For the past couple weeks, I’ve been mulling over how quickly time passes and how we all float in and out of other people’s lives.
I grew up in small-town Ohio with a fellow named Mike Kuntz. There was a group of us who were pals, the same age, and we all called him Kuntzie. We were the smart kids in our class, the ones the teachers called on first because our hands were always in the air.
Summers, we swam the pools that collected in the northeast Ohio strip-mines; played marathon Monopoly and Risk games on Tom Dreher’s porch and blew up plastic model cars with M-80s and other firecrackers that are illegal now.
Winters, we would hang around somebody’s house and spin dreams about what we would do when we got out of high school. For most of us, that meant getting out of town. First to college and then to other things more exciting than could be done in little Ohio towns.
Mike was always interested in rocks and that meant geology. He got an undergraduate degree and then a masters. He came by the house my ex and I were renting for breakfast the Sunday morning after our tenth-year high school reunion. I was working for the local newspaper; a job that let me talk to people and spin yarns about what they told me. He was working for a corporation that let him look at rocks. He talked about wanting to see the world. I remember him saying, “Ohio’s not the only place I ever want to see.”
We promised to stay in touch, but you know how things are. Life comes at you at a gallop, and you either swing on board and hold on tight or get trampled in the rush.
From time to time, I heard he was hanging out somewhere in Europe or Australia or New Zealand. It sounded like he was having fun, but that Sunday morning breakfast was the last time I ever saw or spoke to Kuntzie. That was forty years ago. If I even took or had the time to think of Mike in the intervening years, it was to daydream for a few minutes of all the exotic places he had been.
Last week, my sister sent me an e-mail to tell me he had died suddenly. He had stopped roaming a quarter century ago, found a job as a government geologist, got married and raised two kids. Along the way, he had the time to run marathons and iron-man triathlons; finished as high as second in his age group in one race.
And for the past nine years, since we moved to Seattle from the Florida Keys, I’ve lived forty-five minutes away from where Kuntzie had settled down. In the Pacific Northwest, that’s practically next door and I never knew he was there.
Life can be many things, some wonderful and some not, but first and most of all it is ironic.