During the summer between the ninth grade and my sophomore year of high school, I did two things that would have a profound impact on my life.

First, I took driver’s education in summer school.

I was 14, but my 15th birthday was on the horizon, and if I took the course and got a copy of my birth certificate, once I started school that year, I would be able to get my driver’s permit and all of the future freedom that it promised.

Second (when I was not in summer school) I played tennis.


I would ride my bike to the tennis courts at the junior high school where I had just finished the ninth grade.

If there was no one there, I would hit the tennis ball against the north wall of the former high school — now junior high — gym where my father had once coached basketball.

At some point during the day, other people would show up, and I would get to play an actual game of tennis instead of simply counting the number of consecutive times I was able to hit the ball without missing.

One of the people who often showed up that summer was a neighbor from around the block, Brian Willoughby.

Brian was a good tennis player, but the quality he possessed that was even more important to me that summer was that he was exceedingly reliable. As adults Brian and I reconnected on Facebook, and he was as reliable and supportive as I remembered.

Each August when crochet season kicked off, he would offer me encouragement, do “virtual” chores, and check in on a regular basis to see how my project was going.

I came to take all of this for granted, and each summer in late July, I would tag him to remind him that crochet season was coming up.

Then yesterday I woke up to a message from a mutual friend informing me that Brian had died in a house fire.

Like a lot of people, I was shocked, and throughout the day I found myself experiencing a mashup of anger, denial, and loss.

After a couple of hours checking the news to make sure he really had died and it wasn’t simply some other Brian Willoughby whom I had never met, I decided it might be more helpful to work through my fresh grief with crochet, so I got out my current project, a crochet granny rectangle, and got to work.

The first thing I had to do was pick a green:

green yarn
Choosing a green yarn

After I settled on the Red Heart Super Saver spring green on the far right, I crocheted and crocheted and crocheted until I had gotten this far:

granny crochet rectangle
Thirteen rounds in on a granny rectangle

I know that when August 1 rolls around this year, I will feel Brian’s absence anew. I will miss his enthusiasm for life and the messages like this that he would leave on my wall:

conversation with Brian
Conversation with Brian

Sometimes you don’t truly understand the the place someone occupies in your life until they are gone, and you find they have taken a piece of you with them.

5 thoughts on “Summertime

  1. I am truly sorry for your loss. Life is truly short and things can happen when you least expect it. Thank you for sharing some of your memories with Brian. My heart goes out to his friends and family.

  2. I am so sorry to hear how you suddenly lost your good and reliable friend, Brian. It’s been a few years now, but after being out of touch with most of my high school friends for decades, rediscovering them was such a wonderful experience. Since that time, some have also passed on. And it cuts deep. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers as are Brian Willoughby’s family and other friends.

  3. Oh Leslie I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear friend… is truly amazing to me how many of us are connected to each other as we are…..please share my condolences with his family. I love your crochet rectangle. I find I pick up my latest project when I’m sorting things out in my head. ?‍♀️?

  4. I have moved back home after more than 20 years of living away. I had connected with some of my high school friends on Facebook & have reconnected with some in person. Sadly, I have made the reconnections with some at the funerals of some others. It’s certainly not a good way to have any kind of reunion. I have realized how much they all played a part in my life. I can understand your loss, Leslie. I’m so sorry. I’ve learned that I should keep in contact with the ones I care about & even the ones who I didn’t. You never know how much you will feel their loss.

  5. Brian was such a good friend. I know you will miss his encouragement. I liked seeing his comments on your page. Xx

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