In the fall of 1987 I met a boy who, unbeknownst to me, had been in my grade the whole time. This particular journey began a year earlier when my parents moved our family from the bustle of Brooklyn to tranquil East Brunswick and enrolled me in middle school at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva.
I can’t pinpoint what sparked our friendship, but this boy, Danny, and I became fast friends. We talked on the phone — the kind attached to the wall with cords. Recess became more fun as it lent me time to check in with my friend and avoid being picked for a dreaded dodgeball game.
Danny was the first boy to call my house. I am a sister to five brothers, so the teasing was immense. Our friendship was sweet and Danny was kind; our time together was uncomplicated. We laughed a lot, mostly at ourselves (those tricky early teen years provide lots of material).
Classmates teased us as girl liking boy and vice versa, but our connection was different — effortless, no judgements, carefree, and happy.
In December of that same year we stayed up late talking on the phone and bonding over sibling challenges, debating who chewed the better brand of gum, the meaning of life, and the new road ahead of us. The gum debate was fierce. I was partial to Wrigley’s Big Red spicy cinnamon and Danny was partial to bubble gum for the really big bubbles.
At eighth-grade graduation we were organized in size order and Danny was my walking partner to the stage. At a pool party the next day his mom handed me a blurry picture of Danny and me taken the night before. She had developed it and made me a copy. To this day I can close my eyes and still see that photo. I was happy, Danny was my friend, and the picture would remind me of that. The summer passed and we went our separate ways to high school.
In January 1989 my family moved to Rhode Island, another new journey. New roads and new paths do not always include old friendships. As I had done with my childhood friends in Brooklyn, it seemed easier to seal friends in categories: New York, New Jersey, and now Rhode Island.
A year later Danny sent me the sweetest letter. “I think about how you are and if you are okay,” he wrote. “We never got the chance to catch up on life in high school and our gum debate before you left for Rhode Island. Maybe you can come to New Jersey for a visit and we can talk like we used to.”
The most poignant part of this note was “if you are okay”; his thoughtful inquiry reminded me of his kindness. Uncomplicated as the days were with Danny in grade school, life had dealt me some complicated days. I can’t tell you if I ever wrote back, but I can tell you I never visited him in New Jersey. Danny and I never connected again and now I wish we had, for just a little more time to embrace the simplicity of what our friendship was.
In September I came across a posting on Facebook that Dan Fulop passed away. My heart sank, the sadness was overwhelming for the passing of my 14-year-old friend. I felt the impact of his goodness all these years later.
I spent the next several days rummaging through a box of my childhood memories. Among my treasures I found the letter he had written to me, as well as the graduation photo from his mother. Clearly he had remained a purposeful and integral part of my life as these cherished mementos had stayed with me through seven moves.
My message to the young friends of today: First, look for the good ones, they’re often quiet, smart, funny, and slightly awkward. They will impact your life in special ways, though you may not see the true value immediately.
Second, kindness is the basis of human connection. Be kind to one another, as there is no better feeling for both giver and receiver.
Finally, save the photos of your youth. When you least expect it, those pictures will be priceless and held close to your heart.
May the beautiful and everlasting memories Danny made with his family, friends, and colleagues be a source of comfort during this immensely difficult time.
Devorah Katz lives in West Orange with her husband and three children. She is a human resources professional at Shiseido in East Windsor.