The Thanks Series #3: Great Friends

Because of exhaustion and ironic injury, this was not published on Sunday. And I missed a couple of weeks due to exhaustion. If you follow me on Twitter, you know why I’ve been so tired. If you’d like to know about the ironic injury, message me or comment on this post.

On we go:

1. Nathan (Hands) Riddle. (This is going to be long. Nathan’s role in my life is pivotal.) Other than through the design of a loving God in heaven, how could two people with such different backgrounds become such good friends? I arrived in Kanab, Utah, on August 21, 1991, with the intention that I would live there for long enough to graduate high school. It was my senior year; I had spent the last seven years of school in the Foundation’s horribly inadequate Faith School.

I spent my first week in Kanab settling into life. I began school on the 28th. I was painfully introverted and caught up in my own world of poem and story writing. I met Nathan through some other acquaintances and got a ride home once, perhaps two months after starting school. During that drive in a legendary Plymouth Valiant, I asked the 8 or so people who was LDS and who was Mormon.

Laughter followed.

I naturally gravitated to the Drama Club after what I call my ‘shell shattering’ (more on that later). In Drama Club, directed by the wonderful Donna Casebolt, I made more friends. Nathan was one of them. We were both cast in that year’s competition play: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I was Gopchik, a boy whose arm was infected. A hugely emotional role that I had trouble connecting with.

Nathan was Byunovsky. His role was angry and added tension to the production. He did a marvelous job and won a best actor award at the competition. Nathan and I became good friends and tried out for a summer theater job together, along with several others from Kanab High School. He and I got in.

There was just something about the guy. He was so generous with his friendship, so immediately unassuming and so… good. I fell in great brother love with the guy. He called me ‘Sledge’ and suggested I call him ‘Hands’ due to an incident from when he was younger. We ended up spending a lot of time together and going on multiple double dates. He was very LDS and I was very not. He had clearly defined principles and values that governed his life; I had hazy ones that I sometimes followed. I’m still not sure why he decided he would be my friend, but I value him so much.

We spent a lot of time together during the summer after graduation. Rehearsals followed by shows usually ended up with Nathan and I sitting on a low rock wall in front of the old middle school, scarfing burgers and chatting for hours. He was open with his faith and intention to serve a mission for the LDS church. He would be leaving in November of 1992. We talked about all sorts of things: cars, girls, spirituality, theater, and girls. We ran a little business together in an alleyway. We practiced stunts and worked on cars.

I will never forget what he said one night when we were discussing fate, choices, and our futures. “Sledge. Maybe God sent you here for a specific purpose. You’re here now and there’s got to be a reason for that.” It didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, but not long after, I recalled those words.

I was sad to see him go on his mission to Kenya. He was elated and energized. He left in November, and less than two months later, my life had changed completely and I had joined the LDS church as a result of divine direction. As I explored my newly found faith, I reflected often on things I had talked to Nathan about. Much of what he had been saying resonated greatly with me.

Then in April of 1993, Bishop Wright told me it was time to think about a mission. He was very right, and Nathan’s example shone brightly in the confusing and difficult times that followed. It was a short but very challenging road as I prepared to go forth and serve. I left in May of 1994.

By the time I got home in June of 1996, I hadn’t seen Nathan for 3.5 years. I was excited to spend time with my closest friend from years before, and was doubly excited to be his brother in the faith as well. Any nervousness or anxiousness at how our friendship might have waned in the intervening years was swallowed up in the thrill of my joy in the Gospel.

Our friendship was deepened by our shared faith and we spent plenty of time together again, doing a community production of My Fair Lady and going to the Temple in the old Valiant, and even beginning work on a film together.

Our lives have inevitably gone in separate directions, but I still count Nathan as one of my best friends of all time.

2. Byron Owens. Byron was one of my earliest friends in Kanab. His home was host to much video gaming and many role playing games. We wrote all over his bedroom’s walls. He is high on this list for two reasons: I counted him as a rival for pretty drama girls’ affections (which was a fun and harmless game), and he precipitated my ‘shell shattering.’ We are still friends and I am very proud of the wonderful family he has built, but the shell shattering is pretty huge for me.

It was at a dance after a football game at KHS. I went to these things because my friends went and I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to feel part of the crowd, although my introversion didn’t help. This was my second dance; at my first one, several girls had asked me to dance but I had begged off  by saying I didn’t know how to dance.

