Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with two men who were close friends in high school in the ’90s, lost touch, and were recently brought back together by a sweatshirt that one of them had borrowed 20 years earlier.
Everett Lippel, 38, an HVAC salesman in South Plainfield, New Jersey
Craig Wojcik, 37, assistant director of technology for a school district, who lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: Let’s start at the very beginning. Where are you guys from and when did you meet?
Everett Lippel: We both grew up in Union, New Jersey, which is maybe a 20-minute ride outside New York City.
Craig Wojcik: We met in high school. I graduated in ’99.
Everett: I graduated in ’98.
Craig: We became close because of theater—we were in plays twice a year and we did choir as well. We were in rehearsal after school from 3 to 7 o’clock; sometimes we were there until midnight. And that became a friendship outside of those programs. Mine and Everett’s relationship outside of the theater was usually going to pick up girls.
Beck: Did it work?
Craig: We were pretty successful.
Beck: What were you guys like in high school? Paint me a picture.
Everett: Craig and I had very different personalities. Craig is tall, skinny, super freaking studly, blond hair. So I’m the short, witty one, brown hair. We would be, like, the straight guy and the slapstick guy, that was Craig and I.
I was super-duper extroverted, loud, obnoxious. Half the people I ever met just didn’t like me and the other half loved me. Craig got along with everybody, for sure had more poise and tact. Still very humorous, but not quite as rambunctious as I am.
Beck: So are you the slapstick guy or the straight man?
Everett: I’m the guy that starts the conversation with the chicks. Craig’s the closer.
Beck: I see.
Everett: He’s laughing. Go ahead, Craig. I’m sorry.
Craig: For me in high school, I kind of had two sides to my social life. I grew up in sports and I was an athlete my whole life, and so I had that group of friends, and then my theater group of friends. And then at some point it kind of blended together.
I think Everett was pretty spot-on. I was always very outgoing, but a little bit more, I guess, controlled than Everett was. I could read the room a little bit better, maybe.
Everett: We had a tight group of a bunch of girls and a bunch of guys. We traveled on these competitive show choir trips and stuff like that. So we spent a ton of time together outside of theater. We would go out and do the stupidest things. Craig, were you there the day we had four or five cars’ deep of ridiculous stupid people?
Craig: I think you have to be more specific than that.
Everett: One of our friends decided that he was going to moon us while he was driving.
Craig: Yes. Yes, I was there.
Everett: He ended up hitting the car in front of him because he couldn’t get to the brake in time. It was so stupid.
Beck: Oh my gosh. Okay. So would you say that you two were particularly close? Or were you just both part of this bigger group?
Craig: I think we were particularly close, because we had a friendship outside of that.
Everett: Also, there was a third. We had a friend, Doug, who was kind of like a glue for all of us. Doug was one of the most incredible people I’ve known in my entire life. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident, and it devastated our community. It devastated us to no end. He was 23 years old. I actually went to Craig’s house right after we found out. This was in 2004.
Beck: You guys were in college or was this just after college?
Craig: Just after.
Everett: Craig and Doug went to college together. Doug ended up getting a job at MTV. And actually their 2004 New Year’s Eve Party, when the credits rolled on MTV, it was dedicated to his memory.
Craig: I actually have that video.
Everett: So Doug was a major part of this.
Craig: He was that middle-ground guy, when we’re talking about the difference between the athletic side of things and the theater side of things. He was that linchpin that put it all together.
Beck: And when you found out you went over to Craig’s house?
Everett: Yeah, in Union. I don’t think I was even living in Union at the time. What a devastating night. It was a horrible, horrible time. He had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people at his funeral. Amazing guy.
Craig: Yeah, he really was. That could be a story unto itself, honestly.
Beck: Did Doug come out often with you guys?
Craig: Everett and I would hang out sometimes without him; me, Everett, and Doug would hang out; and when we hung out with the big group he would be there as well.
Beck: When you were going out and looking to meet girls, was that you and Everett? You, Everett, and Doug?
Craig: That was pretty much just me and you, right?
Everett: Yeah, Craig and I. Doug was definitely more reserved. We thought we were really cool, didn’t we?
Craig: Yeah, we thought we were real cool. We were drinking Zimas.
Everett: Fricking Zima, oh God. MD 20/20, malt liquor.
Beck: I assume you were going to places that weren’t carding.
Craig: We wouldn’t even be in a place. I don’t even know where we were. People’s houses and parks.
Everett: Parking lots.
Beck: So it was one of these nights when Craig lent Everett the sweater, is that right? What do you remember about that night?
