I have a lot of friends. I always have. It's a natural result of genuinely liking almost everyone I've ever met. If you ask me what the secret to a happy life is? It's a simple answer.
Just one word: friendship.
Friends celebrate the victories and milestones by your side, and carry you over the crevasses and through the dark hollows of life. The highest compliment I have in my vocabulary is the word friend -- not because it's something special to be my friend, but because of the privilege it is for me to know you as a friend.
I have one friend, that I've known longer than any other -- even longer than Aaron Ball.
Ami Quintero (now Jackson).
It is one of the great privileges of my life, to have known Ami as a friend. Both Aaron and I have talked about this at length. In every picture of the great experiences of our childhood, Ami is there. It was the three of us. It was not right, if it wasn't the three of us. When one of us couldn't be there, the other two just sort of milled around and waited...
Of all the things we did together, one moment in time became legendary. I suspect all three of us remember it like it was yesterday...
The scene: 1980; The Quintero's carport -- it wasn't a garage yet.
In these days of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and G-Force, our imaginations were fertile ground. We craved adventure, and the greatest adventures we could find were within our minds. At the time of this story, our current project was making up our own radio dramas (for lack of a better term), and recording them on a tape recorder. Very recently there had been a television special called Battle Beyond the Stars, which I don't think any of us saw, but we co-opted the title -- with a twist.
Title: Battle Beyond Space.
All of these dramas were made up on the fly, and stuck pretty close to the same script -- the three of us in a space ship, or on some far away world, battling alien armies. We were going on eight and nine. It was just as good as you imagine it was. We did our best to edit on the tape recorder as we went, but there were a lot of pauses and ums and a whole lot that made no sense at all. Everything we recorded was on a tape recorder that Aaron swiped from his dad, and a handful of Bonneville tapes that we found laying around his house. As you can imagine, despite our earnest attempt at creating believable science fiction, our budget for special effects was non existent.
Which is what makes this story legendary (in our minds...)
On this particular day we were telling the story of a spaceship battle. We were locked in mortal combat with aliens from a distant galaxy. Our little band of three stood between the alien menace, and the loss of freedom in the universe. It was a desperate struggle. Shots and tense glances were exchanged. The outcome was in doubt, and as we fought, high above an unknown planet, our ship took a direct hit...
At this point, Aaron exclaims into the microphone:
"OH NO! WE'RE GOING DOWN!"
And, at the perfect moment -- as though there was a director of screen yelling "Action!" -- a very noisy motorcycle went tearing down Woodchuck Way, and our little tape recorder picked it up...
I remember distinctly all three of us stopping, and staring at each other.
Did that really just happen...?
Then we all went for the tape recorder at the same time, everyone's fingers going for the rewind button.
"OH NO! WE'RE GOING DOWN!"
That ship was going down in flames! Never had three people been so happy to be aboard a crashing spaceship. To our seven and eight year old ears, that sounded like a big time Hollywood sound effect.
It sounded like something we would hear in Star Wars.
We stopped right there. That was the end of the story -- our heroes went down in flames. I don't know that we ever recorded another show, but for days afterward, we listened to that ten seconds of tape so many times, that the moment is burned in my memory forever.
(Ami, I don't know if we ever told you this, but about ten years later Aaron and I found an old box of Bonneville tapes in his room, and started listening to them. We found this recording. It was as magical to us at seventeen as it had been at seven).
There are more memories of Ami than I have words or space to write. She was there in the snows of Hoth, and the forests of Endor. She transmuted with us aboard the Fiery Phoenix. She trekked through the scrub oak "jungles" of the Dirt Hills with us, as we played Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Ami even made up words to the Raiders March (Main Theme, from Raiders of the Lost Ark), and here they are (you know the tune):
Here comes Indy -- ana Jones
And his wi --ife, Mari -- uh-un too
Not to mention, little tots
And they're off to adventure,
I can't listen to the music from Indiana Jones without hearing those words. :)
My life is infinitely better for knowing Ami. She was a softening influence on two boys, who were all boy. Because of Ami, I am a kinder and gentler person. When I think of her, I think of drinking shasta on my back patio, and jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath. I think of eating plums off of the tree in her back yard. I think of turning over our bicycles and churning the pedals to make "ice cream." Eating the worst cereal of all time on a Saturday morning and watching The Super Friends.
She was the pretty girl across the street, with the brown eyes and the long dark hair, and the exotic name: Aminta Christina...the first girl I ever kissed (when I was all of about six), in my bathroom, with the door shut, on my tiptoes, because she was six inches taller than I was...
(Ami, you may not know this either -- Aaron and I used to stage boxing matches in his basement. The prize was always a girl -- and often it was you. No doubt, you're flattered :)
In my memory Ami is sunshine and smiles and sweetness. She's Leia and Wonder Woman and Princess. She's softness and sleepovers and space ships. I remember laying out on her back porch, on summer nights, when the only care in the world was making sure that tomorrow's adventure was better than today's. We would look up into the blackness of space -- the place we all longed to go -- and watch the blinking stars. We would trace the constellations in the night sky, and talk late into the night, until slowly, eventually, we'd drift off to sleep.
Then morning would come, and we'd start it all over.
Ami and I have followed paths that have led us far from each other, for many years. But, in the years she lived across the street from me, she became one of my best friends.
And, in my world, that means that you're never far away.