When I was a kid, attending Elms Elementary in Flushing, Michigan, my best buddy at school was named Craig Combs. To my recollection we were the Laurel & Hardy of the first grade—I was the fattest kid in the class, he was the smallest. I vividly recall being weighed in front of everyone on the day we received a scale to work with, then being branded the "sixty-five-pounder" by Craig. But that was okay, because I felt a kinship with Craig—he could say anything.
I remember him at my birthday parties (in one of his missives to me, he complimented my mom on the "delicious" cake), and other classmates recall his rapier wit, such as the time in third grade when the kids were asked what they knew about Hamlet, to which Craig replied, "It's a an omelet made with ham!" A natural ham joking about a ham. He was destined to be an entertainer or artist of some sort.
I always felt Craig was like me, even if I didn't know what that meant. And outside. So when I moved away—I received a handful of letters from him, in which he very helpfully informed me that a first-grade teacher from our old school had died of a heart-attack—I always wondered about him. Over 30 years and several Google searches later, Craig popped up on the grid. He had gone through a health crisis, testing positive for HIV in his thirties, and had entered the poetry scene, publishing his first book, Taking Tea in the Black Rose: Singing Through the Shadows Until We're Dancing in the Light.
When I reached out to him, he didn't remember me. (I don't blame him! It was forever ago, and I'm sure I've forgotten better people than myself.) He asked his mom to jog his memory about "Matt R" (we also had a "Lisa J" in our clique; she does not fare well in one of Craig's kid-era letters to me).
We've had a friendly correspondence since then, even though I suspect our personalities couldn't be more opposite—which is a cool thing. Readers of my blog will know me as a non-spiritual person (this is not exactly a selling point), a lover of words and yet the opposite of a poet, and the last person to embrace almost any conspiracy theory (the ultimate of which says that everything in the world is connected, the penultimate of which says everything happens for a reason—maybe we are and maybe they do).
Still, it's a kick to be able to connect with a person who represents a fragment of my past, and to see how he grew and changed after we moved apart.
I e-interviewed my old pal, whom I finally found but who's still about as far away from me as it felt like he was when I moved after the third grade...