An old friend, gone, and a lesson to be more forgiving
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. ~Paul Boese
One of the more interesting things about the rise of the Internet and social networking sites is that it makes it much easier to find friends from the past, assuming you want to reconnect.
But sometimes you find out things that really set you back and make you stop and think.
I’m talking about an old friend, Sam Rhinelander, who I had a falling out with after my first go-around in college back around 1989.
Sam was a very good friend in high school. We were in the same grade, both sort of outsiders — me because I just didn’t really fit in and him because he lived in Roxbury and commuted out to the suburbs to attend Lexington High School.
We were both musicians. He played the saxophone, I played guitar. I wrote a musical in my senior year and wrote a part into it specifically for him. In it he was sort of ethereal character that roamed in and out of the action, making commentary on the various characters — which was a bit like our real life outsider roles.
One time we got a bunch of T shirt paint and designed a bunch of shirts to sell at the Patriot’s Day parade in Boston. One was a really evil looking sketch of Ronald McDonald with the title “Eat Shit.”
I think it was the only one we sold. But the venture became quite a joke between us.
After high school we both went to Berklee Pool of Mucus (School of Music) in Boston together for a semester. I hated it. I’m not sure what his impression of it was but he continued after I dropped out.
We remained good friends that semester, but at the end we had an argument and I became so angry with him that I decided the friendship was over. And while I had good reason at the time, “over” can be a very strong word.
After that I had a career as a computer repair technician, then went to New Mexico to college and to my 15 year career as a journalist.
Sam tracked me down, twice, and left messages on my phone. But though about 8 years had passed since our fight the first time he called, and about 12 had passed by the second, I still wasn’t ready to talk to him again. I didn’t call him back.
I wish I had.
I remember the second call. He told me he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Times were tough but he seemed to be hanging in there. But I was still mad. And I should have let it go and talked to him.
Now, almost 20 years since we last spoke, I’ve discovered it’s too late.
I started looking for him a few years back. I decided I really did want to talk to him again. I guess we never really forgot each other.
And through looking around online recently I found him. Sort of.
I found his death record.
This is all the information I could get:
Name: Samuel C. Rhinelander
Date of Birth: Sunday July 27, 1969
Date of Death: Tuesday May 04, 2004
Est. Age at death: 34 years, 9 months, 7 days
Last known residence:
City: Charlottesville; Monticello
County: Charlottesville City (Albemarle County)
ZIP Code: 22902
Social Security details:
State of Issue: Maine
The missing bit of information here — the cause of death — has been eating away at me since I first discovered this a few weeks ago. I know his mother is dead. I know his father wasn’t in the picture, although I can’t remember if he was dead or not. And I just hope Sam didn’t die alone and miserable from such a horrible disease.
I tried to contact the county clerk in Virginia to get the information, but they told me it’s confidential. I asked some old friends if they knew anything about his death, but it seems I wasn’t the only one that lost touch with Sam.
So, I’m pretty much stuck wondering what happened, and hoping that at least he went peacefully and things worked out for him. I’m also hoping the death record is a mistake and he’ll track me down again and give me a call. But I found it, verified, in more than one place, so that may be wishful thinking.
It’s also disturbing that he died in 2004 and I’ve only just learned about it. In some ways I’m mourning what could have been, but wasn’t.
Looking back on it now I wish I had been more forgiving. I wish I had picked up the phone and talked to him. But I didn’t. So all I can do now is remember the lesson for the future, and try to not make the same mistake.
If anybody knows what happened, I’d love to find out.
And even if we don’t know — lets drink a toast to Sam. I hope you’re in a better place, buddy, wherever that may be!