So I warmed the bench in a very dimly lit high school gym as ‘Forever Young’ and other early nineties hits blared. My friends would do what they called ‘bungalo’ whenever a fast song came on. It consisted of them leaping about the gym, gyrating in time to the beat and essentially going nuts. I thought of them as fearless and very cool and unexpected in this little town.

During this second dance, Byron paused in his bungalo-ing and pulled me from the bench. “Bungalo dude!”

I refused.

“Come on man, you gotta bungalo!”

My heart stammered and I tasted fear and eagerness.

“Dude! Just let go and bungalo!” He stood there, egging me on with his expression.

I felt my shell shudder. A profound need for this new experience, this big change, welled up in me. I kicked my shell as hard as I could. “Okay.”

Byron twirled off and I followed. The song was EMF’s “Unbelievable.” It was nearly over. But that last minute fundamentally shifted something inside me so that I was no longer painfully introverted. I held my head a little higher, felt the space inside that fear had vacated and that was being replaced by my first real confidence.

I bungalo-ed several times that night. Still no slow songs with girls; that would take another few weeks, but it was a start.

I thank Byron for thinking of me, for going out of his way to prod me out of my shell, for insisting. I accompanied him and several other friends to many dances after that night. We had a good time and I found a great deal of confidence as I learned to let go and be filled with moving music.

Byron and his friends also let me join their circle and become a part of their jamming, bonfires, and even their Monday night, local TV show on KND TV in Kanab. He gave me a spam bath and I don’t think two co-hosts have ever had more fun than we did. I thank him for the ability, today, to say I used to appear on TV every Monday night for a while back in high school.

Byron is still a good friend. We are very different people, but I think our values are very similar. As I’ve come to know him better, my respect for him has increased.

3. Javen Tanner. Javen was essentially the ringleader of my group of friends in Kanab. It would be more accurate to call him the intellectual leader of the group. He was president of our environmental club, the Green Party, in KHS, was very musically and lyrically talented, and also enjoyed playing sports. I felt like I was often competing with him talent-wise, but I was usually able to drop that when I stopped and realized that he simply had it in his blood. He thinks of things differently and has made poetry, music, and theater his life’s endeavor.

I’ve made stories, languages and gardening my life’s endeavor. We are two different guys. But his influence and commitment to his faith has been important to me over the years. He struck me as very true to himself. He wore his hair in a funky fashion, listened to alternative and very loud music, didn’t care for the establishment, but also was very open with his faith and belief.

Once on a school bus, coming back from some event, he told me about becoming kings and princes in the afterlife. This was a premature time to share this particular belief with me, but nonetheless, he lived his faith. I respected him greatly, and still do. His intelligence and devotion to craft are wondrous. I asked him to officiate in my confirmation after being baptized. He did a marvelous job.

He encouraged me and Hotness to go to London on the Theater Study Abroad program that he and Tara (his wife (I met her first!)), had recently done. We went and had the time of our lives.

We attended a Metallica concert a few years back. It was a phenomenal experience. We were both married (still are), both had kids, but that didn’t stop us from headbanging and having a spectacularly good time. What a great show.

I thank Javen for having my back in high school and for being an early example of integrity. I thank him for his friendship throughout the years. I thank him for his devotion to his craft.

4. Spencer Henderson. Spencer has always been smart, true to himself, and faithful. I’ve never doubted that he will always do the right thing. He’s a creative and very good guy. He had his leg snapped in my first game of Anarchy Ball (it wasn’t me!) and used a cane for many months after.

He and Byron have been friends for decades, and their friendship predated my arrival in Kanab by many years. However, they were open with their kindness and friendship to me. We played D&D and Shadowrun at the Best Friends Cafe and later in my apartment. Spencer’s sense of humor was the catalyst to a lot of laughter in those settings.

I thank him for the glimpse into the life of a faithful family and for helping me learn how to be a friend. And I thank him for being a stake missionary and accompanying the full-time missionaries on a new member discussion with me soon after I was baptized.

5. Chris Lister. Chris and I were rivals in some ways, but his core goodness and intelligence kept us from being enemies. He was part of the circle of friends that included Byron, Spencer, Nathan Cram, and Chris Mosdell, among others. Because of that, he also became my friend.

