I Love You, Jimmie Smith

Every girl has a best friend in high school that makes her laugh; someone she can count on when things get difficult. In the 1980s, we didn’t have cell phones or lap tops. There was no texting that our life was horrible or our parents hated us.  We believed it, but we didn’t wallow in depression or cut ourselves. We didn’t have a culture that allowed that kind of nonsense.  Instead, we usually sat in silence in our room, scribbling in our diary. Sometimes you would call a friend, but even then we rarely shared as much inner angst as teens do today.  And, one thing we definitely did not have were any gay people.

My very best friend in the world was Jimmie Smith. We all knew he was gay. Even though we were close, we never discussed it and he did date girls. We didn’t talk about things back then.  Gay was still shoved back in the closet and teachers were still able to hit you and humiliate you if they desired. It was kind of every man for himself in a way. At least that’s the way I remember it.

As a senior in high school, I wished with all my heart that my parents would kick me out of the house. I wanted to live on my own. My parents were strict and never let me drive out of Coral Springs. (Third world problems). Twice I ran away with Jimmie driving the getaway car. I remember my boyfriend at the time being furious with Jimmie (yes, I ran away with Jimmy:)) We sat on his back porch and smoked cigarettes, laughed until we cried about things I don’t even remember and eventually my parents came and got me.

Life whisked me away to college and gobbled up 30 years until today when I finally called his mom to get his phone number to catch up with him. He was never far from my thoughts in all these years, but for some reason I waited three decades to find him. Over the past year, I Googled him; searched for him on Facebook and Twitter and asked old friends on Facebook if they were still in touch with him, none knew where he was. I had heard that he was “out” and maybe he didn’t want me to know. I sometimes fantasized about seeing him again and throwing my arms around him yelling, “I know! I love you, Jimmie Smith, then and now.” For some reason, I didn’t want to bother his parents, but today I found a map and searched for his old house and found his parent’s number. I was a little nervous catching up with Jimmie again, but I really couldn’t wait.

His mom, Ginny, answered. I reminded her that I was one of the sisters who lived around the corner that used to hang out with Jimmie.  I was hoping to catch up with him and find out what was going on in his life.

“Oh,” she said. I wondered if he didn’t want to share his contact info with me so I thought I would probably just leave mine.

“Honey, I hate to tell you this, but Jimmie passed four years ago.”

My biggest fear realized.

One of the first things I wanted to know was whether he was happy or not.

“He hadn’t been happy for a long time,” she said.

Actually Jimmie died of heart failure. She told me that he finally came to terms with being gay in his late thirties. He did drink heavily, but what looks like his live was eventually taken by pancreatis that eventually destroyed his heart muscle. The alcohol helped to numb the pain years. He was nearly blind when he died at the age of 46, a gift really so that he didn’t have to see the nasty looks anymore from the haters. His lungs were no longer working at full capacity.  He died alone, in his apartment, a shadow of the young man I knew. His heart shattered by his own hate and a world that continues to believe that this life is a choice. Ginny said she was surprised at how many people attended the memorial service.

“He was cremated,” she said. “I wanted to keep him here with me.”

My first question when I get to Heaven will be, “Where’s Jimmie?” And, I know he will be close, because God does not make Jimmies without a very good reason.  I Love You, Jimmie Smith. Thank you for being my best friend. I’m sorry I  took so long to find you. My heart will never be whole again.

Jimmie (far right)