Dale is my oldest friend. Not the oldest person I'm friends with, but the person I have been friends with the longest. I think we met in 4th grade. That would be 9 years old; so we've been friends for about 40 years. I could write a book about our friendship (maybe someday I will); for now I'll try to summarize.
Hundreds of people have moved in and out of my life. I've lost touch with most, many I keep up with on Facebook. Only a handful remain a close part of my life. We just don't have the time to maintain all the relationships we wish we could.
Dale and I have always been close, even when there was geographical distance. I could spend hours in the memories of our friendship...hours playing football and baseball in our backyards...riding to school in Dale's VW bus...football games...trekking miles in the snow to see a couple girls...all the adventures of high school... We went in different directions after high school, but kept in touch.
Dale is a Cowboys fan, and I'm a Redskins fan. We always called each other after the two teams played, the one whose team won gloating over the other.
I was in Dale's wedding; he was in mine. Our paths crossed every few years, first in Virginia, then in Texas. Our conversations were sometimes infrequent, but even after months, we always jumped in like we had talked yesterday. Our conversations always ended the same way, with us reciting a scene from Rocky II, one of our favorite childhood movies.
I'll call you.
You gonna call me?
I'm gonna call you.
You got my number?
No, I'll just call you, I'll just go, "Hey You!"
Three years ago, after not seeing each other for about 7 years, Dale came to Washington to visit; we had a great time.
Dale's marriage was nearing an end, and we began talking more and more, sometimes several times a week. I was going through my own struggles, and we were both there for each other. Our friendship, which had settled into a more casual one, quickly became a strong, important relationship again.
Over the last three years we have grown closer than ever. We talk often, encouraging and challenging each other.
I have many stories I could tell about Dale, and what an amazing friend he is. Here's one.
In 2004, four months after my wedding, my father had a heart attack, spent ten days in the hospital fighting, and died. My step-mother asked me to do the funeral. I spent the next several days helping my family deal with all the details, and planning the service, and thinking about what I'd say.
On the day of the funeral, I was at the funeral home, greeting people, preparing myself for the talk I was going to give in the service. Before the service, I went outside to get alone and gather my thoughts.
A car I didn’t recognize pulled into the lot and parked. The door opened, and a man got out. When he turned and walked toward me, I saw that it was Dale.
Dale lived in Texas. He is a doctor, with four kids. When he got the news about Dad, Dale took off work, said goodbye to his family, and got on a plane to Virginia, to be with me as I grieved.
In forty years people have come and gone. I have had successes and failures. I've gone from the east coast, to Texas, to the west coast. There have been times when life was great, and times when life sucked. Through it all, Dale is there. Always there.
I love you, Dale.