By Christopher Heagy
The first time I met Ed DeFrancesco, we were both freshman at Mount Saint Mary's College. He was wearing blue jeans and a light blue T-shirt from his high school baseball team. The shirt, slightly faded and slightly torn, said, in dark blue lettering, "Armed and Dangerous." Covering his long, black, greasy hair was a Rice Owls cap that was so sweaty, beaten and battered that it had faded from navy blue to gray. A massive 'lipper' of Skoal chewing tobacco was jammed inside his lower lip. In a word, he looked like a bum.
But Eddie D was also wearing this sly grin that suggested something good was about to happen and he was content to just wait and see. And any 18-year-old knows the importance of a broken-in hat. So early in our freshman year, we struck up a friendship.
Tonight, Ed DeFrancesco looks completely different from that fall day. He's wearing a black tuxedo and a white bow tie, dancing with his new wife while the band plays.
"I love you more today than yesterday/ but not as much as tomorrow," booms across the room as Ed twirls Tracy around the dance floor. Watching him, I see that same grin I first saw eight years ago slip onto his face.
Once again, our gang has assembled. Tonight, we're in northern New Jersey. In May, it was western Pennsylvania. We're standing by the bar, just as we've done many times: Keith, Scott, Pete, Dan, Brian, Larry, John and me. We're together again for a few more hours. We laugh, joke, drink and tell stories just like before.
Four years out of college, we know each other so well - and we don't know each other at all. So much has changed. Keith, Scott and Pete are married. We all have different jobs, live in different cities and lead different lives.
For four years, we spent every day together, knew every detail of each other's lives. Now the phone calls are fewer. We see each other less and less. Weddings are the one thing that bring us together.
In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "New friends can often have a better time together than old friends."
Not tonight. So much of the fun of friendship is based on history, stories and the experiences you share. It's waking up on Saturday morning, watching football and talking about all the stupid things you did last night. It's lunches at McDonald's and dinner in the cafeteria. It's living in cramped dorm rooms, moving into better apartments and carrying furniture up three flights of stairs. It's sitting up all night talking about sort-of girlfriends, current girlfriends, ex-girlfriends or any girls. It's making grilled cheese at four in the morning and loaning your buddy five bucks for nachos during finals week. It's walking to the Grotto at 6am, hours before you graduate, to see the sun rise over the mountains one last time. Finally, it's sitting at the dinner table at Ed's wedding and laughing so hard you can't talk, breathe or think.
At the end of the night, I stood at the far end of the banquet hall. I looked out over the room. I saw Ed with his wife and his parents. I saw a crowded floor overflowing with bad dance moves. I saw some of my best friends standing by the bar, laughing and sharing a drink. My eyes welled uncontrollably.
I think I am not one to get emotional, but that moment overwhelmed me. I was so happy for Ed and his wife. I was happy to be around this group of friends. In those few moments everything hit me: the history we have, the distance that develops - and the realization that the next time we are all together, someone else will be getting married.
The tears came because it took me four years and Ed getting married before I realized just how important these people are to me.
After a minute, I wiped my eyes, took the last sip of my beer and joined my friends at the bar for another drink together.