One of My Oldest Best Friends Died

I grew up in Newtown Square, PA with Danny Moore and about 20 other kids. Our neighborhood was special in that it was cut off from most of the rest of the world due to the fact that about 20 of the homes were in a cul-de-sac or dead end. That meant no traffic came through. That meant that our neighborhood was our own little country.

As a kid, your world seems to be as big or small as you define it. For Danny, Jimmie, Chuckie, Timmy, Jimmie Mickey, Marc-y, Lisa, Patsy and the rest, our world was that neighborhood.

My oldest best friend died of cancer yesterday.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s means that our world was pretty small. No internet or news from around the globe to touch us every night like it seems to today. Our drama was more about the typical issues that confront a couple of 10–12 year olds like where are we going to build a fort today. Or what sport or we going to play. Or when are we going to play kick-the-can tonight and where.

Danny Moore always seemed to have other concerns. Danny always wanted to know “why” and while growing up, I seemed to be his go-to guy. “Chrissy, what’s stronger; a piece of steel or a baseball bat?” At this point we were probably laying on the grass along his driveway in his front yard. “Chrissy, is that truck bigger than Duel”, he would ask after that Steven Spielberg movie came out. “Chrissy, are we going to Vietnam?

Needless to say, I rarely had answers for these questions. I mean I was only 12 though Vietnam was only potentially six years away for us.

Danny’s curiousness was countered by his keen observations about people and by people I mean bogeymen. Danny saw a little danger around every corner and sometimes he was even right. From Freddie Hebel (a not so nice mysterious bully from some other world or neighborhood) to that random guy driving his car around the neighborhood, Danny was always watching. And questioning. And very careful about engaging. “Watch out for him, Chrissy!”

It was especially painful and otherworldly when Danny’s sister, Vicki, was diagnosed with this thing called Leukemia. Talk about a bogeyman. She passed away as a very young kid — I just remember her being really sick. My memory of her faded quickly to protect me.

My oldest best friend died of cancer yesterday.

Danny was two years behind me grade wise and a year behind in age. In the 9th grade, my family moved across town and naturally we drifted apart. Things seem to change so much at that age. We were in different schools; different grades and the opportunity to run into each other just never seemed to materialize anymore. And so we drifted.

I went to college after I graduated high school but it was not a great experience for me in that first year. You see, I was an insecure, relatively shy (at least with the girls) person who had yet to find out who I was. After that first year of college, I was in no-mans land; I had no friends from college — they were still there. I never really had too many high school friends and if I did — they were at college too. I was in between. What do you do when you are drifting and in between? I went back to the neighborhood. I reached out to Danny.

From the age of 18 until 21, Danny Moore and I hung out. At nights we would drive up to the Junior-High football field full of 8–12 year olds playing organized football. We would kick field goals at the far end of the field. I am not talking about every now and then; I am talking like every night. It’s so random by today’s standards that it makes me laugh just thinking about it. I mean really, what were those coaches and parents thinking of us?

In this weird, slightly over-dramatic way, I think Danny saved me that first year. I was completely lost. By the time Danny was out of high school, another family had moved in across the street from him (and behind my old house) and Danny had begun to connect with them and by association I connected with them as well. This crew of 18 year olds were not going the college route, which meant that everyone was working fulltime. I joined this club when I decided (or the college decided) that I was not returning.

One of my favorite memories is of a party held by one of our old neighborhood friends in his parents new house way outside of the neighborhood in another town. He invited Danny and me and our new friends. Now this was not quite sharks and jets but these were two different worlds coming together. Jimmy had all of his high school and college friends and Danny and I brought our blue-collar friends. For the longest time the two groups huddled separately, almost awkwardly. The two groups had nothing in common.

Danny and me were the only bridge between the two groups and being 18 were not sure how to connect these two clumps of testosterone who occasionally glanced over to the other group wondering, “why are you even here?”

At that time, the only commonality was that we were all drinking beer. Danny broke the logjam with one simple but hysterically funny move. It was pure Danny; it was not overt and big, it was subtle and sneaky. At one point early in the evening when you had the occasion to look over in the corner where Danny was standing, Danny had placed two bottle caps in each of his eye sockets without making anyone aware. He just stood there drinking his beer and waited. Slowly, each person in the party started to notice what he was doing and began to laugh. As more people laughed — more people noticed until everyone was laughing very hard. He never moved he just kept on drinking. Within minutes the two groups connected as they now had something in common; Danny Moore and his silly look.

My oldest best friend died of cancer yesterday.

I ended up going back to college and next saw Danny at his wedding a few years later. From that point until last year, I never saw him. Thirty years of life in between us. I heard he had a few kids and that he had built a successful plumbing business. I had moved a number of times to South Carolina for graduate school to Washington, DC to Lancaster, PA, to Chicago, IL and then Chapel Hill, NC. We clearly had two completely different lives.

Until I got word a year and a half ago. My oldest best friend has cancer.

I reached out to his sister via Facebook and shared my overwhelming sadness. I wrote a check to his campaign (what the hell is a sole proprietor to do when faced with these kind of medical bills and financial challenges?) that made me feel good for a moment. But the moment passed. I had to see him.

Reconnecting with an old friend you have not seen in 30 years can either be really easy or really hard. Add in the fact that there is an obvious, painful, awkward, proverbial elephant in the room (his cancer) and you have all the markings of a turn in the opposite direction and run as fast as you can opportunity. Then I remembered something Danny said to me once when we saw this obviously healthy 40-year-old guy park in a handicapped spot at the Granite Run Mall when we were 19 or so. “Chrissy, what are we going to do about that?” “Hey mister”, I called out as he walked in front of us. “What the hell do you think you are doing? You don’t look handicapped to us!”

Danny turned to me and said, “Chrissy, why do you always do the right thing?” I responded that it was easier when you have someone with you. And it was the right thing to do.

My oldest best friend died of cancer yesterday.

I had the chance to see Danny twice this year. He was doing good the first time and not so good a month ago. I met his kids — all terrifically good-looking, perfectly mannered, and engaging adults. I was so impressed. I also got to see his wife Robin (whom I had only met at the wedding) and viewed the love and compassion she had for him. (Robin, I was so blown away by the ease with which you listened to him and supported him with the small corrections to his fading memory.)

Each time I saw him we did nothing but tell stories. You see Danny has always been a storyteller and his crisp memory of the smallest of details was really fun to hear. The look of bemusement must have made him smile even more and he went deeper and farther into stories I had long forgotten. As we get older it seems that we need those stories and those details to give us the proper perspective about what is important and what is not so important.

My oldest best friend died of cancer and I will miss him.

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