As a child, I spend a lot of my time alone, isolated from the rest of my family by the strict rules of my mother who believed in encapsulating in certain areas of her life. It was tough for me, especially when I started elementary school because I couldn’t bring any friends home which would have been great if someone had taught me how to make a friend. I did, in time, make one friend; his name was Henry, and he was my buddy.
In retrospect, I think Henry found me and took the effort to become my friends because he saw the loneliness. Today, thinking back on our friendship, I honestly think Henry was the first person I loved; not love in the physical sense, but the love of having someone care and caring in return. We met in the second grade, and during those years, we walked to school together, talked and collected glass containers for their deposit, but he never came to my house; he couldn’t because he was black and I was a strawberry-blonde white boy with freckles. But we were real friends. I lost track of him the summer of my fourth grade when my family moved from our apartment over our store on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a house in Bloomington, Minnesota where I had to walk to school alone; alone, scared and lonely.
It wasn’t too long after we moved that Henry and his family also moved. I don’t know where they relocated to, nor could I find out; I had lost Henry. Several years later, when I was working as an Emergency Room Orderly (we weren’t called ER techs back then) at Minneapolis General Hospital, a white lady came in with someone who was ill. She looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place where I knew her from. After her friend was taken into an exam room, she came over to me and said, “are you my honey boy?” There was only one person who ever called me “Honey Boy” and that was Henry’s mom because she said my hair looked like golden honey in the summer sun. I melted! I literally lost it. I put my arms around her and broke down, crying like a baby right in front of everyone. My charge nurse, Olive Lindbergh, took us into a private room and told me to take a break.
The first thing Henry’s mom said to me before I could even ask, was “He’s gone, baby. Henry is with God now.” I almost fainted. (I’m not ashamed to say, that as I write this now, I am crying.) When I calmed down, she told me told me that Henry had tried to contact me by leaving notes at our store, but I never got any of them. He had wanted me to know where they were moving to and how to get in touch, but I never got them. Then, the summer of his eighteenth birthday, while sitting on the front stoop of their house, Henry died peacefully. His heart, the biggest heart I’ve ever known in my life, gave out. Henry had been born with a heart defect, but he never told me because he didn’t want me to pity him, he wanted me to be his friend.
I stayed in touch with Henry’s mom and dad until they too left me to join Henry. That was when I really started to feel alone. I had no family support, nor good friends in my life. I had only me and a need to be with people. I went on in my life searching for a connection, a person who would be like Henry; kind, smart and always there for me; needless to say, I made a lot of tragic mistakes along the way. Now, I’m seventy-five years old and alone again, only this time it’s worse than ever before because I’m losing some of my survival abilities to cope with life in this day and age.
I am alone again, and this time it’s different. (continued in “Loneliness”)