I never met one of my best friends

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It all started with a wrong number…

It’s odd how I remember that, even after all this time. I’d missdialed one digit off my own home phone number trying to call home on an old rotary phone. Instead of hanging up on me, John, the guy on the other end of the line for some strange reason, asked my name and just kept talking to me as if I’d made his day just by calling at all. This was in the days before caller ID, and long before home internet was common, at least in the neck of the woods I was from. Unless I told him my last name, he had little chance of figuring out who I was. It was a lot more innocent a world than it is today. By the end of the phone call he made me promise to call back sometime and talk to him again. He also insisted that I was such a nice girl that he had to ask me to call his friend Billy. Once he told me a little about him, I couldn’t not call, at least to say hi like I’d promised John I would do.

I had no idea when I made that phone call that night, how much my world would be changed, by someone whose face I would never see. That first night when I called him I barely knew what to say, other than I knew John so and so, and he thought we should meet. One phone call turned into talking almost daily, about everything under the sun, and nothing. We loved the same kind of music, and a lot of the same shows. He was always happy to talk to me, he listened to me when I didn’t have a lot of of friends to turn to. It was only slowly over time that I became aware of why, the only time Billy backed away, was when I wanted to meet him in person. I didn’t know why until one night years later when he finally got the courage to explain.

Billy was born with spinabifida and other spinal birth defects that were complicated by his also having hemophilia. While in normal cases his condition would have been treatable enough with surgery to at least let him be mobile with a wheelchair, Billy could not have the surgery or he would have bled to death. He had been bedridden since early childhood due to complications of his condition. Just moving him wrong could cause internal bleeding if his family wasn’t careful. He told me the conditions that he lived with had stunted his growth and left his body deformed, even if his mind was completely unaffected. He’d spent most of his life in his bedroom, paralyzed and unable to feel anything from his chest down, with a radio, tv and a telephone as his only contact with the outside world. I was 16 or 17 when I began talking to him, and by then he was in his 30s.

Looking back I know he was afraid that if I saw him in person that I would stop being his friend, not that I could ever convince him otherwise. He used to laugh and tell me he looked like the hulk, and that he was all green and scaly. To this day I regret never going to see him, even though we lived a mere 3 miles apart in the very same town.

We stayed in touch for several years, even after I was old enough to be out on my own. His folks were both elderly by then but were still his sole caregivers. We lost touch after his father passed away from a heart attack suddenly, and Billy and his mom had to move in with his older sister in another town that was a toll call away. It almost felt as if a piece of my heart was ripped away when he went away, even if I only knew his voice on the other end of the telephone. I found out some time later that he’d passed away in his sleep only a short time after we lost touch.

I don’t know why I am thinking about him tonight after all this time, but I still miss him sometimes just as badly as I did the day he went away. There are still songs I can’t listen to without thinking of him, this one in particular. Billy always swore it was the best song ever written.

Hope you are thinking of me tonight my friend, I still miss you.

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