He was my best friend in Junior High School and High School. We met for the first time at the County Swimming Championships the summer before I switched from a private school to the local public Junior High School.
I beat him to win the championship in the butterfly event. I can’t remember but maybe also in one other event. On the first day of public school that Fall where I knew not a soul, out front before they let us in the building, he was the only face I knew. He saw me, knew me, greeted me warmly. We became fast friends from then on through High School.
He was the star always. Big. Charismatic. Class President. Quarterback. I deferred. I was Vice-president always. Class leader in other ways. Good student. Kept to swimming which was not a glamour sport in those days and was only known locally at the YMCA and the AAU… and to those of my friends who knew I had a State Record or two.
I was Joey’s wing man, or so I felt. Funny, but in later years he said he felt the same about me. A combination of friendship and rivalry. When we read John Knowles’s, A Separate Peace in English classs and discussed it later, we were both surprised when each of us regarded ourselves to be Gene, and the other Finny. (go read the “Spark Notes”… I’m getting too literary).
So what does this have to do with my becoming a doctor?
Just this. Joey suffered a ruptured appendix sometime in our early teens. The diagnosis was missed by his pediatrician, a point of some resentment on his and his mother’s part and a point not lost on me in later years. He had to have serious surgery and was left with a tube hanging out of his abdomen and an open wound for some time.
I hated it. Saw him once in the hospital and once at home, I think. Certainly way less than I should have with my best friend. It was so strange and so fearful to see his body like that.
The ground that I had once won I gave back in that battle. I failed to hold the hill.