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I’d like to share a trip with my childhood best friend

I can’t take you to the exact spot, but I remember the experience.

It was 1983, I believe, and I was 12 years old. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was still being constructed and had not been completely flooded yet.

My Boy Scouts troop took a hiking trip over a couple of days early that summer. For the first day, we hiked — with full camp backpacks — several miles along the concrete bed of the waterway.  It was by far the longest stretch of our two-day trek, offering no shade or other respite. But I loved it. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were walking “on the bottom of the river.”

In the evening, we climbed the tall, steep rock-covered bank to pitch camp on the level ground overlooking what would one day be a fish- and fun-filled wet place. I remember standing outside the entrance to my tent, eating a protein bar and trying to imagine the waters rushing past.

I couldn’t wait to tell my grandparents — we were going to visit them for a few days after I got home — that I had hiked on the bottom of the Tennessee River. I’m pretty sure I giggled thinking about it.

I didn’t know that would be my last “big” scouting excursion, that less than a year later our family would be moving half a state away where there was no local troop, or that my world was going to fall apart emotionally just a few days from then. I was thanking God for an experience I knew few would ever have.

I got home from the trip on Tuesday and shared my experience with my parents. They “wowed” at all the right places and I looked forward to telling my two best friends — Darryl and Jeff — about it. Jeff was out of town and I’d have to call him later in the summer. His family usually spent the summer months in north Florida. Darryl lived just down the street and I’d probably see him the next day.

Wednesday I saw some neighborhood kids out by the basketball court next door to my house.

“Did you hear what happened to Darryl?” one asked me.

Huh?

“He got hit by a car.”

HE DID NOT! I yelled it in his face and ran home.

Through tears and ragged breathing I begged my dad to call someone and find out what happened. In the days before cell phones and such, communication took a lot longer to establish at times. By the time we knew Darryl had indeed been struck and was in the hospital, it was time for dinner and midweek church service. My dad was pastor, so he promised we’d go check on my friend as soon as church was over.

I was too upset to go to my church class, so I sat on a pew in the hallway outside my dad’s office and tried to keep it together. My older brother kindly kept me company. At one point our music minister came by and asked if I was OK.

“You look like you just lost your best friend,” he said. There was no way he could have known. I burst into tears and my brother told him I might have. Poor man kept apologizing and I know he felt terrible.

After church, Dad took me to the hospital and I visited with Darryl’s mom and grandmother, and they even let me have a few minutes alone — spent in silence — with the boy who was hooked up to so many tubes and wires he no longer resembled my best friend at all.

I tried to be happy and enjoy the next couple of days at my grandparents’ house as we visited. I remember asking my dad to call the hospital and check on Darryl, please. He told me no one was answering the phone in his room.

I didn’t allow myself to think about what that might mean.

Darryl died sometime Thursday. Dad told me when we got home Friday. The funeral was that weekend.

The previous Sunday I had stood with Darryl in his front yard, tossing my football back-and-forth and talking. At almost the same time, we asked each other a question that was on each of our minds — do you know where you’re going when you die? We answered each other excitedly that we both had trusted Jesus as savior and knew we’d go to be with him in Heaven. A little later I told him I’d see him after I got home from my hiking trip Tuesday.

But Tuesday his bike skidded on the gravel in his grandmother’s driveway, and he slipped out into the street just enough to be clipped by a passing car. The driver wasn’t speeding or doing anything illegal, but the result of the impact was catastrophic. Darryl never woke up.

I had no idea when we had that conversation Sunday it would be our last. But I kept that football. It’s busted and no good to anyone, but it is priceless to me. And I kept the reassurance of our last talk — that Darryl knew where he was going.

I would have liked to be able to share that trip with Darryl, but it wasn’t to be. But one day I will share a much more important trip with him, when we meet again face to face.

Lifestyles editor Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.