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How do you find a long-lost friend? An ode to Roger Manne...

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Back in the day, when I was a sixteen-year-old lost soul, in the small town of Jackson Heights, outside the bigger island of Manhattan, I had a boyfriend, or maybe he had me. I was new to the real world, having lived a sheltered life of fear until I left by my apartment window. I believed myself to be ugly, stupid and unwanted as I had been told. I did not yet know my worth, and wouldn't for some time. I was leery of people. I had heard the stories, whispered by classmates and teachers and in books, of how people got ruined by drugs, alcohol or pregnancy. I had some first-hand experience in the matter.


Roger was older than me by six years. He was kind, and known on the street as "good people," trustworthy and dependable. He laughed easily and smiled a lot. He readily agreed to my stipulations on dating- no sex, drugs or smoking, and whooped in happiness when I agreed to go out with him. His parents, Ruth and Sy were gentle with me too. They had me over for dinner often, and didn't ask why I was storing my stuff at their house. When I graduated from high school early at sixteen and a half, Ruth came to my graduation with Roger so I would have a parent there. She paid the five dollars for an overdue book so I could walk home from Newton High with my diploma. She treated me like a daughter, a new phenomenon to me, and I loved her for that.


Now that I am in mid-life, and understand the true value of his love, I search for Roger to thank him even though it's been too many years and I know the chances of finding him are slim. And yet. A few years back, a sweet soul who had looked for me for almost thirty years spotted me on Facebook, and we reconnected, bringing a salve to my heart, and joy to both of us. Could Facebook, which I have a love-hate relationship with, work its magic again? It did.


The friend suggested I look for Jackson Heights pages on FB, and to see if anyone knows him there. A real longshot I thought in a town of over a hundred thousand, but I tried anyway. I had nothing to lose. I posted on Jackson Heights forums, listing Roger and his parents' names, the street and corresponding avenue I thought he lived on, and what his mother did - an executive at Electra Records, a rarity in those days of stay-at-home mothers and few female executives.


Within a half hour I had responses from four to five people who knew him well, correcting me on his address and his parents' names, and informed me that he left our world young, twenty years before. He had been a lonely man, living with his parents until his mother died and his father moved out to Astoria, leaving the apartment to Roger. He never married, had kids, nor held a steady job. Everyone remembered him fondly, recalling how he sold his precious vinyl records for beer money, and fell in with the wrong crowd, which led to his early demise. No one wanted to tell me outright what happened although I could tell they knew. No one had a bad word to say about him.


A woman named Mimi messaged me separately to tell me Roger had been her first too, and she too remembered his kindness, his happiness at just being with someone, how he had no expectations. How he loved her unconditionally, like he loved me, and never asked for anything in return. Like me, she broke up with him, moving on to bigger things, never looking back. In retrospect, she thought he may have had a learning difficulty, and his simple joy in being with someone was all he needed, until there was no one there. We mourned him together, this new friend and I, and raised a glass to a good man we never forgot but did not get a chance to thank in this life.


My search brought me back not only Roger, but confirmation of the man I thought he was, and memories of my old haunts -the 78th street park, and Budd's dive bar on 37th, and my short youth. It instantly took me back to the old neighborhood, in photographs from the '70's and the vernacular of the place I thought I had left behind, only to be reminded of its good parts, of the people who walked with me on that journey, keeping me safe, to someday tell the story. Thank you, Roger. I won't soon forget you.


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