Jason, One-Third of the Separated Trio

(Editor’s note: Welcome to Living Eulogies. All recollections are accurate in the author’s mind only. Apologies in advance to everyone who has different recollection of the same events. Send all complaints to Scientology headquarters. Some assembly required.)

When I look back at my early childhood, the number of memories that start with “Jason, Chris and I …” are astounding. There was a time when the three of us — Jason Meltzer, Chris Cakov and I — were inseparable. So inseparable were we that, following first or second grade, our parents and Pound Ridge Elementary School conspired to place us each in separate home rooms so that we would actually talk to other kids.

Talk about bullshit social engineering, amiright?

I remember distinctly the first time I saw Chris, which is a topic for another day, but not necessarily Jason. I am quite sure it was in kindergarten. What I do know for sure is that it wasn’t long into our first year of formal education that the three of us were literally ride-or-die best friends.

I say “literally” because much of our fun in kindergarten occurred while riding Big Wheels during recess from Mrs. O’Loughlin’s lessons on letters and counting and such. Back then, the kindergarten class was in the basement of Pound Ridge Elementary School. This made it convenient for the air raid drills we still had back then (fucking Soviets) and for its access to a private playground area away from the Big Kids.

Jason, Chris and I liked nothing better than recess when Mrs. O’Loughlin brought the Big Wheels out. The three of us would grab one each and tear after each other in a line as compact as possible for three successive Big Wheels. We’d race at top speed trying not to hit each other but not really trying that hard not to hit each other.

Mrs. O’Loughlin had a rule that, when she blew the whistle, you had to get up off your Big Wheel and give someone else a shot at riding. We soon interpreted this in a different way. Sure, we’d get off our Big Wheel. But then Jason would have the opportunity to ride the Big Wheel that was mine, I’d have the opportunity to ride that Big Wheel that was Chris’s and Chris would have the opportunity to ride the Big Wheel that was Jason’s. Off we’d go again, chasing each other in a different order.

The roots of my insolence go pretty far back, it seems.

Saying whether Jason or Chris was my best best friend is like to trying to choose which of your kids you like better. Well, that’s a crappy analogy because we all know we all have our secret favorite child. Rather, the two of them were like peanut butter and jelly. Sure, you could separate them and pick one. But why the hell would you go and do that?

Jason and I shared something in common that Chris, a native Canadian and hockey enthusiast, did not: Baseball. Jason and I were the only two second-graders to make it to regular Little League a year early, which had some to do with our abilities and some to do with the fact that our fathers were coaches. Jason and I would play ball in the yard at my house or his for hours and hours. We routinely made trips to Yankee Stadium with our fathers. I was with Jason and his dad when Orioles outfielder Dan Ford chucked me a foul ball during batting practice, still the only ball I’ve ever caught at a Major League game.

If you sum up my early childhood fun, there wasn’t much Jason wasn’t a part of. We flipped baseball cards, we played video games and board games, we had sleepovers, we played on baseball teams together. Our families were tight. There was a time that his parents weren’t Mr. and Mrs. Meltzer but Uncle Bruce and Aunt Cindy. I remember the family dog, Aggie, a beast of a big-ass poodle who would kick the crap out of us if she were let outside when we were playing ball.

Jason had a great house and cool yard. The driveway was bordered by this huge rock wall (that incidentally topped out near a path to future Fox Lane friend Rica Mendez’s house) that was great for climbing — or, at least, attempting to climb.

Sleepovers at Jason’s house were cool because he had bunkbeds and was cool with his guests having the top bunk. That was awesome, as far as I was concerned.

There was a time when I thought that it would be Jason, Chris and I as best friends forever, well before teenie-bopper girls stole that phrase. Even when Chris and his family moved to Paris, it still seemed like it would always be the three of us in the end.

I wrote recently about the conundrum I was facing over these Living Eulogies. In that piece, I wrote about how everything in my life changed in sixth grade when the friends I’d grown up with — by this time, Chris had moved — decided en masse that I wasn’t good enough to hang out with. I went from having the greatest group of friends a guy could ever have — including a best friend like Jason — to having those same people be a daily source of torment.

I’d be lying if I said that Jason’s betrayal didn’t hurt the most. I’m sure he had reasons for going along with the crowd. The fact that they were the crowd and I was solo says a lot about the decision he faced. I was the geeky kid with glasses and braces (put on, by the way, by the orthodontist who worked out of Uncle Bruce’s dental practice). Everyone else was, well, everyone else.

I don’t know if, faced with the same decision, I would have done anything different than what Jason did. I’d like to think I would have, but that’s Today John speaking, not Sixth-Grade John. Peer pressure is hard, and though Jason didn’t participate in the bullying like some others did, he definitely was part of that crowd.

Which makes this whole Living Eulogy thing challenging for me when it comes to him. Very challenging. Because, man, in so many ways, Jason was more like my brother than my best friend. We did everything together. We knew everything about each other. And I’m not here today to put him on blast for something he did when he was 11 or 12. I’m simply saying that he was a part of that thing that was really significant in my life and that that decision ended our friendship. I don’t think we spoke two words to each other after that. Ever.

That makes me sad, even today. Just writing this, I feel that, and it, perhaps surprisingly, hurts. Not a lot. But some.

I remember going to the dentist during that sixth-grade year after all this shit started to happen. I was nervous. I was in a bad, bad place because of all that had gone down, and self-confidence wasn’t exactly my strong suit to begin with. I feared that Mr. Meltzer — he wasn’t Uncle Bruce to me anymore — would hate me like his son seemed to. My mother wouldn’t let me go to a different dentist, so there I was, sitting in the chair as Mr. Meltzer game in.

I remember distinctly him sitting down and looking at me and saying with a tear in his eye how sorry he was that this was happening to me and that he felt shame because it was happening. That meant something to me. It means something to me today.

When I heard Mr. Meltzer died in a scuba diving incident a number of years back, I was saddened. Uncle Bruce … Mr. Meltzer … whoever he was/is was a huge part of my childhood, just like Jason.

So here I am today, more than 40 years after Jason, Chris and I were the Separated Trio and nearly 40 years after The Sixth-Grade Thing. I don’t hate Jason. I’m not angry at Jason. I’m sad, yes. I think we could have been ride-or-die friends for life. There was nothing that said we shouldn’t have been.

But things happen. And things did happen. We went from being the best friends who tried bubble gum ice cream at Baskin Robins for the first time together (gross!) to enemies to strangers. I didn’t understand it then. I don’t understand it now.

What I do understand is that I was blessed to have Jason as a friend in those formative years. There was always someone around who was my friend, who I knew and who knew me. We did so many fun things together, and I wonder if he looks back on those times with fondness like I do. I’d like to think he does. I hope he does.

Regardless of whether he does or not, though, I’d still like to raise a glass for Jason. One-third of the Separate Trio. My first best friend. Hear Hear!

Who should be the next Living Eulogy? Email me at johnagliata@gmail.com.



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