|Dorien in High School|
I have often said that I am not the “hail fellows well met” type who feels totally at ease among a group of people I do not know well. I tend to blend in more with the wallpaper than with other people. But I have been blessed, through my life, with a few “best friends” who have served as anchors in the stormy seas of life.
The term “best friends” is used perhaps a little casually by most people, and I am quite sure I had quite a number of people I might have considered—had I given any thought to it, which I don’t recall ever having done—to be my best friend for varying lengths of time. But few, in reflection, stand out.
Lief Ayen was probably my first “best friend,” and we became so rather by default. We met at Harlem High School in Loves Park, Illinois which I attended during one of my high school years (I honestly can’t remember which one…probably tenth). We both were loners through a combination of desire and necessity. Physically, Leif reminded me of a young Charles Laughton, with an explosive laugh, a sometimes abrasive personality, and a penchant for trying to embarrass me, which succeeded more often than not.
But we shared a decidedly unorthodox and outlandish sense of humor and would spend hours on the phone, laughing. We also shared a love for writing and for science fiction, and once collaborated on a story called “To Hell with Miss Primm” about a school teacher who, upon her death, is mistakenly sent to hell. I’m sure I must have it around somewhere.
At one point, we attended a science fiction convention in Chicago and Lief won a wonderful original oil painting by the noted sci-fi artist Chesley Bonestall. It is probably worth a small fortune today, and I would love to know what happened to it.
Like me, Lief left college to join the Navy, and he despised it with a passion. He was put aboard the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Toledo, and he spent most of his time aboard figuring out how he could get off. He finally came up with what he considered a foolproof plan. Two days before the ship was due to leave its home port of Long Beach, Lief sat down and folded his arms. And he just sat there, refusing to talk, to move, to obey orders. He just sat. So he was removed from the ship and sent to a Navy hospital for observation. He was elated to be off the Toledo and remained happily in the hospital for about a week. The day he was released, the Toledo pulled back into port, and Lief was put right back on board.
I was in the NavCads by this time, and when the NavCad band was sent to Long Beach for an Armed Forces Day program, we played aboard, of all the ships in the Navy, the U.S.S. Toledo. Lief and I had a chance to spend a few days together, and we had our usual wonderful time.
From his navy days in the Pacific, Lief developed a passion for all things Japanese, and he once sent my mom a beautiful watercolor which is currently hanging on my living room wall.
After getting out of the service, Lief returned to Rockford and to college. He met and married a nice girl named Julie, with whom he had two daughters. We gradually lost touch with one another, and it was not until about five years ago that I decided I had to look him up. I had no idea where he might be. His parents by that time were long dead and I assumed his sister had married and would no longer have the same last name. However, after a long search through God-knows-how many venues, I finally located a “Lief Ayen” and a phone number, which I immediately called in great anticipation of renewing one of the most important friendships of my life.
The phone was answered by a man whose voice I did not recognize (and I would have recognized Lief’s immediately, despite how long it had been since I last heard it). I discovered that he was Lief’s nephew, and that Lief had died some years before while working for a radio station in Australia. He and Julie had been divorced, and the Lief to whom I spoke had no idea of her or Lief’s daughters’ whereabouts.
So as I have done so often in the past and continue to do as fate necessitates, I carefully wrapped all my memories of Lief in a special box to be stored…for as long as I am alive, at any rate…in my mind and heart, and engraved his name on my mental Wall of the Lost. I don’t have a single photo of Lief, though I really don’t need one: I can see him when I close my eyes.
And even as I write, I can hear him laughing.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: