, he filmed it all on his dashboard camera. But I don’t know where the tape is.

Oh, Grant got his fair share too. They set up a “meeting” for Grant with the vice-principal who told him he was being expelled after the police came to my house and I ratted him out. He was not going to be able to graduate, meaning he couldn’t go to college (at the time he was getting a couple scholarship offers to play football at smaller schools), and basically his whole life was ruined. Unfortunately, we didn’t film that one. But from what Mr. Scanlon told us afterward, Grant was a sniffling, sobbing mess, on bended knee begging for forgiveness, promising that he’d never attempt another prank ever again, and that he was a changed man. Or something like that.

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Hugh and Grant were in my wedding, which we celebrating right after I graduated college. After that, the three of us went our separate ways. I ended up in North Carolina, Grant stayed in Indiana, and Hugh bounced around between Texas and Virginia. Needless to say, I don’t get to see these guys very often.

A couple years ago, Grant got married. The three of us were united once again for a big weekend. The morning of the wedding, Hugh and I showed up at the venue – a gigantic barn specifically built for weddings and other fancy-type gatherings. Instantly, we could tell something was awry. There were nervous family members squawking at each other and tension was building.

Hugh quickly tracked down someone who knew what was going on and found out that the newly-constructed barn hadn’t been finished yet. Specifically, the deck off the back of the barn wasn’t even close to being ready, and the owners had promised it’d be ready in time for the wedding.

You’d have to see it to understand, but Hugh has this look that he gives from time to time that is unmistakable. It means, “You need to follow me right now without asking questions”. He pointed at me, gave the look, and we made our way out the back door to the deck. Hugh didn’t wait for excuses. He calmly asked who was in charge before subtly taking over. Sua Sponte at its finest. He grabbed a pencil and a drill, gave me and a few others some key directions, and we promptly finished the deck about an hour before the wedding. Hugh refused to let his brother be disappointed.

Up until two weekends ago, that was the last time I got to see those two at the same time.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018. 10:30PM. Allison and I were about to hop on a redeye headed to the East Coast. A few hours earlier we were celebrating Hugh’s wedding on Coronado Island in San Diego. I had the honor of being Hugh’s groomsman, standing right next to the best man, Grant (the best man part is debatable, if you ask me).  We boarded the plane and after take-off I tried to fall asleep. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about my time with my old friends. My brothers.

The wedding was amazing. The ceremony was beautiful, the bride was beautiful, and hell, so was the groom. Dude looked like a slightly less handsome Tom Hardy (that’s definitely a compliment, by the way). The weather was nearly perfect and all in all, it was a great celebration. Grant gave an absolutely killer best man speech, and the matron of honor nervously stumbled through her speech, but in a really sweet and genuine way. It was actually perfect. The whole day was perfect.

As sleep evaded me, it struck me that the three of us are so very different from who we were when we met in 2004. Yet, our relationships are unchanged. We’ve grown up. I’ve been married over eight years and have a wife and (almost) two kids. Grant got married three years ago and is starting to see his career finally take off. And Hugh, who is a captain in the Marine Corps, is a newlywed, married to a wonderful woman who he knew he was going to marry almost instantly.

I remember Hugh asking Grant and I before Grant’s wedding how we knew. How did we know we had found the right woman? How could we be sure? At the time, our friend seemed hopeless. We gave the typical responses that all men give – dude, you just know. There will come a time in the relationship when you realize that you can’t live without this woman, and then you gotta hurry up and get the ring before she dumps your sorry butt!

Well, Hugh listened. And he done good.

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Now that I’ve gotten all sentimental, here are a couple things I learned from my trip to California.

First, it occurs to me that none of us – not me, not Hugh, and not Grant – none of us shamed each other for “being a bad friend” and not keeping in touch (because we’ve done a terrible job of keeping in touch). But none of us cared. That’s important. We care enough about each other to not care about failing to call more often. Instead, we chose to focus our energy on getting caught up on each other’s lives and to have a great time together. If nothing else is true about our relationships, at least I know this – all three of us mean a lot to each other. And just like our time together before his wedding, we’ll pick up right where we left off.

I want to encourage you, dear reader, to reach out to somebody you’ve been meaning to call. I know it might feel icky at first. But don’t let guilt or shame stand in the way of a great friendship. It’s just not worth it. They’ll be glad you did.

One final thought – this trip was hard for me. I know I just talked about how awesome it was, and it was. But there was something else at play. Because my time with these guys is so limited, I felt compelled to soak up as much time as possible with them. On the other hand, this was only the second time my wife and I have had a chance to get away without Hendrik in tow. That sort of opportunity is incredibly rare, and I felt compelled to soak up as much time as possible with her. I was putting an absurd amount of pressure on myself, and I kept feeling like I was going to disappoint whoever I wasn’t with. That self-imposed guilt was enough to steal the joy from any situation I found myself in, even when I was supposed to be having fun.

Thankfully, Allison could tell something was up and called it out. She’s savvy like that and she knows my quirks. We had a good conversation about it and I was able to deal with it all. In the end, I was able to spend some really awesome time with my wife to reconnect without the restricted schedule that comes along with having a two year-old. And I was able to spend time catching up with my brothers, making new memories and laughing the entire time. I left California with a migraine because I laughed for four straight days.

It all worked out. But man, I learned that I need to be careful about this kind of thing in the future. I almost ruined a perfectly good vacation because I was too fearful that I was going to disappoint someone. Here’s one thing I’ve learned in my 8+ years of marriage that I hope my brothers picked up on that weekend: I hope I provided a good example of how to prioritize your marriage. Like I told Hugh, marriage is hard. It takes work, and it’s essential to pour time and energy into it. If you put in the work, you’ll reap the benefits. And the benefits are always worth it.

As much as I love those two goofballs, they’ve got nothing on my best friend.

 

One thought on “Fratres ad Vitam

  1. Dr. Z

    A few weeks ago, my two best friends and I spent a weekend hiking the woods in Virginia. With backpacks on, sweating, cursing our exhaustion, farting around in the woods. It was a blast from minute one to minute last. And yet the three of us hadn’t spent one second all together in probably 3 years. No awkward silences (plenty of panting wheezing ones though) as you just slide into fantastic times with those with whom you have a great relationship. You nailed that sense exactly.

    And you also nailed the recognition that your wife, my wife, is as deserving of that friendship and closeness not only as well but more so and daily. I would love to be able to see my two old best friends all the time, hanging out and shooting the breeze like we did when we were 23. I need to also make sure I show that same zeal at home, with my newest and closest best friend.

    Your story is a reminder to me of both. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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