Twenty-one years ago this month, in 1992, I hopped into the car of a friend to go to a university club Christmas party. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t drink at all and these parties usually became a raucous celebration of the end of classes culminating in unpredictable levels of inebriation and that just wasn’t me. To boot, a guy I had recently been dating was likely to be there and I really wasn’t in the mood to see him again at that point. I had planned a relaxing evening with a good book and a nice walk in the woods the next day.
So when my buddy Blair called and said he was on his way over to pick me up and would be dragging me there come Hell or high water, I gritted my teeth and convinced myself that his friendship was worth it. The car pulled up, I hopped into the front seat and quickly realised that there was someone in the back. Someone who talked constantly about hiking the entire way to CBS.
And oh my heavens did he talk. He talked. And then talked some more. It’s a really long way to CBS from the east end of St. John’s.
When finally we arrived and went into the house, the party was just getting going. I pulled my usual tactic of finding a good spot to people watch and the guy from the back seat followed me. It turns out his name was John and he had absolutely nothing to do with the club whatsoever. Blair was practising his hobby of matchmaker again and John, whom he knew from karate, was his latest target.
At some point in the evening, the fellow I didn’t particularly want to see arrived and I managed to interrupt John’s accounts of camping excursions to get a word in edgewise, “Quick, pretend you’re my date.”
Without missing a beat, John replied, “Okay, what would you like to drink?” and got me a glass of water.
Two days later we went on our first date (cross-country skiing) and John still has the scar (true – he fell and put his hand through ice, slashing his wrist).
It didn’t last, though. I was a prize fool as a young woman and we broke up after a couple of weeks. We both saw other people. Oddly enough, we stayed friends. I say oddly, but John really deserves the credit for that one. He just wouldn’t go away. And I was too blind to see what this meant and too naive to recognize how rare it was.
One year later, twenty years ago, I was in the middle of a twisted and horrible relationship with a man for whom I was manifestly ill-suited, a relationship that I kept trying to end, but the damned thing just wouldn’t lie down and die. It was December 2nd, three weeks before Christmas. Exams were about to start. I was a wreck. One night John said, “Come on, let’s go for coffee. He won’t find you if we go for coffee. Let’s go.”
So we went for coffee. We talked and talked until the wee hours of the night. We drove all over town. We drank still more coffee and somehow ended out at Cape Spear, perched on the side of the cliff with a fox seated nearby, watching the biggest sunrise I have ever seen blaze its way over the horizon. We sat huddled there at the edge of the world and the morning felt magical. I realized that I was more alive with John than I had ever been with anyone else and that when what I needed more than anything was a best friend, he was still there.
Three months later, free of the train-wreck of the previous relationship, we started going out again. Today is the twentieth anniversary of “The Night John Didn’t Come Home” (as family legend terms that night of discovery) and the twenty-first-ish anniversary of our first date. Twenty (and one) years of friendship, fun, discoveries, battles, joy, pain, delight, and love and he’s still the most interesting, decent, funny, kind and strong person I’ve ever met.
Come home tonight.