In the beginning, Steve was just a boy at the bus stop, befriending me during my first week at a new school district, but after only a short time, his companionship wove its way into the fabric of my life, a colorful thread binding us together. My adventures with Steve grew into an integral part of my youth, vital memories that I carry everywhere, and without them, I think a part of my childhood would unravel altogether, vanishing forever.
He approached me, almost forty years ago, while I was sitting at the curb, waiting for the school bus. A total book nerd, I hid behind a paperback copy of Gone with the Wind, and hoped, yet also dreaded, that someone might talk to me and pull me out of my shyness.
Steve had no such reservations. He launched into a discussion of the movie with opinions about Clark Gable or Vivien Leigh or a combination of both. I quickly learned that Steve had lots of opinions. Some I agreed with–some simply annoyed me–but I always appreciated our conversations. And now, looking back after all these years, I wish I could remember the particulars of our rambling talks, lost forever in the shadows of my memory.
But I do remember an immediate recognition, a feeling that Steve and I shared something beyond our ages and hometown. Perhaps it was an appreciation for the whimsical or an expansive imagination or maybe even a mutual fragility.
Regardless, our friendship transformed from bus-stop conversations to after-school visits to long days spent together during summer vacations. And it’s those latter memories that come to me the most, the specifics somewhat lost to time, but as much a part of me as the feeling of Idaho’s sun baking my arms or grass pricking at my bare feet.
The schedule was simple: swim team for me followed by mornings with Steve, playing Monopoly or “Cheat” Sorry, our own version of the game in which players were allowed to move their game-piece extra spaces if their opponent didn’t notice.
When we tired of board games, we explored the cliffs overlooking the Boise River behind my house or played croquet, adding an occasional “Cheat Sorry” move by nudging the ball along with our feet. We even went through a short, disastrous phase of learning how to bake soufflés and a much more disastrous attempt at brewing our own herbal teas, all efforts equally dreadful.
And with every day, every new activity, Steve brought his own unique brand of enthusiasm and curiosity, firmly cemented in kindness and patience.
Never more so than we initiated a book club of sorts, just the two of us, reading science fiction like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We consumed the novel; or rather it consumed us, until all we could talk about was our desire to hitchhike across the universe with Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Our imaginings became so vivid, so real, that I could actually see us exploring galaxies with our two fictional heroes.
But my galaxy-traveling friend, the boy from the bus stop, is gone now, murdered almost a week ago. Even as I write these words, my own fingers tapping on the keys, I can’t believe it’s possible. It has to be a macabre fiction, created by a cruel mind, but the evil was real.
I won’t go into the specifics of his death—the details have been covered on various Boise-area media outlets—but I will say that the men responsible must be punished to the full extent of the law.
At the end, my dear friend exhibited a courageous clarity, in evidence even when we were young, by identifying his assailants, which led the police to several arrests and hopefully saved countless others from brutality.
They might have taken away my childhood companion, a man whose huge heart and kindness reached many, but his presence will always reside within me through endless memories. In my mind, I see him befriending a lonely 11-year-old at the bus stop and making that girl laugh with his original comments. But most of all I see him with his thumb out, hitchhiking his way around the galaxy, buzzing past stars, and conquering new planets, fully immersed in the joy of exploration.