Everett: Okay, so we were going to go out. I don’t remember what I was wearing. The details are foggy, but I remember how cool his clothes were. And his room was immaculate. Craig’s mom made sure—maybe it was Craig, I don’t know.
Craig: It wasn’t Craig. It was definitely my mother.
Everett: So everything had its spot, and I remember that sweatshirt. And I was like, “Oh, Craig. I need to borrow something. I need to look good, bro.” I definitely wasn’t wearing anything that was appropriate. So Craig lent me the shirt. It looked really good on me.
Beck: Could you please describe the shirt?
Everett: It's gray. Definitely from Pacific Sunwear, no way around that.
Craig: I mean, everything I owned was from Pacific Sunwear at the time.
Everett: It was a thicker, sweatshirty kind of thing. A nice thick material, which I guess is why it weathered so well over the years. Slightly tapered sleeves. It has a gray collar with white trim.
Craig: Couple of buttons on the collar.
Everett: If you surfed and you were like, “All right, I’m done surfing now. It’s cold and I’m getting a breeze,” and then you put on a nice little sweatshirt with a cool beachy look to it, that’s the shirt.
Beck: That was very evocative, thank you. Do you remember anything else about that night after you put the sweatshirt on? Do you remember where you went and what you did?
Everett: Not a clue.
Craig: Not even a little bit.
Beck: Do you remember what year of high school that was?
Everett: I’m going to say it was my senior year.
Beck: So you just kept it? Craig, did you ever ask for it back?
Craig: I have to tell you, I don’t know that I even realized it was gone after that night.
Everett: It became my most meaningful piece of clothing that I owned.
Craig: I probably thought my brother stole it.
Beck: What happened to your friendship after high-school graduation?
Craig: When Everett graduated, he’d come back every once in a while to visit us. But we didn’t keep in too much contact, even my senior year. We probably saw each other four or five times that year. And then I went off to college. We’d shoot an AIM to each other every once in a while to see how we were doing. And we all grouped back together right after we were done with school, because Doug passed away. So we all got to see each other again.
Beck: Was that the first time you guys had seen each other since high school?
Craig: Yeah, I would say that’s a very good possibility.
Beck: What was that like?
Everett: Terrible. I mean, it was wonderful seeing each other. At his funeral, everybody said, “Man, it’s such a shame that such a horrible tragedy is bringing all these people that shared all these things together.”
Craig: Yeah, at a time in your life you thought you couldn’t live without them, you know.
Everett: We used to do this thing—not to jump topics, but back in high school, we would go “shoe flinging.”
Beck: What is that?
Everett: This was a big deal.
Craig: It’s really not, but it really is.
Everett: Okay, so it’s not a big deal, but I think these are the moments that you remember. Whenever I talk to anybody they’re like, “Oh my God. Shoe flinging.” We’d go to a park and we would swing on a swing. There’d be a fence maybe 100 feet away. You’d have your shoe half off your foot, half on your foot. We would have a competition as to who could fling their shoe farther. Whoever lost would have to go and pick up the shoes with one shoe on.
Craig: Hopping across the park on one foot.
Beck: So you went to college. You saw each other again at Doug’s funeral. Did you continue to stay in touch after that?
Craig: No, we pretty much went off in different directions again, until probably about a year ago, right? That was when we ran into each other.
Everett: It was December of 2017. I guess it was somebody’s birthday. And then Craig was in the bar that we went to. He just happened to be there.
Craig: I was there for a work event.
Everett: And that was the first time I’d physically seen Craig—what do you think? Since the funeral?
Craig: It very well could have been.
Everett: Wow. Thirteen years.
Beck: How close do you live to each other now?
Everett: We live within five miles of each other right now.
Beck: How long had you lived that close without seeing each other?
Craig: Five or six years.
Beck: Wow. Were you guys in touch at all on social media or anything?
Craig: Since last year, yeah. Everett’s done a very good job. I’m the worst at keeping in touch with people, I really am. I’m not the social-media guy.
He sends messages out, asks what’s going on, and tries to get together. We’d try to set stuff up and then a few days would go by, and both of our lives probably got busy and nothing ever happened. And then, a few weeks later, we’d talk a little bit online, or via text.
Beck: Was that after you ran into each other at the bar?
Beck: So no contact in the years before that?
Craig: Things would come up, Everett would post something and tag me in it. But other than that, not really. I didn’t know what was going on in his life, for sure.
Beck: Why do you think you drifted apart?
Craig: I think life got in the way. Space, and time, and just, you know, life.
