Loss is an inevitable part of life. We experience all kinds of it throughout the course of our time here. But at some point, we cross an invisible threshold where instead of grandparents, parents, and assorted people of older generations than our own passing, we begin experiencing the loss of our peers. And that is profound. It is profound as a vehicle for recognizing not only our own mortality, but in assessing the contributions others have made to our miles traveled and roads taken.
I have often wondered who would be first to depart from the people I grew up with, who it was that would mark the moment when childhood memories would become tinged with grief instead of pristine in their innocence. I never thought it would be Billy.
The last time I saw Billy (Bill, as an adult) was high school graduation, 1983. We were not only in classes together but plays, both dramas and musicals. And for people who do shows together, there forms a bond, like comrades in trench warfare, I suppose, that lasts forever no matter where life takes us.
I wish I could say that Billy’s and mine was a friendship that exceeded our youth, that we got together periodically and stayed in touch, as close friends do over the years. But that was not the case. We parted ways, going to separate colleges and I left New York altogether, gladly leaving behind my high school days, which, outside of my participation in shows and concerts, I held no fondness in recalling. Gradually, the faces and names of my past have dimmed to the point where I honestly do not remember a whole lot of them, but that never applied to Billy, who has remained clear as a bell in my mind and one of my better memories.
Through the power of Facebook, Billy and I reconnected in recent years, and though there is much about being on Facebook that drives me up a wall, I count this reconnection as a blessing I could not have known the full measure of until now.
I don’t think it was a surprise to him that I stayed in music, nor was it a surprise to me that he became a graphic designer. He was always doing that, even in high school. That he was a devoted husband and father also did not come as a shock to me, though the graying hair in recent photographs did. So to see the man he became was a pleasure, but not a surprise.
What was a surprise to me was Billy’s brilliant sense of humor. His FB posts, be they poetry, observations, or other random musings, made me laugh out loud, and I never neglected to tell him so or that he should seriously consider comedy writing, because he had a natural gift for it.
I found a kindred spirit in political passion and world outlook, and that tickled my liberal, idealistic heart to no end. The more I got to know Billy now, strange a place as the internet is to do that, the more I genuinely liked and admired Billy.
So to find out Sunday morning that this man so full of life and humor and love for his wife, Sheri, and son, Max was hit by a car and gone to us forever still seems unfathomable to me. Try as I might, I cannot wrap my head around this life so senselessly cut short. And I know there are no words of condolence I can offer that can possibly touch the pain his family is feeling or the loss they must endure. I can only hope that time tempers their grief and leaves them with the enduring legacy of the joyous soul he was.
I’m sure if I scoured old boxes long enough, I would find pictures of Billy and me in No, No, Nanette along with a thirty year old cassette tape capturing the performance. But for now, what I’ve retrieved is our high school yearbook, a snapshot of a place and time in our lives long gone.
Billy wrote me a long parting message in our yearbook, complete with his trademark drawings. “…we quiet, reserved people are the most emotional…” he said in my yearbook. He was right about that.
And so it is tearfully that I wish my childhood friend Godspeed. Rest in peace, Billy Geller. You are deeply missed.
This is how I will always remember Billy.