Ferny has been on my mind quite a bit. That shouldn’t be a shock today because it was the day his killer was sentenced, but just in general he’s on my mind. Every time I drive down the street to my son’s school and I gingerly pull aside waiting for the legions of bicyclists to pass, I think of him. Every time I see a car pulled to the side of the road I wince and say a small prayer. I especially think of him when I see my husband and his best friend Fernando (who we all call Ferni) together.
Ferny wasn’t the most pivotal figure in my life, or even my adolescence and I know I wasn’t fundamental in his. But he was integral to our close-knit group of friends, and so interwoven into the patchwork of my childhood and young adulthood.
It has always taken me a very, very long time to process heartbreak. I’m always first and foremost worried about everybody else, and then I always feel I don’t have a right to be upset. I don’t like to be the center of attention, and I am not the type who likes to lean on people. I am the support beam, but even beams can become stressed because of the loads applied to them.
All people are fractured selves that add up to a whole, miraculously unique person. Ferny was just like us all in that sense, we all had a slightly different piece of him. He was a son, a brother, a friend, and so many of those overlapped.
I met Ferny when I was 13, he was the talk of our middle school. Tall, lanky, ever unruffled. Even having his cornea scratched and needing to wear glasses for a year didn’t prevent him from looking cool, he had the hippest glasses around. All the girls swooned over him, especially his straight sandy blonde hair and perfect skin. I cannot tell you how many friends I heard day in and day out rant on and on about him. It wasn’t just his good looks; if I had to describe him in one word it’d be jubilant. He was happy and outgoing and always full of endless energy. And he was a shameless flirt. He flirted with everybody! From classmates to mothers to grandmothers, if you were female you were under his charms. To this day I have never met a mother who wasn’t fond of Ferny, I think he secretly reminded them of their childhood crushes.
I was not swooning over him. I just wasn’t into pretty boys I thought at the time, although I probably would’ve eventually formed a crush on him if I hadn’t met his best friend Victor first. Victor was definitely crush-worthy in my opinion, gregarious but with much darker features and an unearthly knowledge of rock music. And so began my relationship with my future husband, entwined with several lifelong friendships I made during my formative years.
While I might not have drooled over Ferny like all my friends, I definitely liked his company. He was always fun, nothing was ever dull with him around – and this was a quality of his that lasted well into our adulthood, long after many of us became bored or cynical, he still was vigorously in love with life. But he wasn’t just some handsome kid with a good attitude – he was bright. As we moved out of middle school and into high school Ferny’s and my relationship grew. With Victor at another high school and Ferny and I taking the bus to school together as well as several classes, we became friends outside him just being my boyfriend’s best friend.
He loved to debate me. Looking back I think he would sometimes play devil’s advocate and say shocking things to provoke my surprised exclamation of ‘Ferny!’
He definitely was intelligent, but I’ve always thought his real talent lay in people. People adored him, and not just women, guys too. He was one of those people that walked into the room and heads would turn, and as soon as he started going on about his newest idea or take on a subject, all ears would be on him as well.
As talented and wonderful as he was I have a confession to make – he was the worst actor! In sophomore year our Magnet Drama program was looking for guys, we had two in the whole program and needed more. While he wasn’t in the magnet, when he auditioned he immediately got it. He was a guy, and he looked great on stage. The thing about Ferny’s acting was he was so naturally extroverted that when he acted he would overact terribly. He took it to this whole level of cheese – but it didn’t matter. We all adored him and thought whatever he did on stage was superb. He had a light within him that shined over everyone he met, and even in the last row of that dimly lit auditorium anybody could see that – overacting or not.
Right before a major show Ferny bleached his hair and dyed it a bright reddish color. It faded quickly into what I would call a sunset scheme. Hues of oranges and reds all over the place. But once again like the glasses, he pulled it off perfectly. You know those high end models you see walking the catwalk with outrageous hair and makeup and you think ‘that would never look good on anybody but them!’ – Ferny was one of those models. I don’t think he even went through an awkward adolescent phase.
More than just looks, Ferny was kind. He was mischievous yes, but he was thoughtful. During sophomore year I was planning a big sweet 16 party for myself, and a week and a half before the party an unnamed storm swept through Miami, and dumped over a foot and a half of water into my house. The water didn’t recede for days and my house was left with mold and the walls had to be torn down and immediately gutted. My room was in what used to be the carport, the lowest sitting room in the lowest sitting house on the lowest street in West Miami. Half of my books and things had to be tossed out. There wasn’t going to be a party.
Luckily Victor, Ferny and my best friends Lissette and Christine hatched a plan and threw me the biggest, most epic sweet 16th surprise party a girl could ask for. Bands, food, friends and a pool. This wasn’t the first or last party at Ferny’s house, and the parties are still talked about to this day. It was the most special and memorable for me though. Even now I still think about it and smile, amazed that I’ve had such generous people in my life.
After we had been dating quite a while Victor and I had a ‘scare’ and we were panicked. Victor had to go to work afterschool and I didn’t have a car so I could go to the Planned Parenthood to get a morning after pill (which for any interested are now available over the counter at pharmacies – all the good it does for teenagers a decade ago). Back then you had to have an exam, and get the pill prescribed but first, find a way to get your immobile teenage self all the way across town to the Planned Parenthood – without your parents knowing obviously. Enter Ferny. One quick call from Victor and Ferny appeared like a flash. The patron saint of teenage causes. I hung out with him until my appointment and we talked all about relationships – we were in high school after all. What was there to talk about – homework?
