" '83 rules! We're the last of the wild ones, baby!"
~ Jeff Jones, usually the first in our crowd to shout out, enthusiastically, our class motto. He'd yell it during sporting events, as we cruised by White's Funeral Home or after drinking too many beers at Salmon's Run.
I first met Jeff Jones the summer before 8th grade. A new junior high system was put in place that year, and hundreds of kids from various rural elementary schools were fed into the new, centralized, Summersville Junior High. Lots of us were trying out for the new school's football team that summer. We waited on the bleachers that early August morning, preparing for two-a-days to start.
We were scared, but pretended not to be.
Mustering up some courage, I started talking to a group of kids nearby. Jeff was in that crowd. He was socially outgoing, and had a quiet confidence that helped him stand out from the others. Jeff seemed to know who he was, even at that young age. He was a leader, and we all knew it.
From that day forward, through our senior graduation.
Jeff and I lost track of each other after graduation. We both moved away from our hometown, and I was too self-involved at the time to think about keeping up with old friends. Years later, when I tried to track Jeff down, his trail was too cold. There were rumors he moved to the Tennessee or Arkansas areas, but the few friends I kept in touch with didn't know much more than that. Last night--while, finally, reconnecting with mutual friends--I discovered Jeff died last summer from some rare disease.
I let another relationship end, because I had other things to do.
It may be that I'm reacting to this death because I'm growing older and facing the fact that death is inevitable, closer than at any other time in my life. But I don't think that's the cause of my angst. (I've lots of angst to keep track of, and I'm pretty good at recognizing the sources.) Very simply, I'm sorry I missed out on a relationship that I valued at one time, and one I should have worked harder to maintain.
Jeff and I weren't best friends, and there were even brief times we didn't like each other very much. That's the nature of teen friendships, I suppose. But we spent thousands of hours together over the years, and had a healthy appreciation and respect for each other. He was a pretty good example of our class motto: "The last of the wild ones!"
I miss him.