My Friend Jim

by Abby on May 16, 2020

Well, this pandemic has not panned out like I thought. Is that a ridiculous statement, or what? My efforts to revive this blog, to write regularly, to hire someone to fix it for me, to guide my kids through distance learning, to navigate my own fears, stresses, and existential dread? None of it has worked out. I can’t examine or explain it. I’m too depleted. But today I sat down to write the way I used to, in order to remember, to share, and hopefully, to begin to heal. Here it is. 

Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash
Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash
This is not Jim, but it reminded me of him because he had a great head of hair.

My Friend Jim

“Abigail! It’s Jim [Fullname]. Just calling to see how you and the boys are doing. Can you believe what’s going on in the news? Reminds me of this thing my dad used to say… Anyway, call me back when you get a chance. I know you’re busy.” 

Once every few months I would hear the rumbly, rambling voice of my old friend Jim on my voicemail. We met 20+ years ago when I first moved to Maryland, and he lived across the hall from me in an old Victorian house that had been carved into apartments.

He swears he remembers the exact day, by the mailboxes, and me exclaiming “I’m only 22!” in response to his astonishment that I didn’t know something. (Like how to sign up for mail forwarding, maybe, or that the guy I was dating with the obnoxiously loud sports car would turn out to be a jerk. There was a lot I didn’t know back then.)

A Vietnam vet, a bachelor, and a free spirit, Jim’s apartment was chock full of art and plants and knick-knacks collected over his colorful life. I know this because he asked me to water his plants and feed his fish while he was away on business. I was happy to do it.

When he was in town, we’d hang out now and then. He’d take me to dinner or a craft show or a play. He was into the arts, and I was into hanging out with someone who was interesting and interested in more than going out to bars and talking about their job. 

We were kindred spirits. That might sound weird to some people, that a 20-something woman and a 50-something man could be true friends, but we were. I’ve never believed that friendship has to look a certain way or come in a certain package. I think if you’re lucky enough to find a few people in your lifetime who truly “get” you and make you feel like your best self when you’re with them, you’re very lucky. 

Jim was close to his family, who lived in his native Michigan. He talked endlessly about his clever and adorable nieces, his beloved dad, who’d passed away, and his “Ma,” a strong and capable woman.

One time we were driving through downtown Baltimore in his old blue Volvo and a car ran a red light, narrowly missing broadsiding us. Jim immediately pulled over and said “I gotta call my Ma. ‘Ma! Abigail and I almost got into an accident, but we’re OK.’” That struck me as so sweet. And, yes, he always called me by my full name for some reason. 

Jim eventually moved back to Michigan to care for his mom. We kept in touch over the years, exchanging Christmas cards and calls. I could always count on him to remember my birthday, June 21. “You’re my Summer Solstice girl!” he’d say. 

Our phone conversations followed a rough pattern: catching each other up on family news, political rants (he was not a fan of our current president, to put it mildly), and usually, a couple of dirty jokes. Jim had quite the repertoire–he rarely repeated a joke. Example: 

A woman goes to the dentist. To her dismay, the dentist tells her she needs a root canal. 

Woman: “Oh no! Is it going to hurt? I think I’d rather have a baby than get a tooth pulled!” 

Dentist: “Well, make up your mind. I’ll have to adjust the chair.”

Jim had a lot of health problems stemming from his time in the Vietnam War. When he’d talk about them, it was with frustration. His eye was bothering him again; his legs wouldn’t work the way he wanted them to. But after a few minutes, he’d be back to his gruff, cheerful self. “Ma’s going to be 97, can you believe it? She’s got more energy than I do. I have to tell her to slow down.”

Both Jim and his mom, like the rest of us, were growing weary of being cooped up in the house during the coronavirus quarantine. They were grudgingly adjusting to online Mass and having their groceries delivered and disinfected by his nieces, he told me the last time we spoke. 

The voicemail on my phone last week was from a Michigan number, but the voice was not Jim’s. It was his mother’s, telling me that Jim was not doing well. He had been in the hospital and his health was declining rapidly. I told her to give him my love and let him know I was thinking about him. Just four days later, I got another voicemail asking me to call her. With a pit in my stomach, I put the kids to bed and called her back. 

“Jimmy passed this morning,” she told me with a quaver in her voice. “I wanted you to know because you were so special to him.” 

“And he was to me, too,” I choked out. “I’m so, so sorry.” 

This was a real blow. So sudden, so unexpected, and so at the worst time ever. As if there’s ever a good time to lose a loved one. My heart breaks for his “Ma” and his family. And for me.

Jim was a true friend. A kindred spirit. A person who showed up for me over and over, across the years and the miles, to let me know he was thinking of me. I was lucky to have him in my life for as long as I did. I will miss him. And on my birthday, I will replay his last voicemail and listen to that rumbly voice once again. “Did you hear the one about the priest … ?”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer May 17, 2020 at 4:13 pm

Oh, no. I’m so sorry. What a hard loss, losing someone you’d known so well and who’d known you so well for so long. My sympathies. May his memory be a blessing to you and everyone who knew him.

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Abby May 17, 2020 at 6:12 pm

Thank you, Jennifer.

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