Some Call Him The Legendary “5th Groomsman”

I recently got a bit of really lovely news: my childhood best friend Sylvain, who I haven’t seen in about 16 years, will most likely be coming to my wedding next summer. And that’s pretty damn special.

This is Sylvain and me, long ago:

We’re drenched in sweat, which is not surprising; we spent a good portion of our time running around, playing various sports, and being boys. He’s a lot shorter than me, which did not dissuade him from trying to give me bunny ears. I’m a little horrified at the shirt I’m wearing in this photo, and I’m also reminded that I wore the exact same style of glasses from, approximately, age 5 to 17 or so. That’s quite a streak. Some say it’s more impressive than Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak, or DiMaggio’s hitting streak; since I’m not a braggart, I’ll only say that it’s AS impressive than those, but not MORE SO.

This photo also reminds me that I used to always, always wear a watch, and for a long time could not begin to fathom why anyone would ever not wear one. I checked my watch constantly, which is amusing in retrospect because as a kid, how important is time, really? Why was I always so concerned with the time? Since we’re not financially independent, nor independent in any real way at all, most of our decisions about time have been made for us. My fascination with what time it was, all the time, was more geeky-scientific, like my brief but powerful infatuation with dinosaurs, or Brio trains. Katy would always ask me what time it was, and, well, let’s just say that “time to get a watch!” got old fast.

After 6th grade, Sylvain and his family moved from Berkeley, California to Nouakchott, Mauritania. You can be forgiven if you cannot immediately place that location – when he told me he was moving there, I had to find it on a globe. Mauritania is a large country, mostly Sahara Desert, in Northwestern Africa; Noakchott, its capital and largest city, is one of the largest cities in the Sahara. Sylvain and his family are French; Catherine, Sylvain’s mother, works for the French consulate. After a long stay in California, they were transferred to Mauritania, and so Sylvain left. He came back to visit a year later, stayed with us, went back to Mauritania and I haven’t seen him since.

Letters Sylvain wrote to me would routinely take months to get here, and they told me about how challenging the adjustment was. The heat was nearly unbearable, and I remember he was particularly struck by the trash in the streets. I wish I still had those letters – I definitely plan on asking him if he has any of mine. And when I do see him, I really look forward to asking him about his experiences in Mauritania, as adults – I really cannot imagine what that transition must have been like. It was really hard when he left; my best friend was gone.

Sylvain’s father was a baker, and in one of my family’s favorite coincidences, made my parents’ wedding cake before his future son ever became best friends with future me. You may recall from my mom’s recap of their wedding this photo of my mom and dad holding one of the three “pièces montées” cakes:

Gérard worked at Au Coquelet in Berkeley, a coffee shop/restaurant just a few blocks from where Jessica and I just moved from; later, only a few doors down he opened up his own bakery called La Tour Eiffel. Sylvain and I used to go in and get free Snapples and sodas and pastries, which made me feel incredibly important, especially if there were customers in the store.

Above is Katy on my top bunk, with Sylvain and me below. See? Same glasses, different age. Katy and I both had those automobile blankets on our beds for a very long time. It is unclear to me why I’m wearing a long-sleeved button-up shirt in this photo; I was a largely unprofessional child. Perhaps we had just returned from a function of some sort.

Sylvain’s family moved a lot, but once they finally settled into a house just a few blocks from where Jessica and I used to live, they stayed put. We were true and classic Best Friends, Sylvain and I; we did everything together, grew up together. Baseball, basketball, darts, soccer, made-up sports, late nights watching Saturday Night Live, pizza, sleepovers, and so on. One of my favorite memories of Sylvain, that he probably doesn’t remember, was at one of my birthday parties, where the boys sat at one table and the girls at another (Katy being my twin, and so we had the same birthday). When it was time for ice cream, there was a choice of chocolate or vanilla, and Sylvain ended up with chocolate. I sat next to him and watched as he ate his chocolate ice cream quietly, and I noticed he was crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he wanted some vanilla too. So I got up, got him some vanilla with his chocolate, and the tears were gone. Because that’s that besties do.

My parents got to see Sylvain last summer during a trip to Paris, which is where Sylvain ultimately settled, and I’m really excited to see him again too. It’s not certain until the plane tickets are bought, but I’m going to go ahead and be optimistic about this and assume he’s coming for sure. And while I do hope he can come to my wedding, just because of how special it would be to have him there, the most important thing would just be to hang out with him and catch up.

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8 responses to “Some Call Him The Legendary “5th Groomsman”

  1. So many memories. One of my favorites is driving around town with Bret and Sylvain in the back seat, windows down, shouting out to pedestrians, “thanks for shopping in Berkeley” for no reason whatever. Another is of the two young ‘uns sitting on that same bunk bed waiting for the third game of the Giants-A’s World Series to start when the earthquake hit. The screen went blank, but they waited more or less patiently for the game to start. The series, you will recall, was suspended for a week if memory serves. So happy Sylvain can come.

    • I have to say you were a pretty cool Dad to let us shout ridiculous things out the window like that. That was, if I recall correctly, incredibly fun. I think in addition to “thanks for shopping in Berkeley” we also yelled “Thanks for keeping our parks clean!”

  2. Oh man, I remember that bakery! Yummmm.
    Great post, Bret. Fabulous pictures.

  3. I love it when people stick around as friends forever, no matter where they end up geographically.

  4. such a precious post. i truly loved it. the ice cream story totally did it. so glad you and sylvain will be able to reunite next summer. hopefully he has some of your letters.

    NEXT SUMMER. you’re getting married NEXT SUMMER. that’s like. 3 seasons away. PUMPED!

    also, why do little kids wear watches? where do they have to be? what is so pertinent that they need to be reminded of the time? unless they only have watches that can turn tv’s on and off. remember those? oh man. those were good times.

  5. I love the ice cream story. That is exactly what besties do.

  6. okay, your dad commenting is just the coolest thing i’ve ever seen. and i’m so glad you got to get to see your childhood friend, dude! Silvain sounds like a badass, can’t wait to hear about your adventures reuniting.

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