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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 8, 2005

Don't wait till you regret not thanking an old friend for everything

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey

Sometimes you just don't take the time to say "thank you" — after all, times are busy and it's just "one of your friends."

But there he lay in intensive care, every type of technological marvel imaginable intruding on a body already in pain. It was a confusing, sterile world of tubes, of beeps and clicking machinery, dials and white linen. But his countenance was of faraway things, not the pain and misery at hand. He had been found at home just hours earlier, rigid, eyes rolled back in his head.

Outside the tiny window to the intensive-care unit, friends and family looked on in ridiculous little paper masks, tiny slits revealing eyes filled with fear and concern — and tears — powerless to do anything to help.

A thought nipped at my soul: "I wonder if he knows how much he's meant to my life?" Lord knows, how could he? I'd never said. After all, life was busy, you know. I probably forgot to mention it.

And yet, we all have best friends like him some time in our lives — if we're lucky. And I had been. That "younger-time" best friend who sort of falls away as your "real life" takes over. You return in thought frequently — or not so often. You talk on the phone, or maybe not.

Yet you're each always among the first contacted in times of sorrow. The one friend who is always there.

When you do get together, the years fall away as if they've never been there.

Our post-teenage friendship took us through the usual early '70s activity: nightclubbing, going beach, concerts in Diamond Head, The Caz at the Shell and Peter Moon at the UH amphitheater. At the old HIC, we saw the Rascals sing "My Hawai'i" — and Elvis croon "Blue Hawai'i."

Ahhh, names like Country Comfort, Territorial Tavern, The Gold Coin, Mel Cabang, Liz Damon and The Orient Express — and Linda Green. Old songs like "Dahil Sa Iyo," "Chotto Matte Kudasai" and "Mr. Sun Cho Lee."

Much revolved around food, as it always does in these Islands: Chico's pizza in Kaimuki brok' da mout!, as did Lum's beer-soaked hot dogs, at the corner of University and Dole. Although in a different Kaimuki location then, you still fought for precious parking at W&M Bar-B-Que Burgers. In a pinch, Grace's Lunchwagon near campus would fill in.

One year, we took off for several weeks holoholo on the Mainland, San Francisco to Tijuana; Dallas to New Orleans to Atlanta, two Island guys loose in the Big Outside World.

"You two shouldn't have been friends," said his jolly, giggling, wonderful mother. "You should have been brothers," she said, that warm twinkle in her eye. Never mind that he was this personable, almost football-playerisized Japanese-Okinawan lad who attracted everyone's eye, and I was the gangly blond kid who looked like he didn't belong.

My father uncharacteristically seemed to take to this friend. Once, while we were visiting Dad after he had moved to the Mainland, I awoke late one morning to find the house empty.

When the two returned, Dad explained nonchalantly, "I took 'my son' shopping." After that, Dad would write "his new son." And, I guess he wrote back. Maybe not. It didn't matter — Dad had "adopted" him.

Soon, the years got in the way. My friend moved to the Mainland. I stayed home. His mom died; my dad died. Various relationships did likewise. But our friendship never did.

Now, days later, I watched as he, now out of intensive care, took his first steps — literally — toward going home. I realize, all this time, all these years, I never told my friend thanks for giving me this wonderful friendship.

I wonder if I'll ever have the nerve.

The Advertiser's Wade Kilohana Shirkey is kumu for Na Hoaloha O Ka Roselani No'eau. He writes on Island life.