Halfway through the run of UNZIPPED and today I missed my friend Roger Kachel. Roger was my best friend in high school. He was a dancer and one hell of a nice man. He fulfilled his dreams. He danced on Broadway. He triumphed when he danced the role of Mungojerrie in Cats. His obit ran in Playbill magazine.
While in college I acted in a production of The Bald Soprano at The O’Shaughnessy at St Kates. Roger flew in to see it. I felt stunned. What a kind act. But that’s the way he was – a gentle and kind man.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to share this new experience with him?
I wrote about him. I include it here:
Whenever I travel, I calculate how far I am from home and I approximate how long it will take me to get back again. I’ve done that most of my life. I enjoy traveling. I do. I like meeting new people. I like seeing new things. But I’m quite fond of my familiars.
My friends and I play a game while we’re out and about. We compete to see which of us recognizes the most people. I find I play that game even while I travel alone. I look for familiar faces at fairs. I scan for a semblable soul at the sites. I canvass the crowds in the cities. I’m ardent in the airports. And eventually I encounter friends.
Last week I traveled to Chicago. Now you’re probably thinking I’m going to write about some encounter I had with a classmate or a neighbor. But I’m not. I had to catch my flight at Midway Airport so I arrived a couple of hours early and found the security precautions didn’t consume a lot of time.
So I walked around the concourse to forge for food. As I turned down the “A” corridor I looked the length of the hall. I saw the pastel painted rocking chairs and I thought how terrific they’d be for toddler tranquility. I spied the businessmen with their laptops and the airport staff in their uniforms. I contemplated a new briefcase and I noticed my shoes needed a polish. I’m terrified to fly. I hate it. So I spent my time with scattered staccatoed streams of thoughts. I prayed. I cringed. I swore. I trembled. I fortified. I vowed. To distract myself from my impending horror, I started to play the game. And then my heart broke.
My best buddy from high school died last year. We hadn’t kept up over the years. Parts of his personality conflicted with parts of mine and geography made it easier to part ways.
Years later I stumbled over his email address. I started to write but couldn’t think how to begin. I closed the screen. Yet I read his obituary and sat stunned. We’re young. I wasn’t anticipating it. And honest to Christ, although I hadn’t considered him in years, I was emotionally unprepared for his death.
I don’t know why I thought of him in Chicago. I looked down the hall as far as I could see and I realized I wouldn’t see him. The horizon held a completely different perspective. I realized at that moment that it didn’t matter which corridor I traveled or which hall I traversed because he wouldn’t be there. I thought of people I might possibly see. And I thought of the people it was impossible to see.
We were best friends. There was a time in my life when I considered him hourly. There was a time I considered him daily. And there came a time I didn’t consider him at all. We split our first bottle of vodka together. I hung my head out the passenger door of his 1978 two-toned tan Dodge Duster at the Vali-Hi Drive-In. He hung his head out the passenger door of my 1970 two-toned blue and white AMC Hornet. I smoked my first cigarette from his pack. He was the last man to punch me. And I deserved it. He was so right that I didn’t even retaliate; I just apologized.
My God do you remember when we were young enough to tell our best buddy everything? It was the last time we were allowed to speak of insecurities and intimidations aloud. We talked school. We talked women. We talked ambitions. We talked interests. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. We spent hours on album covers and minutes on things that should have mattered. But it all mattered. It was just in the proportion of youth.
The last time I saw him (in 1982) we met at an all-night diner in Minneapolis. We sat for hours and talked. We both sat with our backs against the wall, our feet up on the seats, and our cigarettes dangling from our mouths. I think he smoked two packs. I know I did. I knew we wouldn’t be friends anymore. He knew it too. We walked away. And then I drove home. And we weren’t friends anymore. But I still have years and memories of great moments that somehow include him.
Isn’t it astounding that memories are nearly as memorable as the moments we now make? And as I traveled the moving walkway at Midway, I thought how amazed I was that someone who mattered so very much to me for so long, so soon didn’t matter to me at all. And I was saddened by his death, but I was devastated that I didn’t care more.
It seems apropos that the airport corridor is lined with the rocking chairs. You hold the ones you love so closely while they’re little. You rock and you sing and you soothe. And you sit and you remember and you try to hold on to their memories when you’ve aged. The rhythm of the rock is like the tick of time. Time passes. We pass our pasts. I won’t see my friend in any corridor anymore. But I’ll see him when I remember.
My mother believes the earth should pause for a moment each time someone dies. She taught me to see the majesty of God and His idiosyncratic creations. She taught me of the splendor of the encounters of humanity.
I know I’m supposed to end this essay with some comment about how I’ll see my friend “on the other side” or some bullshit about how “we know he’s happier now.” I can’t judge where he is now. And I can’t know how he feels now. But I know how I feel. I’m sorry that I didn’t keep in contact with him and I’m sorry that I’ll never see him in the halls. I liked him. He mattered to me.
Rest in Peace Mr. Kachel.