I first met Ralph when my family moved into a Victorian on the same street in which he lived. I was in the fifth grade, so was he, and that was just about all we had in common. It took us a long time to get along, it happened slowly. I started to go to his house to read comic books and drink iced tea his mother would make us. To me, it was a pretty good set-up. The summer would be long, and although I found him odd, peculiar, he did have a way of making me laugh at myself.
It wasn’t long before I met my best friend Patrice who got along with Ralph just fine, and before long we were a thing, the three of us. We went everywhere together. Over time, there was no doubt in either of our minds that Ralph was the funniest kid in the world. We did stupid things, roughed around, got hurt, blamed eacher, fought, declared war till the end of time, but we always ended up back together. It was just that way with the three of us, we truly liked each other and all of us knew that the three of us together could somhow use our imaginations to conjure up the most hilarious scenerios.
It didn’t matter as we got older and Patrice and I started to develop into young ladies, wearing make-up and heels, Ralph was one of us. We loved him although at the age of 15 those words are kind of hard to express. Ralph’s mother was a raging alcoholic, something he tried to hide from us for years, despite our hearing the screaming and yelling coming from inside the house as we sat outside. And I have to give credit to the both of us for never saying a word in front of him. We allowed him the privacy he needed, and he did need that desperately. Sometimes I think back to a lazy summer day when Ralph turned and looked at me. He stared at me for awhile and finally blurted out, “Did you ever feel insecure”? A golden moment, Ralph wasn’t playing the fool as he always did, he was serious. The truth was I didn’t know what it meant, but to try to help him I said that I did. He questioned me at that point until I buckled with ignorance and he told me I would never understand what he meant. To this very day, I wish I could go back and change that day, that moment and tell him what was the truth, which was I was insecure, I just didn’t know it. Geez, my parents had 12 kids, the water was always getting shut off, there was always a crisis going on in my house. I lived in fear every day, but I just didn’t make the connection.
I don’t recall a time in my life that I spent with two friends and laughed so hard, they were my escape. Patrice had her problems as well with an alcoholic father who never showed up for work leaving us to have to drive around with her mother on Friday nights casing every bar in town to track him down before he spent the week’s wage. I suppose life was hard for us although we just accepted it as it was, we didn’t know any different Patrice and I. But Ralph did, he knew he lived in Bedlem, he was astute and had a tremendous amount of self-awareness. Despite the meticulous home he lived in, and despite the gifts which were given to him freely, Ralph was the saddest kid in the world.
For what he carried inside as sadness, he made up with inside his peer group. He was hilarious and witty, his laugh was so contagious, it didn’t matter how mad you were at him with his antics, there was no sense being mad because he was Ralph. And Ralph was special, he had a gift inside of him that i never seen before nor have I seen it since. He also hung out with all girls, which at that point we didn’t see the light of day, but the guys did. We defended him in private moments that Ralph was not gay, he was just more comfortable with girls. The guys knew we would never stop defending him and in turn, could make their lives miserable. Ralph was safe with us.
In the Summer of 1995, Ralph announced he was moving, and I will never forget our shock. We were stunned, and immediately set out to devise a plan where he could stay with us. Immature ideas were expressed, and all the while he remained quiet, not like Ralph. Finally, he said, “I want to go”.
There was nothing left to say, he went through the motions saying he needed a change, and that he hated the town we lived in and how he would live by the ocean and we sat there numb. It was never a thought that Ralph would not be a part of our group, we went to parties together, we got in crazy trouble together, he was Ralph and he was leaving.
The night before he left, we threw him a big beer party and everyone was pretty much fried. There were alot of tears, mostly drunken ones, and declarations of how we would take the bus down to the Jersey Shore every weekend to see him. We ended the night, and I was one of the last to leave. I stood with him for awhile and told him it was best I get home. It was the first time he truly expressed his true emotions to me in all of the years I knew him. He said, Hey, you know that I love you. I chuckled, and put my head down, it wasn’t like Ralph to say something like that, it wasn’t how our relationship was. Finally I said, hey, Thanks, I love you more. And I left.
The next day I watched from my porch as they loaded the trucks, we had said our goodbyes, it wouldn’t make sense to have to go through it again, but inside I hurt all over. Patrice felt the same sensation, we were truly and deeply sad to lose Ralph, all those years of fun and laughter, the fights, the games and pranks and for me, it was a deep loss. We watched the truck drive away after dark. We spoken not a word of it, and it’s funny that I can still remember the color of the truck that loaded up their belongings. I can remember it was a clear, crisp day, and I can remember not moving from that porch.
Of course we started Sophmore year without Ralph, life went on, we made new friends at a new school, but that blue house was always referred to as Ralph’s house despite the fact that there was a popular family who lived there at that time. There was a point and time we kept in touch, and then all of us just dropped from Ralph’s radar. I always felt a singe of guilt that I didn’t make more weekly phone calls, but I’m over that now, we were living our lives and so was Ralph.
Patrice and I remained best friends, even till this day, and one day we took a trip to Englishtown to go to a flea market. A young man walked up to us, he looked completely different, he was trim and very well groomed. It was Ralph, and he had a friend with him, although I don’t remember his name. He told all five of us sitting at that table without any fear that he was gay and introduced the man as his boyfriend. Patrice and I smirked, it was childish, and Ralph caught on, we had a good laugh. We spent the afternoon just talking about the missing time, and he told us about all the neat people he knew and met in his career, we were thrilled for him. Ralph was a success, and there was no reason now that everything was settled and he was out of the closet we couldn’t hang out again. It was close to midnight as we exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.
Although we were happy, deep down inside we knew things had changed and could never be the same. And no matter how much we wanted to have a night with Ralph out on the town, he just wasn’t the same funny ralph, time had sobered him, his comic routine was dulled, and dryed and well, what can i say, it wasn’t the Ralph I knew.
When I was leaving, i grabbed my jacket, and he pulled it and said hey, you know I love you right? My friend, my loyal Ralph, all grown up, now a man, and it brought tears to my eyes. I managed to look at him although tears were streaming down my face, and I composed myself, and said, hey, I love you more.
And that was it, there was an attempt to get together which didn’t work out, and every time we called the house, his father would tell us he was sick. Another attempt to call and make plans resulted in a bad way, his father could not talk and he told us to call his daughter. We called her and asked her what was wrong with Ralph in which she sighed and started to weep. Ralph was gone, we lost him, we didn’t even think of the fact that Ralph would have aid. It was the most sobering moment in my life and it took the wind from me. Ralph, our loyal friend was gone forever.
Patrice cried the whole way home, I couldn’t, I just stared out the window of the car, shocked, sad, confused, and I couldn’t help but be resentful he didn’t tell me. As if all our years of friendship meant nothing to him, i mean how private do you gotta be, he could of told me, he knew I could never hurt him.
In the end, he decided against telling a soul except his sister, who carried the burden alone. We never even got to bury him, or say goodbye.
Years have passed and believe it or don’t, I still think of Ralph often. I wonder about him all the time, sure I have had other friends who passed, but Ralph was like a delicacy. He was just that much fun and full of life, and I miss him. He was the kind of friend I would of wanted all the days of my life, he fit.
It’s funny sometimes I wonder how we can love completely without complete understanding. But I can’t go back and change the past nor can I blame myself for the ignorance of my youth. All I can say is Hey, I love you more.