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My Best Friend

April 27, 2014

“People, let me tell you ’bout my best friend.”

Yesterday I visited with him briefly and it brought back a lot of memories.

I met my friend, Pat Wheaton, my freshman year of college in August of 1984. He was a sophomore, a year ahead of me in school.  I was away from home for the first time and didn’t know anyone. Pat lived across the hall from me in F section, 2nd floor, of Fitzpatrick Hall at Lewis University. I would see him in the bathroom in the morning shaving with a towel around his waist. It was a funny sight. It wasn’t long before we were chatting and getting to know one another.

Pat liked to watch Late Night with David Letterman. He would have to be back in his room when it started each weeknight so he could catch Dave’s monologue, Top Ten list, and the man under the seats bit with Chris Elliott. It was good stuff, and I came to enjoy watching it with my new friend, Pat.

I had a tough freshman year being away from home for the first extended time in my life, falling for a girl, feeling heartache at losing her, and dealing with some anxiety and depression as a result. I got through it largely due to my new friend Pat.

I really appreciated how close a friend Pat was when I would find him waiting for me outside my classroom door when some of my classes let out. I was never alone long. Pat would be waiting for me after classes to get a meal or play some basketball or lift weights in the gym. He made me feel not so alone.

Pat was like me in many ways. We both went to private Catholic grade and high schools. We both had brothers. We both liked sports and weight lifting. We were both handsome young men. We were both independent minded.

Neither of us liked conformity. We would see fraternity and sorority pledging activities and had disdain for the process. We thought if you had to participate in such foolish acts to make friends, ‘were they really your friends?’ So Pat and I started our own fraternity of two and called it Lambda Nu Delta Lambda. It was the Greek letters for the initials of Late Night with David Letterman. It formed a brotherhood bond that had no hazing or pledging, just the friendship, brotherhood and fun.

LNDL

lndl2

 

Pat was the kind of friend who would take a bullet for you…and he did for me. My freshman year I played TAG – The Assassination Game – based on a current movie at the time of the same name, where the participants all got the name of another random participant and were challenged to shoot their target with a rubber dart gun before they themselves got shot by their assassin’s dart gun and knocked out of the game. I was one of the two last survivors. It was either my would-be assassin or me. One night I went to the snack bar with Pat and remember it clearly as it seemed to play out in slow motion. I turned and looked and saw my assassin coming at me pulling out his dart gun to ‘kill’ me. I instantly reached for my dart gun in my jacket to shoot him first, but there wasn’t time. He had seen me first and had the jump on me by a split second. I reflexively stepped behind my friend Pat as the dart was fired my way hitting Pat, instead of me, and allowing me the chance to reach around Pat and fire my dart gun at the other assassin, hitting him with the dart, and winning me the TAG game as last surviving assassin. I felt like James Bond.  But I would have been killed if not for Pat who took the dart/bullet meant for me. No greater love is there than to lay down your life for a friend. Pat did that for me, whether he even knew what was happening at that moment or not. He was more than a protective human shield to me. He was my friend. Now my best friend.

Back at home, Pat lived in a nearby hometown, so we could still get together over the summers. We would go to The Stairs for a workout, go to the beach or an outdoor summer concert, and in later years go out to bars together. Pat was a great wing man.

Our friendship grew over time, and we became better known as Ed and Pat….or Pat and Ed. I imagine it seemed to some that we were inseparable. Where one was, the other very frequently was. If I was alone, people would ask, “Where’s Pat?”   I imagine he heard “Where’s Ed?” a lot too when he was alone.  Pat was a good friend to have around.

My sophomore year we enjoyed playing basketball together and watching the Lewis University Flyers men’s basketball team. The four Niego brothers on the team were a college history first and we collaborated to write the lyrics for the song College for Playin’ together. It was a WLRA college radio station hit and we were so proud of ourselves and reveled in the celebrity of it.

