I mourn the loss of childhood friend, Paul Taylor.
Paul was only a few months older than I, and he lived just over my backyard fence when I was in junior high and high school. He was the proverbial archetype of the “tough guy with a heart made of gold.” Even at 14, he shaved, and smoked, and drank and rode a motorcycle.
We became friends when David, my best friend even today, moved away to Houston. We would spend afternoons in his smoke-filled house, listening to records and playing our own music. Often we’d drive around the neighborhood in his old Fold Fairlane looking for something to do, and nearly without exception he drive in arcs across the local park’s parking lot so fast it’d nearly tip the car over, on my side!
During those years, I progressed from smoking Swisher Sweets to nearly 2 packs of Marlboro a day when he realized the reason I’d taken up smoking was to emulate him. Suddenly, one day when he and I walked around our neighborhood he suddenly stopped, grabbed the pack of cigarettes from my shirt pocket, tore them in half, stood inches away from my face and swore to me that if he found me smoking again, he’d beat the snot out of me. And no, he didn’t use the word ‘snot’, I did.
In the decades since, I’ve lit up a cigarette only twice.
At school, he and I spent a great deal of time and thought concerning the young women in our classes. In high school, he began dating Pam, a girl who’d run afoul of my girlfriend at the time. They married, and started their family right away. Paul dropped out of school to support them. Some time later, because of our mutual love for Paul, Pam and I settled our differences, which it turned out wasn’t that hard because neither of us could remember the root cause in the first place.
When I returned home after serving in the Gulf War in 1991, I visited with Paul and his family, giving t-shirts and trinkets to his children, Rachel and James. They were very young and small then… both of them are fully-grown now.
Paul and I met a few years ago at Murrell’s for a cup of coffee and conversation. I found out that the pinging sound on my home’s rotating exhaust fans that had driven my Dad crazy had been caused by Paul sitting on his back porch, pellet rifle in hand, shooting away and trying not to give away his position with laughter. I also found out that his marriage to Pam seemed to be ending. Shortly, his prediction came true.
Some time later, I received an announcement in the mail that Paul was marrying again, to a woman named Roxanna, and subsequent phone conversations proved to me that he was very, very happy.
I’ve been intending to call and visit, but as with many relationships, if you don’t make the time, the time slips away from you. Tuesday morning, Pam called me, got my answering machine, and because she wasn’t sure of my voice, ended the call. She called again later and told me the news: Paul had laid down along side his van at work and passed away. The speculation was that it was a heart attack.
I’m thankful that Paul didn’t suffer long. I’m thankful he was a friend when I needed one. I’m thankful he stopped me from becoming addicted to cigarettes. I’m thankful he taught me how to play the drums. More that those things, I’m thankful for all the times he made me laugh. He was a good man, and a good friend, and he will be sorely missed.