Everett: My first daughter was born when I was super young. I was 21 when she was born. I was a traveling actor. I had a bicoastal agent. I was ready to rock. But my acting career, my singing career, all of that took second place to making sure that I could be the best dad that I could possibly be.
As a part of that, you lose people. Because when you’re 21 years old and you have a kid, other young people around you, they’re not there yet. You can’t have the same type of relationships that you had. I probably distanced myself from people in the same way people distanced themselves from me. And as time goes on, now everybody has kids. Things change. I got remarried. My current wife and I have had three kids together.
Craig: He wore the sweatshirt on their first date.
Everett: That’s a fact. I have pictures of some of the first days that she and I were together, and I am wearing that sweatshirt in every one of those photos.
Beck: Wow. So over the years, this remained your favorite article of clothing.
Everett: It’s not even a question. One hundred percent.
Beck: Did you remember this whole time that it was Craig’s originally? Or was it one of those things where you’re just like, “I’ve always had this, and I don’t know where I got it”?
Everett: Every time I looked at it, I thought of Craig.
Beck: Craig, did you even remember giving him the shirt?
Craig: No, like I said, I probably always chalked it up to me losing it or my brother taking it. When we got back in touch and he told me he had it, I did remember the sweatshirt.
Beck: So one day Everett decides to return it. Why? When did that happen?
Everett: Okay, here’s the deal. Are you ready?
Beck: I hope so.
Everett: You know this huge wave going through the world right now with this Marie Kondo lady, right?
Beck: I do.
Everett: We have five kids, so the house is always in disarray. I started watching this show and I realized that I have a hard time letting go of things. This is, like, a psychological process that I’m going through. And I just thought, You know, this doesn't belong to me. So I texted Craig, and I said: “I'm going to offer you something strange. I have your sweatshirt from 1997. I would like to give it back to you. I’m going through all my stuff and simplifying things. I figured I’d offer, since it’s yours, LOL. I could keep it as memento in a box, but giving it back to you after 22 years would be epic.” He goes, “Ha, sounds good. Let’s grab a beer and we can complete that sweater's epic journey.”
And I knew if I procrastinated, we would never get together. So I just said, “Fine, let's go tonight.” And he was like, “All right, I’ll meet you.” And five miles from my house and a half a mile from his house, we sat down and we had a beer.
Craig: It was probably more than one.
Beck: Was that the first time you had gotten together since you ran into each other at the bar?
Beck: Was there any ceremony when you handed over the sweater?
Craig: Yes, there was some level of ceremony. There are pictures of him handing it over to me, and me putting it on and wearing it.
The night was great. Even though it’s been however many years, over 10, it was like we didn’t miss a step. Goofing around and having a good time, talking about the old times. We actually made future plans to get together. Everett plays in a band, and he was asking me if I would come up and sing with them. I told him if you really want to kill it, you should have my wife sing, because she’s a much better singer than I am. So now my wife’s going to sing with his band next month. Everything was smooth as silk. We didn’t skip a beat.
Everett: But we didn’t go macking it to the honeys, because, you know, the wedding ring.
Craig: Because we have honeys of our own.
Beck: Did anything surprise you about how the other had changed over the years?
Everett: We talked about this. I said, “Well, after 20 years, what do you think? Are we different? Are we the same?” He’s like, “Well, you know, people do kind of grow up after 20 years. But God, you’re the same guy.”
Craig: I think maybe he’s gotten a little better at reading the room, because, you know, the children and stuff.
Everett: I’m really good at reading rooms now. Yeah, you grow up. You learn. You get smart. You get a job. You do all this kind of stuff, but really, Craig, you’re the same dude.
Craig: I’d like to think so, or hope so.
Beck: Craig, how does it feel to have your sweater back after all this time? Does it feel like yours?
Craig: No. It was his way longer than it was mine. I don’t even know how long I had that sweatshirt before Everett took it. But the fact that I have a friend who held on to a piece of clothing from a great time in both of our lives, and when he looked at the sweatshirt he remembered me … I always look back at those days fondly. Not just my time with Everett but with that whole group, and with Doug. I’m not a super sentimental person, but he created that opportunity for me to be sentimental, which I appreciate.
Everett: So many conversations have sparked from this, because I posted about it on social media, and it’s like wildfire. People are crying and sending me messages, it’s crazy. We’re actually setting up a reunion of everybody that was part of that group back in the day. We’re going to do it at a Bowlmor.
Beck: Is that a bowling-alley chain?
Everett: Yeah, but it has a bar and music and all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be fun.
Craig: And I work in the town we grew up in—I do training in the school district—so I’m getting stopped in the hallways. People are like, “Next training, you’ve got to wear the sweatshirt.”
If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.