M. was probably my closest boyhood friend. Living just one city block away with his grandparents, an arrangement I never fully understood other than the whispered “his mother didn’t want him”, M. also had an older brother I did not know. Later in my teens I was talking with some adults in the community who were in high school with M.’s brother. I learned he was picked on frequently by other kids. M.’s brother committed suicide by hanging himself at his grandparents house, something no one had ever talked about as we were growing up together.
M. was a year younger than me and we shared many interests. We seemed to constantly play Army or one-on-one football (We managed this feat somehow playing all positions on offense/defense and even had slow motion instant replay) We imagined ourselves as secret agent candidates with high-tech spy gadgetry when the James Bond/Secret Agent Man/Man From U.N.C.L.E. crazes hit. It was in M.’s upstairs loft bed/playroom with his own TV set where we watched news coverage as man trekked toward the Moon thinking one day it would be us up there. Backyard campouts, riding our bicycles or just hanging out we enjoyed being friends together.
Birthdays were a time of envy on my part and I remember one year in particular attending M.’s backyard party. As he opened several presents containing various articles of “Hang Ten” clothing my jealousy grew. (I managed to make it thru my teens without owning even a single coveted Hang Ten item. We did take image and fashion seriously even as kids) His parties were always better attended than most and I credit his grandparents with looking out for him, making sure he had a happy upbringing. His world began to unravel when his grandmother died unexpectedly from a heart attack. That night my parents brought M. home to stay with us. I remember him crawling into my bed and asking if I knew what had happened and telling me the doctor had given him a sedative.
As we entered junior high we began to grow apart. One reason was music. Starting in the mid-late ’60s Top-40 pop/rock was the center of my life but M. just didn’t seem to care. He began to be the target for juvenile abuse from his peers including myself. In hindsight I know it wasn’t very serious on our part but still one wonders what harm it caused. (similar to what his brother endured?) School integration having just occurred, M. began hanging out more with the blacks or just by himself than with those of us who had known him for years. We saw his choice as just another reason to be picked on. His grandmother had always been the disciplinarian and with her gone his grandfather wasn’t up to the task of keeping track of a overactive teen. When his grandfather died I totally lost track of M. Around 1970 or so during a visit with the former pastor where earlier both M.’s and my family attended church I learned M. had been arrested for throwing a brick thru the window of some clothing store in Jacksonville.
35+ years later and I still have the urge to find him.