Last time I saw Barks was June 22nd, 1986, the day after I got married. She and my old college roommate, Renner were getting in her car and leaving the weekend gathering.
We’d been part of a group of friends who met on a Ball State study program in England. But within a few years of coming home, we each graduated and scattered. After my wedding I never saw the two of them again.
After driving by my real estate signs and reading my newspaper columns for the 5 years she’s lived in Noblesville, Barks recently surprised me with an email.
A week ago we met for lunch at the Marketplace on Logan Street and sat at an outdoor table reminiscing while her small son listened.
We shot through a list of names and long lost friends, sharing tid-bits of information. We talked about her relationship with Renner and about mine with a girl named Miller. We talked about our London professor and leader, Dr. Heady.
Dr. Heady once took me and Miller around Munich on the subway, urging us not to pay. “It’s the honor system,” he said. “Nobody checks to see if you’ve got a ticket.” But on the ride back from Dachau, the three of us got arrested for riding without paying.
On another occasion, Dr. Heady lied to the British courts, claiming to have a group of American law students who wanted to meet with a judge who could explain Britain’s legal system. None of us were law students. Yet, by some freakish miracle we got a private meeting with the legendary Lord Denning – then, England’s equivalent to an American Chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Barks said that Dr. Heady died a few years back after a life of hard living and alcohol.
And Dr. Kasabaric, who had recruited us all for the study program, was presumably still in a British prison. The year after we returned to the U.S. he left Muncie to take Dr. Heady’s place in London. While there, he murdered his wife.
As our food arrived, Barks asked what I remembered most about the camping trip our two couples, she and Renner, and me and Miller made to Devon and Cornwall, along England’s southwest coast.
We’d rented an old car from a place called, Rent-A-Wreck and drove out of London on a spring morning with a cooler and a tent. I have old photos of me and Miller, Renner and Barks, each couple snuggling beside a campfire. We drank local mead and alcoholic cider. We explored castle ruins and drank beer in country pubs with locals.
I told Barks a story about the trip she’d never heard. At a campground lavatory with its banks of showers and sinks, Renner and I washed our faces and brushed our teeth while the girls did the same on the ladies side. As we shut off the water and started to walk out, Renner pulled me aside with a finger to his lips. He nodded toward an air vent. The sound of the girls talking as they primped echoed through the ductwork. We listened as they chatted lightly about how they missed their boyfriends back home in Indiana.
As we slunk out, defeated, I told Renner, “When we get back to Indiana, this, (the 2 romantic affairs) will be over in a heartbeat.”
“”Over’, is the end,” Renner winked. “This is still the middle. Enjoy it.”
Barks laughed hard with the sun in her face and her 5-year old squirming in her lap.
Her significant memory of the trip:
On a rare sunny afternoon, along a Cornwall beach we’d hiked through a sandy opening into a rocky cavern the size of a church sanctuary. Overhead, light spilled in from random gaps in the rocks. I don’t recall how we spent the time in that magnificent space – perhaps lunched as we often did on cheese and baguettes, Spam, and bananas – whatever survived in a backpack, and as we did so, the tide came in, submerging our exit. We country bumpkins from land-locked states had trapped ourselves.
Barks recalled the panic, the four of us climbing ever higher in the cavern for an opening big enough to fit through. We eventually found one and clamored out into the sunshine.
We talked about our children, our spouses, our careers. And we talked about Renner, who neither of us had seen in 23 years. Knowing him had changed us both, opened our eyes to the world a little. He was a free spirit who was always trolling for beauty and wisdom off life’s beaten path. I recalled him arriving early for a party I held in Carmel at my first apartment after graduation. He was standing in the empty driveway loaded down with a camper’s backpack.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“Hitchhiked from Cleveland,” he shrugged.
Renner turned me onto jazz, Bob Marley, and Scottish singer-guitarist John Martyn. Riding on a bus or a subway, he’d put his Walkman headphones on your head and say, “Check this out, man.”
How old friends slip away, I’ve never understood. Talking with Barks over lunch I felt like I’ve often felt looking back at my past. It can sometimes seem so distant; like remembering a book you read about somebody else.
As I headed down Logan Street after saying goodbye to Barks and her little boy, I promised myself I’d do better at keeping in touch with old friends. I have been too much of a bridge burner, too immersed in each new phase of life to stay in touch with those who populated the old ones. That is not a compliment.