From friends, to strangers, to friends again...

I'm going to break from the usual today and tell you all a story about an old friend of mine. An old friend who, after spending most of our youthful years together, I fell out of touch with. A friend who spent the last 12 years as more of a stranger, than a friend at all...

Time and circumstance had pulled Leighton and I 12 years and 7,577 km's apart, it didn't take either of us all that long to realize that 12 years and 7,577 km's between friends isn't all that long after all.

I didn't actually realize it until his visit, but Leighton and I have known each other a lot longer than either of us had realized. In fact, we were surprised to learn just recently that even our fathers went to high school together. As youngsters – aged 3 or 4 I would say – we lived in the same housing complex. Though our recollection of one another going that far back is vague, you could say that it all began back then – living in Dunvegan Court – throwing rocks at wasps nest's with the older boys, riding our bikes in the rain, and running for our lives as the cries of Old Anna Mooney scared us down from the trees we knew we weren't supposed to climb.

I can remember, at age 11, staying up all night in Leighton's basement playing Sega and eating candy until we became so delirious with sleep deprivation that the only logical solution was to spend 3 hours jumping on his trampoline. What a proud moment it was for us – two young boys on a pursuit to prove to one another that sleep is unnecessary, and that candy and video games is sufficient substitute. Or the incredibly unhealthy, but equally comical infatuation with the Spice Girls we developed in grade 7. I still struggle to make sense of that one, even today – though Leighton and I are pretty sure it was Jarryd who got that started.

Even know, I struggle to grasp how Leighton and I could have ever lost touch – but we did. High school came around, and I suppose our interests began to change. The girls came around too – or well, I guess the girls were always there – we just began to feel... differently about them.

I suppose we're not the only two friends to have lost touch, to have gone our separate ways, never to look back. The difference about Leighton and I though, is that I did look back. Twelve years since we last spoke, I sat in my bedroom in London wondering whatever happened to the friend who was once my Jacob Marley, guiding me as Ebeneezer Scrooge, through the depths of my guilt ridden subconscious in the annual Christmas musical at our elementary school. But rather than continue wondering, I started searching, finding my old friend back home in Burnaby, right where I left him. Funny thing was, Leighton wouldn't be staying in Burnaby for too much longer...

I sat at Heathrow, eagerly waiting for Leighton's flight to arrive. I was nervous. Meeting strangers had become easy for me – and though Leighton was very much a stranger to me now – something felt different. Lee Allen and Emma Gridley, some of the first on my quest to 100 – they didn't know anything about me – they had no grounds on which to pass judgement. But Leighton knew who I used to be, and whether he realized it or not, he would have an opinion on the person I had become.

I had been waiting nearly 45 minutes - his plane had landed now – the screen told me so, but there was no sign of him. Had I missed him? Did he look that different? As I pondered these things, an announcement caught my attention over the loud speakers - “Could Gregory Dion please report to the Airport Services desk”. Leighton was paging me! I must have missed him! I walked hurriedly to the desk that had beckoned me, but was disappointed to see only a middle aged woman standing in it's vicinity. If that was Leighton, we'd have a lot of catching up to do.

The good news – Leighton had not become a middle aged woman. The bad news – an immigration officer was on the phone, and needed to speak to me.

'Hello, this is Gregory Dion speaking'. I spoke with as much confidence as I could gather.

'Hi Greg. Listen, I've got someone named Leighton Wong here. He tells me you are here to pick him up?'

'That is correct' I tell him.

'Can you tell me how you know Mr. Wong?'

'We grew up together!' I said with excitement.

'And when was the last time you saw him?'

'... about 12 years ago...'

I wasn't feeling so confident anymore.

The immigration officer continued to ask questions, most of which I realized I could not answer. What were Leighton's intentions in the UK? What did he do for work back home? How long had he been planning his trip? Who would be finding his travels? Where would be be going after leaving the UK? How long did he plan to be travelling for?

I suppose it did all sound fairly suspicious. A Canadian guy, having recently quit his job, coming to the UK on a one way ticket to meet a friend he had not seen in 12 years. And all that I could really tell the officer with any true confidence is that the two of us used to really like the Spice Girls. I didn't imagine that would help Leighton clear immigration though, so I kept it to myself.

It took 4 hours or so for immigration officials to finally give Leighton entry clearance to the United Kingdom. He looked exhausted when we walked through those doors – exhausted and relieved – but, through all the relief and exhaustion, he looked exactly like I remembered.

Leighton and I spent the next week getting to know one another again. I showed him around the city I now called home, and took him with me to explore areas I had yet to discover. We spent the afternoons walking the busy streets of London, and the evenings with our feet up at the pub. We remembered old friends, told stories, and wondered what happened to everyone else we used to know. We drank pints, went for a curry on Brick Lane, rode bikes through Regents park, and wandered the banks of the Thames after dark.

It's amazing how easily time can turn a friend into a stranger. How, in the absence of communication, we can completely loose touch with someone we probably thought would be in our lives forever. And even though today's technologies have made it exponentially easier to get back in touch, it remains just as easy to never take the time. Funny thing is though, for all the of year we spent not speaking, it seems that a single afternoon was enough to put all of that in the past for Leighton and I. How instantly the two of us had reconnected. And the stories! The things we remembered! The moments that, as a 12 year old, passed by without notice. The seemingly insignificant happenings of our young lives that, when we look back on them today, had an immeasurable effect on the men we had become.

All these words though, they don't really do any justice to the week Leighton and I spent getting to know each other again. They don't capture the moments of laughter we shared looking back on the silly things that used to seem perfectly normal and acceptable to us. They don't really give you any idea how great it felt to say goodbye to another stranger in my life, and welcome an old friend back in.

[Look closely!]

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