Why you should care

Because love makes the world go round.

Mike Krumboltz is an Oakland-based journalist and author currently working on his first novel. He likes Wendy’s Frostys and would bathe in them if it were socially acceptable.

I loved him, usually for the right reasons.

We were both in high school and riding BART into San Francisco. Standing a few feet away from us was a woman, in a business suit, clearly on her way to work. I remember she had dark hair. She smiled at us. I looked at my shoes, and then I looked back. She was still smiling.

I’d heard about this sort of thing in adult magazines. Women — experienced women — seeking companionship. And now — holy shit — it was happening. I nudged my friend Nathan, who was visiting from Wisconsin. She weaved her way toward us and my lungs inflated to maximum capacity.

“Hello,” she said. And I realized she wasn’t talking to me. “Do you live here, in the Bay Area?”

Nathan explained he was from out of town. “Too bad. I represent models,” she explained and handed him her card. “In case you ever move here.” And then she vanished. I didn’t speak to him the rest of the day.

I remember he smashed my Hot Wheels, shouted, “Demolition derby!” and left. I liked him immediately.

That sort of thing was always happening to Nathan. I was a year older, but he did everything first. He knew how to talk to girls, how to play sports (well), how to get good grades without trying. He could do all of that and I still liked him. I think because he liked everybody. He was the guy I could point to on my darkest days and say, Hey, I’m not completely hopeless — I’m buddies with this guy. This tall, smart, athletic, Harrison Ford look-a-like, who gets approached by strange women on subways offering him modeling contracts, sees something, in me. He died a few months ago. He was 37.

When I first met him, he was six years old and a little chunky. His family had just moved next door to us in Ohio. My grandmother saw him wandering around his yard and brought him over to my house to play with me, her quiet grandson. I remember this kid bounding down the basement stairs like a runaway bowling ball. He smashed my Hot Wheels, shouted, “Demolition derby!” and left. I liked him immediately.

Several years later, his family moved to Wisconsin. My family moved to California. But we kept in touch, two tweenage boys swapping letters and phone calls. One summer during high school I flew out to visit him. He’d grown several inches, thinned out. He was a specimen. I was amazed, jealous and scared. What could I offer him? I wasn’t athletic. I panicked at even the idea of talking to a girl. I was a too-skinny, too-pale kid with thick eyebrows, acne and no discernable talents. I wasn’t even particularly good at Sonic the Hedgehog.

He was The One. The first girl I kissed or my high school crush didn’t even come close.

It didn’t matter. He saw something in me and I’m grateful for that. It changed my life. Who your friends are matters. You give yourself to them, but you also take. And I took a lot from Nathan. We stayed close, despite settling on opposite coasts. Years passed. College. Girlfriends. (Yeah, I finally got one.) Jobs. He was different. But he was also the same 6-year-old boy that had lived next door.

About a week before he died, I went to visit him in the hospital. He could barely move, couldn’t keep anything down. He’d just made the decision to stop all treatment. The cancer was everywhere. It was ridiculous. My wife left the room. I was nervous and I’d practiced what I wanted to say. I’d planned to rattle off memories … of camping in his basement as kids … of driving across Canada during college. But there, by his bedside, it rang false.

I paused. And then I told him something true. “I’ll never get over you.”

Everybody experiences loss. And everybody experiences it differently. Some people have grand realizations. I didn’t. I just know I miss him. He was the first person outside of my family that I cared for and worried about. We were straight, never anything other than best friends, but he was The One. The first girl I kissed or my high school crush didn’t even come close. It was this guy who made me feel lucky whenever I was near him. Walking into high school parties with him at my side, he offered a kind of emotional protection, a boost better than any drug. It was love. Maybe a little selfish, but so what? It was love.

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