by James Savik
I met Joey
White in 7th grade but didn't get to know him until we ended up in the same home
room in the eighth.
He was one of those people that you know that you are going to like from the first time that you meet them. He was tall and lean with jet black hair that he wore long. He always wore Levis, a t-shirt and boots. He had wonderful golden Italian skin that he got from his mother's side of the family. When we returned from summer vacation at the start of eighth grade, he had grown almost 6 inches in height.
Joey and his mother lived in a trailer park in our school district. It wasn't hard to tell that they were poor and Joey was sensitive about it and very shy. His best friend was a kid from the same trailer park called Phil that compensated for his economic standing with aggression. Phil was very protective of Joey and they were always together.
I finally got to know Joe when Phil got hurt in a car wreak and had to stay out of school for a while to heal up. Joey was nothing like the other hard-scrabble redneck kids from that trailer park. He was soft spoken and shy and when you finally did get him to talk, he was anything but dumb.
I had a hard time talking him into doing anything. Going to a movie or the mall cost money so he didn't care for that. He suggested that we go fishing at a place that he knew so one warm September Saturday, the two of us went fishing.
Joe knew of a lake out in the country so we took our poles and some crickets and in no time we had both caught our limit of bluegill.
When we were done fishing, Joe asked if I wanted to go swimming but I wasn't keen of jumping in the muddy water of the country pond. Joey said follow me. We went up a deserted trail to a spring of cool clear water lined with smooth pebbles. He started stripping off his clothes and jumped in. I did the same enjoying the cool water.
We played and wrestled in the cool spring water. It wasn't really swimming as much as splashing around. When we were done, we sat naked in the sun and dried out.
From then on Joey became on of my closest friends. After all- how can you keep secrets from someone that you've been skinny-dipping with?
Later that year when Joey was visiting his dad, there was a fire. Joey got out but his father did not. I was told that it was horrible and Joey had heard his dad screaming as he burned to death. Joey burned his hands badly trying to get to him. He was in such a state that the paramedics had to sedate him.
It messed Joey up very badly when his father was killed. Our little circle of friends rallied around him and took care of him. His Mom got some insurance money and someone at school hooked her up with a real job at the hospital. While economic conditions may have been improving, Joey was still hurt in a way that didn't heal nearly as fast as his body.
Over the course of time we bonded in a way that was beyond simple friendship. We became family and were always there for each other. We partied, fought, laughed and cried together and I watched as the shy, skinny kid from the wrong side of the tracks became something more than the sum of his experiences or background.
I had the privilege of watching Joey become one of the best friends a guy could ask for: cheerful, friendly, helpful, compassionate and loyal almost to a fault.
Five Years Later
The Sun is Rising over Daytona Beach. Only a few days were left of our senior trip. Our decision to drink and party on the beach all night wasn't particularly well advised but we had a lot of fun. The booze was cheap and we had smoked enough weed to drop a herd of elephants.
I looked around and saw that of the twelve seniors that had started out with the intention of seeing the sunrise, I was the last man standing.
Brian, one of the wide receivers from our football team, had been the first to drop. He was a light-weight anyway.
It was hard to tell whether the twins Ronny and Bobby and their best friend David were actually conscious on a good day. I think they ate some ludes and faded about 2:30.
I'm not sure when we lost Mike, Keith and Sam but now they were now so many lumps on the beach.
Robby, Grant and Mark got up around three and staggered back to their motel room.
only me and Joey who was sound asleep with his head in my shoulder.
I looked down at my friend of many years. I couldn't help but smile when I looked at his face. We shared so many memories of mischief and fun.
Like Joey's cat Lucky. Lucky was a stray gray tabby that hung around Joey's Mom's house. Joey wasn't exactly a cat person but one morning he started his car and Lucky was inside the engine. Joey put what was left of the battered cat in a shoe box and took it to the vet. He spent $200 dollars of money he saved over the summer to save that cat. Lucky was blind in one eye, lost a back leg and part of his tail. Joey took care of that cat for years. That's all you've got to know about Joey White's heart.
Suddenly Joey sat up and barfed. Icky. I covered it up in sand to keep the smell down. I tried to wake him up but he was passed out. Since I had been partying with Joey for years, I knew that when he got like this, I had to take care of him.
I stood up in the first rays of the new dawn coming in golden over the Atlantic surf. The April morning was a little chilly but everybody was too blasted to care. The senses were numbed by glory of the rising sun, the timeless roar of the surf and the cries of gulls and sandpipers.
The first beach combers of the day began to appear. It was time to get out of sight. I tried to get Joey to wake but it just wasn't going to happen.
While he was tall, Joey only weighed about 120 pounds. I leaned over and scooped him out of the sand. I guess it was instinct or something but when I picked him up, his arms went around my neck.
I started the short walk back up the beach carrying Joey gently. He didn't weigh much until you tried to carry him a distance across loose sand. Finally I got to our room and maneuvered through a sliding glass door.
When I went to put him down, he muttered in a small voice, "Don't put me down Daddy." It cut me too the bone.
Well, I had too put him down, but ever so gently. Joey was sound asleep with his arms still around my neck. I sighed sadly and stayed there holding on to my friend.
There are times when you need to hang on and others when you need to let go. Only a real friend knows the difference and I wasn't going anywhere.
Joey joined the Marine Corps in the fall of 1980. I kept in touch with him as he became trained as an air traffic controller. He was stationed at Cherry Point, Rota in Spain and Hawaii. In the summer of 1983 he was deployed to Beirut and was killed in the Bombing of the Marine Barracks.
If you'd like to send feedback to the author please use the comment box below.
You can send your comment anonymously if you'd like. Thank you.