In middle school, there was a boy named Caleb who would routinely eat things off the cafeteria floor, claiming it helped his immune system. He never got sick so maybe he was right.
During lunch one day, another boy reached for a chicken nugget off Caleb's hard plastic cafeteria tray. Mid-reach, Caleb stabbed the other boy in the hand with his fork, causing a bit of bleeding and a lot of bruising. To Caleb, this was hilarious.
A few of us would go over to Caleb's house where we pretended to be professional wrestlers and play paintball, at the same time. I never got the connection between Hulk Hogan and shooting balls of paint at one another from way too close range, but the others had no problem making that leap. The whole spectacle probably had something to do with our endocrine systems just starting the flood of testosterone, pushing us as children towards manhood, and impersonating costumed, steroid abusers prancing around in their underwear on TV, combined with shooting each other in pretend-war was, in our hormonally-hazed minds, what Men did. Caleb had the best paintball gun, had the best aim with his good gun, and also knew all the catchphrases and signature moves of every wrestler. He dominated this “game” and I was glad to be included in this make-believe world.
Caleb moved to South Carolina during middle school and years went by and we forgot about him.
During our senior year of high school, a bunch of us skipped class on a day we dubbed “Senior Skip Day” (for obvious reasons). Senior Skip Day not-so-coincidentally fell on the opening day of trout season. Stone Mountain State Park, with its many rivers and creeks flowing through it, was a 15-minute drive from the high school, so the bulk of the kids skipping ended up here, with their trucks and fishing gear in tow. The teachers knew about it but didn't stop it, partly because I think they were jealous but mostly because they were glad to be rid of us for the day.
We were walking along one of the rivers, and we noticed a few people lazily floating by in inner tubes. One of the men in the tubes yelled up at us and out of the river came Caleb.
There was a lot to catch up on in the time spanning shooting each other with paintballs when we were 11 years old and nearly-grown men finishing up high school, too much, in fact, to exchange anything but the high-level details. Indeed he had moved to South Carolina and was currently working in construction (as he had dropped out of school). Behind the short, awkward sentences, I could still tell Caleb had a wildness about him, but, at that age, wildness was less paintball guns and re-enacting fake wrestling matches, and more something else entirely.
Without saying it, we both seemed to decide that our friendship and commonalities were from a different time, so we politely said our goodbyes as he pushed back off into the river and that was the last I ever saw Caleb, just floating away.