When I met the kid up the street my life forever changed. His name was Brit Johnson and he was adventurous. He loved all things outdoors, exploring the woods, building forts, and getting into trouble. We were so much alike that we ended up being best friends.
I lived in the corner house located on a cul-de-sac. Beyond the cul-de-sac was our playground – acres of wooded land that waited for the creative imagination of two young boys.
There was a small fence line between two houses that was covered by tall, unkept grass and brush. We took this path everyday down to a little creek that flowed behind the neighborhood. It was at this spot, by the creek, we set out to build our first fort. We would grab plastic from my Dad’s garage and use broken branches to prop up overgrowth. We built a pretty impressive hangout spot that was cool and dry on those hot humid summer days.
Here we did all of the things you probably should not tell your parents about. We would snatch matches from the house and build fires. Did you know that gasoline will dissolve a styrofoam cup? Yep, we found that out in a couple of our adventures.
One night, we agreed that we would wake up at four, sneak out, and go to the fort. I overslept and awoke a little after four to come out of my room and find my parents with Brit downstairs. Apparently, he rang the doorbell. Needless to say, we had to stayed put until seven.
Of all the many experiences, one stands out. At this time as a young kid, I started to have a bad mouth. I was cussing about every other word. Not sure way. My parents never spoke like that. I guess I was just trying to be tough around the neighborhood kids.
Anyway, as we were making “upgrades” to the fort, I was cussing away and really for no reason. Brit stopped what we was doing and looked at me. He said, “Why do you speak like that?”
You see Brit and I both were growing up in church and we both knew the difference between right and wrong. However, in this case, I just was not doing the right thing. His question cut me a bit as I knew it was wrong for me to be speaking that way.
I simply said, “I don’t know.”
He went back to what he was doing and so did I, however I was much more quiet. From that point on, I never spoke that way again.
Several years later, as more kids moved into the neighborhood, Brit began to attract more friends. More kids were hanging out with us and our close bond seemed (to me) to be at risk. I began to feel like a third wheel at times.
For the first time, I began to experience that feeling of being alone. Sadly, I didn’t handle it too well at that age. Jealousy got the best of me.
One day, a bunch of us were playing football at Lilburn Park and Brit and I were on opposing teams. We all played rough. All boys do. However, it was a close game and he ran into me in a way that set me off. I think all of my inner turmoil came out. I came up swinging and (I’m not proud of this) I kept on swinging until he was hurt and had a bloody nose. Brit never fought back and all the kids were asking, “What are you doing?” For whatever reason at that time, I was incredibly hurt (emotionally), and walked the two miles home by myself sobbing over my actions and my behavior toward my friend.
From that point on, our relationship was never the same. We stopped talking and eventually never hung out again. Regrettably, that relationship was never restored. Brit was really a great guy, a true friend, and he changed my vocabulary and life by his friendship – a friendship I will never forget.
Many years later I ran into a former classmate a few days after our high school 10-year reunion. She said to me, “Did you know Brit Johnson died?”
I was crushed. “No,” I said.
“Yeah, he was scuba diving in Israel and got pinned under a rock … and died.”
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is there for times of trouble.” Proverbs 17:17
Links to articles of Brit Johnson’s death: