I just got a note from my mother letting me know that my best friend from high school, Jerry Yates, has passed away.
Without question, Jerry was the most influential childhood friend I ever had. Had I not met him, I have no doubt that I would be a very different person today. I had other great friends then, like Michael and Allan, but Jerry was different because he challenged me to do what I thought I could not do. Before I met him, I was a whiny handicapped pussy, but he refused to accept any excuse for not doing what he thought I was perfectly capable of doing. I was never excluded from anything when he was around.
Most of our friendship was spent outdoors. He introduced me to model rocketry and hiking; and he re-introduced me to camping. In fact, I hiked past our favorite camping spot a several times a month until just before I moved to Arizona ten years ago.
On one of our day hikes we came to the river and I didn't want to cross it because I didn't want to slip or get my feet wet. Jerry gently picked me up and walked me across the river... half way. He then gently put me feet first into the rushing water and said "There, now you don't have to worry about getting wet." Some tried to tell me it was mean, but no, it was a pivotal moment in my life. He made me conquer my fears. On a trip where I got food poisoning and could not walk, he carried me slung over his shoulders for 3 miles and right up to his front door.
After I had spinal surgery and was in a body cast for 9 months I had to rebuild my endurance. For the first few weeks I couldn't walk to the corner without being tired and in pain. After a month or so I was able to walk all the way out to his house, which was about a mile from mine. As soon as I could do that we started hiking and camping again, while still in my body cast. He actually got me to climb to the top of Licorice Rock in the middle of the night. I did it because he thought I could. I did it again later because I knew I could. After that, still in my body cast, I did 20 miles in the walk-a-thon.
Jerry got in trouble with the law quite a few times and I can honestly say that I don't know too many people who smoked as much weed as he did, but throughout our entire friendship he never even once tried to get me to do any kind of drug. Our friendship never hinged upon me emulating his faults.
The first and only time I have ever been arrested in my life was with Jerry. We were both 17 and we were camping where we weren't supposed to be and had a pretty good sized illegal campfire going when fires were banned. Stupid yes, but we were kids and kids do stupid things. I found the original court citation a couple weeks ago.
The very last time I saw him was sitting on his front porch one late summer evening maybe 5 years ago. We saw each other and he waved me over me over and we sat and talked about old times and old friends. We laughed because both of us looked exactly like we thought we would when we talked about it as kids. I was the skinny geek and he was the burly looking truck driver. He laughed when I told him that I still had the pellet gun he gave me and that it still works.
A couple years ago I had a dream he died and I was at his funeral and I spoke about all of this this and more. Although his mother passed away a year earlier, in that dream I sat at her kitchen table so I could tell her what I will close this post with…
Myrna, the very same son that some days had you tearing your hair out also changed my life for the better. I would not be who I am today if it was not for his friendship.