John Polo is my oldest friend. We’ve been friends since 1987 when he sat by me on the school bus taking us home from middle school. He was this skinny kid with dark eyes and a sharp nose, and he had a loud laugh that caused his whole body to shake. I remember getting his phone number (which is still rattling in my head today) so we could hang out on the weekend. We read the same comic books and liked the same music. In the summer we went to the movies and wandered around aimlessly through the neighborhood in search of anything that would qualify as adventure. He taught me the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so wouldn’t it be easier to cut through the neighbors’ yards to get there faster? John was the best friend a kid like me could have had.
My favorite memory with John is from 1993. We were two college freshmen on a road trip through Florida. We went from Tampa to Gainesville to Tallahassee and then back again. Hardly an epic journey, but it might as well had been the world to us. We had just left some friends from the University of Florida to visit more friends at Florida State University. The windows were rolled down as we pushed northward on I-75. John had his radio on the dashboard of my trusty Ford Festiva and we must’ve listened to Pearl Jam’s Ten about a hundred times already. The music was as loud as the radio could handle. John had started growing his hair long and I remember the way it flapped all over the place. We didn’t talk much during this leg of the trip. I can’t speak for him, but for me it was because this excursion was solidifying the simple fact that life was about to change for both of us. We were eighteen, just two kids still stuck in the past with no idea of what the future held. But we were best friends, every song on the radio was the soundtrack to our lives, and there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish.
John was the guy who convinced me to go to England with him in March of 1997. This holiday was more complicated than our Florida road trip. While I had talked about going to Europe, I was always too scared. And John was the one who pushed me out of my comfort zone and made it look easy. I followed his lead on the trip and it ended up being exciting, scary and life changing. At one point near the end of the trip, we were on a train and I said, “I could live over here,” and John, always supportive, said, “You should do it, man.” His lack of hesitation made me feel brave and strong.
I remember saying goodbye to John when I eventually moved to Philadelphia. I remember saying goodbye to John when we met for a day in Washington. I remember saying goodbye to John when he left for South America for six months. I remember saying goodbye to John when I moved to Poland. Every goodbye feeling more final than the last, because as you get older, goodbyes become heavier.
We live six time zones apart these days. And I miss him. I’m thinking of him now because while today is Thanksgiving, it’s also his birthday, and it’s important to write this stuff down.
Happy Birthday, John. I love you, man. I wish I could be there, and I hope we get to see each other again sooner rather than later.