There was a large boulder in the center of the Lewis campus better known as “The Rock”.  Fraternities and sororities would take turns painting The Rock their organizational colors under cover of darkness to claim it as their territory.  We would wake up and find the rock a different color every couple of days. Pat and I, not to be outdone by the other fraternities, set out with our fraternity of two to paint that rock ourselves.  We got a bucket of paint and set our alarms for the middle of the night, and went about our mission impossible task and poured out the bucket of paint on the rock in the dark in the middle of the night.  The next morning, we got up all proud of ourselves for what we had done, only to find that when we looked at the rock that it was the same color as it had been the prior day with no trace of our paint on it.  We wondered if we had dreamt of our mission in the night.  But the other fraternity had gotten up after us and had their pledges wash off the paint we had put on the rock to restore the rock to the prior color.  Determine, Pat and I set out on another mission, this time with two cans of spray paint – we chose red and green because it was just before Christmas break.  We set our alarms, accomplished our mission in the night, then gloated the next day as The Rock, now Jingle Bell Rock as we called it, shined Christmas colorfully half red and half green in the light of wintry day.  Pat and I spent the day gloatingly dropping puns with words like rock, stone, and boulder to our friends and laughing as we were feeling ‘boulder’ than ever.

Pat’s birthday is March 16th (no wonder how Patrick got his name being born on St. Patrick’s Day Eve) and one year his senior year he tried drinking a shot of liquor every hour of the day, and by the evening he was drunk. I don’t think he quite made his goal by the end of the evening but it looked like he was having fun trying. Facts kind of blur here, as I was drinking a bit too, but as I recall it was after Mardi Gras and we had these green eye masks and Pat and I wore them around like green masked crusaders….like two Lone Rangers, Batman and Robin, or the Green Hornet and Kato. We’d put our fists on our hips, puff out our chests in some heroic pose and start speaking in our best super hero voices while people who encountered us were obviously impressed (or possibly just amused by the two silly drunks at their door).

I was a resident assistant in the dormitories, and Pat was a resident on my floor. One night I was doing rounds after visitation hours and heard girl voice in a guy’s room which was prohibited. My co-worker resident assistant and I knocked on the door intending to write up the occupants in the room for a visitation hour violation. When the door was opened I was surprised and disappointed to find Pat in another friend’s room with two girls. We wrote them up for disciplinary proceedings, and I wondered sadly if that might adversely effect our friendship. The next day Pat came into the class we had together and sat down next to me like nothing had ever happened. When I asked him about what had happened the night before he wasn’t mad at me and accepted full responsibility for the incident and understood that I was just doing my job. I felt relieved. Our friendship didn’t miss a beat over the incident, and in fact strengthened in my mind as I felt the presence of a true ‘no matter what’ friend.

Ed and Pat, circa 1987

Ed and Pat, circa 1987

At the end of Pat’s senior year, he came back from the campus bar one night while I was on duty in the dormitory and he said that he thought he had met ‘The One’. I knew what that meant. I soon met the girl, Lisa, the next morning as I recall, saw how he could be so smitten, and I sensed things were never the same between us after that. I began feeling like a third wheel when I was around the new couple. They became inseparable and ‘Ed and Pat’/’Pat and Ed’ became a thing of the past while Pat and Lisa became the new thing for Pat.

I was alone again. But I had grown in maturity, confidence, wisdom, and friendship, and became ok with that. I was happy for my friend who had found the love of his life.

Pat and Lisa were married soon after graduation and I was the best man at their wedding.  Pat and Lisa now have a lovely daughter together and she is their joy and purpose in life.

 

Half my lifetime later, on yesterday’s beautiful Spring Saturday, as I met with my friend Pat again, so many years later, we connected like we had long ago and it seemed like we just picked up our friendship and brotherhood bond from where it last left off long ago.  That is what it is like when you have a true friend. And I felt so thankful for the gift of his friendship.  Still.

 

 

 

 

 

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