After the appointment Ferny took me to Wendy’s and fed me. As we were eating our food he looked at me and said earnestly, “You know Viv, when I have a serious girlfriend I really hope I can do nice things with her like this.” I looked at him perplexed. “Things like hanging out at the Planned Parenthood?” I thought to myself smiling.
Ferny’s was always a sincere friend. A few months might go by, or even longer as we got older without seeing him, but if you ever needed him he was there.
In the years since I’ve gotten older it still warms me how sweet he was and how delicately he handled the whole situation. But he wasn’t flawless, and I don’t think he would want to be remembered that way. If you could use the word minx to depict a man – that would be him. He was just a ball of happiness and enthusiasm and fun. He didn’t take himself too seriously and he seemed to genuinely enjoy everyday. He was mischievous and would often joy ride in his Mustang with his best friends, Victor, Ricky and Ferni in tow. I am and always was a total good girl (Planned Parenthood scare aside). I listened to my parents, I came home well within curfew and was generally a very fun, outgoing girl – but let’s admit it, I’ve never been wild. I’m a worrier and I always fretted about these boys.
One night in particular they stopped by my house for a quick ‘hello.’ It was after 2am. I was in my room in my pajamas – where 16-year-old girls should be. I heard a tapping on my window and peeked out from behind my curtain to see Victor goofily standing at my window holding up a slice of pizza like it was some feral animal he’d just caught. Behind him I could see the boys tumbling out of the car, Ferny at the wheel.
“Vivian! Let me in!” Victor whispered loudly through the window.
I hissed at him, “Go away! My father has guns! Why are you here so late?!”
“I’ve got this pizza for you!” he said happily, and the guys chuckled.
I rolled my eyes, closed the curtain and wouldn’t let any of them in. In fact I chided Victor and they all had to apologize to me in the morning. Come to think of it now, I don’t know what era I thought I was a teenager in – maybe the Victorian days when boys didn’t come calling unannounced.
So yeah, I was no wildcat. I’m sure Ferny knew this and delighted in teasing me, even flirting with me, just so I could narrow my eyes at him and exclaim, “Ferny!” He was impish and light hearted and just loved getting a rise out of me.
There are so many things I could say about Ferny, so many stories to share. I often think of the last real conversation we had, he was really starting to ride his bike everywhere and he kept insisting he wanted to visit his nephews, as he called Victor and my sons.
“Viv, Viv, I’m going to ride down to see you guys on my bike. I have to see my nephews! I can’t believe I haven’t met them yet.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled warmly, “Ok Ferny. Do you know how far it is from your place to the Redlands?”
“Well, I want to meet my nephews, so I’ll find a way.”
That exchange still warms my heart, at the time I thought it was just Ferny being Ferny. Sometimes he’d disappear for a bit, very involved in whatever new hobby or interest he was steeped in at the moment. Then he’d reappear and we’d hear all about his adventures as he smiled and explained them animatedly. I have always been a mother hen, so often I’d shake my head at him and tsk, tsk. But he’d beam that gorgeous, big bright smile and basically convince anybody of anything, and soon I’d be laughing at his tales.
I never thought that was the last time I’d speak to him. I didn’t realize how quickly time goes by when you’re older and living your lives, even under the same city moon. While I’m saddened that he never met the children Victor and I have, I always recall what he told me in one of our one-on-one conversations in high school.
“You know,” he said sincerely, leaning back in the chair like he’d often do, “they always say you’re supposed to judge people by their actions and not their words. But that’s not how people should judge me. I should be judged by my words and not my actions.”
I found that puzzling at the time, but it has made more and more sense as I’ve gotten older. Sometimes he could be silly and maybe do things he shouldn’t have, but he meant what he said.
When I look back on these last two years without Ferny it fills me with unhappiness to know he isn’t out there, finding new quests to go on, unusual things to bring back and explain to his friends and family.
Even though Victor and I hadn’t seen him in almost two years when he passed away, it didn’t feel like that long. He was busy building his life, becoming an amazing bicyclist and really coming into his own as a responsible, adult man, while Victor and I focused on daily family life, work and even more kids. One reason it didn’t feel like time had passed was Victor, Ferny, Ferni and Ricky, all childhood best friends always seemed to have some invisible cord linking them. One would hear about the other and pass it along to this one or that one, so there was always constant communication, especially in the age of texting, facebook, twitter and so on. And we always thought we’d meet up with Ferny not this time but the next, or the next after that – we all had busy schedules after all. But surely we’d still have more parties at his mother’s house; Ferny’s birthday, or maybe a big bash after our high school reunion, there was always time.
Those times never came and now they never will. Ferny is gone. Ricky is living in New York. Ferni has moved to Japan. Victor and I have had our fourth child, Nikolai Fernando, and are still busy with the daily bustle. That unseen cord that joined those four wonderful boys together and intertwined them into their manhood seems to have been cut. That old house in our old neighborhood is sold, sitting patiently waiting for more children to fill it to the brim with fresh memories. Along with Ferny seemed to go not just a magical, amazing human being with so much life it was blinding, but there went the remnants of our childhood. There went the magic we all had left, how were we to know Ferny was secretly saving it in his smiles and his laughter.
And that’s how I remember Ferny.