How decades can vanish in an instant…
Last April, Jeff and I went to Destin, Florida for a vacation. We used to live and work in the area and every time we go back for a vacation, we drive through that same little town on our way to the beach. And every time we do, I always remember the people we worked with and wonder whatever happened to them. Last year I finally did some research and found out about my favorite one.
Martin was my first ever “work husband”, at my first radio job, so early in my career that I didn’t even have terminology for what that relationship was! He worked the same midday air shift time as I did, in the FM studio while I was on the air in the AM side next door. I couldn’t begin to count the times he put his side on “auto-pilot” for 10 or 15 minutes and came to stand in my doorway to talk and laugh with me. He left the station, and radio, in 1989, about a year before the company was sold and everyone else was laid off, resulting in Jeff’s and my return to Knoxville. We lost touch with many of our connections from there, including Martin. But I often thought of him and wondered how his life had worked out.
Flash forward to last year’s vacation when I searched his name on Facebook and found several entries, including a face with a smile that was warm and familiar. I sent a message and introduced (or re-introduced!) myself, apologizing if he was not the Martin I remembered and saying to have a nice day, and if he WAS the Martin I remembered, I hoped he would get in touch. It was, and he did, and we became Facebook friends and began a correspondence.
Over the ensuing months Jeff and Martin also connected on Facebook…but the more substantial communications were between Martin and me. (I was always a letter-writer…now I am also a message-sender!) We all decided that a trip to Asheville to visit Martin was in order, and I couldn’t help thinking it was a little ironic that we had all met 500 miles away in Florida only to end up living a couple of short hours apart. Other things developed over the ensuing months as well, resulting in much more frequent messages between me and Martin…changes in his health and home life, a hospital stay, drama, frustration and sadness as he is in a transitional life stage now. I’ve been humbled and amazed at his transparency and his remarkable sense of humor in the midst of all he is enduring of late…the same humor which endeared him to me almost 30 years ago when I first met him. He often makes me “snaughle”—my term for the snort-laugh. We have become family…which I warned him might happen, saying, “We’re bonding and God help you, because my friendship is relentless.” He has assured me that he is OK with it.
For a brief moment I was nervous about us seeing him again in person, thinking we might end up with nothing to say to each other and the whole situation could become weird and awkward, especially since we had planned for him to spend the night with us. The exact opposite scenario played out, as we stayed up very late with rarely even a moment of silence amidst all the catching up, storytelling and abundant laughter. Jeff finally put himself to bed and Martin and I stayed up for maybe another hour winding down and feeling grateful…and decades vanished in an instant.
The next day came, and with it, Martin’s time to leave. Jeff and I both hugged him goodbye, thanking him for coming to visit with us and for all the laughs we shared.
Walking out onto the gravel driveway in my stocking feet and watching him pull his car away, I felt happy and sad and a little weepy all at once. The end of a sweet visit often evokes such emotions in me, and this one, which had been so many years in the making, seemed especially poignant. The rest of our afternoon was spent poking around in a bucket-list bookstore I had wanted to visit, getting supper and stopping by a fancy chocolate shop for treats, enjoying Jeff and his company. The whole trip was a much-needed respite from the stressful realities all of us deal with on a daily basis.
The following day it was time for us to head back home, and back to reality. Messaging with Martin, I admitted that I cried when he left. He was understanding and sympathetic, as he always is. And as always, a joke happened.