I first met Sam when my parents moved in next to his at the end of the road. When we discovered we owned the same red bicycles, we were destined to become best friends.
Sitting next to each other in class. Reading books, talking about movies. Cycling around town raising all sorts of hell. Water fights in the garden, hot summers, cold winters. Growing up together, standing up for each other.
We got into the same university. Discovered women, bars, music. Studied together and stressed together. Graduated. Took on the world, just the two of us. Sunburn and suntan. Australia, New Zealand, hostels and girlfriends. Engagements. Separate lives, but he was always there.
Sam the leader, Sam the teacher, Sam my best friend. Jobs together, buying out our parents’ and moving back home next door to each other. He was my best man, I was his. He divorced, I was there for him.
I got promoted. Worked hard, long hours. Filled the house with stuff, extended. Dug a swimming pool. Two cars and a wide screen TV. A holiday home in the south of France. It wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t like in the movies: leave work early, pull up to the house, roses in hand, open the door, sorry I’ve been so busy at work, no answer, clothes on the floor, moans from the bedroom. Instead there was silence and a letter on the kitchen table. I lost Sam and my wife in an instant. A twice broken heart.
I must have read that letter a thousand times that year. Within weeks it was yellowed and smudged. Tear stained in places. I made phone calls, met with mutual friends, but they were gone and I could do nothing.
Like a man possessed, or maybe exorcised, I sold it all, bought a one way ticket and hit the road; ten years of once-in-a-lifetimes rolled on by.
Bobbing on boats from island to island in the Andaman sea. Stewing on sweaty busses through mountain passes. Monks in saffron, burgundy and grey. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. Dengue fever, hospital and fluorescent light bulbs. Nepal, India, Sri Lanka. Shamans and Sikhs. Curry, rice, noodles and fresh fruit at the side of the road. Jungle hikes and bamboo bungalows. Blurry nights under mosquito nets floating like jellyfish; tangled limbs and local liquor. I got lost and then I found my way.
I can hear the laughter of my two children playing on the porch, the low buzz of my wife’s moped rolling down the dusty path to our house, the coals glowing and the fish starting to sizzle. A glint of silvery sea in my eyes.
I think about my old friend Sam on occasion. Not as much as I used to, but sometimes. He taught me many things in my life, changed it and shaped it, for better and for worse. But he didn’t teach me everything. Taking the road you know is rarely for the best. I learned that for myself.