I thank Chris for playing Metallica in his little red pickup. I had heard them plenty before, but when he insisted that I really listen– that was the first time I opened my ears. Coasting down the 89 from Best Friends toward Kanab, dark having fallen and the stars blanketing the night sky, and listening to powerful lyrics backed up by insanely good guitar and drums was a revelatory experience.

Chris has been through a lot in his life. He is also a recent father. I thank him for friendship and friendly rivalry. And for Metallica. Always for Metallica.

6. Chris Mosdell. I had a shop-like class with Chris Mosdell. A big guy who seemed eager to find fun and be unbothered by others’ expectations, he has always struck me as firm in his opinions.

I thank Chris for driving to Astrella (an SCA event in Arizona) and for letting me sleep in the back of his van. I thank him for showing me how big brothers ought to treat their younger siblings. He surely doesn’t realize it, but I have a few clear memories of his interactions with his younger siblings. His is an important example of family. And the Mosdell family as a whole is a model group of people.

Chris was also in my Sunday School class right after I was baptized. He clearly knew his duty and also clearly had a lot of fun with his faith. I will never forget him suggesting we should have warm chocolate at a priesthood activity, since the Word of Wisdom specifically says we shouldn’t consume ‘hot drinks.’

I thank Chris Mosdell for his day to day faith and for his friendship over the years.

7. Dean Kurtz. Dean was part of the group, too. He wasn’t LDS, but that made no difference. He is smart, curious, has integrity, and restored a gorgeous Chevy Nova, souping it up pretty seriously. He has always been a serious hiker and, while always very friendly and generous with his friendship, seems like he could manage perfectly fine on his own in the middle of nowhere.

By that I mean that he strikes me as a guy who will not let himself be unduly influenced by others and who brooks no stupidity. He will call you on poor thinking, but will listen if you have a well thought-out point to make. We’ve hiked together and through those hikes, I gained more self-assurance with my abilities in the wilderness.

I thank Dean for intelligent conversation that I usually couldn’t sustain very well, good hikes, and for showing Kathy that she could get over me pretty fast.

8. Nathan Cram. Nathan Cram was also part of the circle of friends that existed before I showed up. His dad owned KND TV and so it was because of Nathan that the Monday night show was possible. Nathan is talented musically and is a very intelligent guy. He’s also very kind, kinder than most by far, and extremely curious about the world. He always struck me as very hungry for knowledge– and not just any old knowledge. He seemed to be seeking real, human truth wherever he went.

Nathan’s technical skill and creative thinking did a lot for his friends, and I thank him for allowing me to be a part of his circle of friends. And Nathan, sorry I dated your sister.

9. Nathan Roberts

Yes, this is the third Nathan. Hey, it’s a common name, okay? Nathan Roberts is one of the most musically talented guys I know. One night, during a dance, I wandered out of the gym and heard piano coming from the auditorium. I slipped in, and there in the dark I found Nathan at the piano in the orchestra pit/space. We chatted for a minute, and he played some more. I asked him what he was playing, and he said he was making it up on the spot.

That was pretty mind blowing.

Nathan was also very good at Anarchy Ball. Since you could not use your hands to take people down, he frequently did this insane scissor move where he leapt high, wrapped his legs around your torso, and flung you down. It was pretty kung-fu.

Nathan was a good school friend. We took government class together. His conversation was always engaging and we have seen each other over the years and our conversation feels natural every time. He is a genuinely good man and he came to my last baby blessing- which was marvelous.

His parents are mighty cool, too.

10. John Jacobs. My first encounter with John was on his 1st wedding day. He was marrying a girl I’d had a bit of a crush on in high school. He had graduated the year before and had joined the army. He and Lori were getting married in the St. George temple and I was irritated that I couldn’t see the wedding.

So I wasn’t happy with the guy.

But I later spent a summer working with him on some theater, and he was good friends with Nathan Riddle, so I talked to him a lot. Turns out that we got along really well. We became closer as his life was turned upside down and have kept in good touch over the years. I have to thank him for his family– who are down to earth and wonderful, and his never-say-impossible attitude. He faces things with a certainty that he can get things done.

We drove from Kanab to Provo together once. He was driving an impressive VW bug that had a widened wheel base and was seriously souped up. We had occasion to test out its stability a couple of times during that journey, one to dodge a semi truck and one to dodge a deer. I live and am not paralyzed, so I thank John for that car.

*     *     *

That’s a long one. I love these guys.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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