A Weekly Ritual Sparks a Decades-Long Friendship

I met Cory in 1990, when he was 7 and I was 20. The conversation started, and we’ve never run out of things to talk about.

Cory was one of the first people I called after being in Manhattan during the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I had seen the first airplane fly into the north tower of the World Trade Center, and when I got back to my apartment in Brooklyn that evening, I called several loved ones. Cory was one of them; we had been in touch since my graduation from Tufts 10 years earlier.

Today, when something big happens, one of us picks up the phone. We’re like family in that way. It started when I first met Cory in 1990, the fall of my senior year at Tufts. He was shy for about five seconds, then he started talking, and he never stopped. In fact, we’ve never stopped talking.

That fall, as I began my final year of college, I didn’t know what was next. My friends were lining up jobs or applying to graduate schools; they had visions for their futures. I didn’t, but I had a vision for my senior year. I wanted to make the most of it by deepening my commitment to schoolwork and relationships—and I wanted to get involved in the community. 

When I saw a flier for the Tufts Big Brother program in McPhee Hall, I was immediately curious. I had seen ads for Big Brothers of America on TV, and liked the idea of giving someone what I didn’t have growing up: an older sibling or something similar.

My friends were lining up jobs or applying to graduate schools; they had visions for their futures. I didn’t, but I had a vision for my senior year. 

Thomas Kim, A91

I grew up the oldest of three kids in New Jersey. Our parents, both pediatricians, had immigrated to the United States from South Korea after President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, and the demand for doctors in the United States increased. They worked long hours and once I was in elementary school, I was in charge when the three of us came home. We had a pretty idyllic childhood in the sense that we could run out into the neighborhood and be with other kids, but I longed for someone close to my age to show me the ropes, to mentor me.

I applied to Tufts’ Big Brother program and was matched with Cory. We first met in the office of West Somerville Elementary, where he was a first grader. After his shyness quickly evaporated, we talked, and I called his mom later to set up an outing.

Early on, Cory and I went to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had brought an Aerobie—a particularly aerodynamic frisbee with a hole in its center—for my new 7-year-old friend to play with. A regular frisbee can travel 20 or 30 yards, but an Aerobie can go the length of a football field. You have to be technically precise to throw it so that it sails through the air just right. But from the moment Cory first picked it up, he could throw the Aerobie 75 yards, perfectly straight. He was kind of a genius with it.

Our childhoods were similar in a certain way. Like me, Cory played with his neighbors. But Cory lived on Endicott Avenue in Somerville, a mini community unto itself. And we couldn’t have been more different in other ways. He was the fourth of five kids and their mom was raising them on her own. I had the sense that money was tight, but I learned only recently that things were a lot tougher than I had imagined. 

On the first day we met, Cory opened up and started talking about whatever was on his mind, including his two main passions, scouting and sports—especially baseball and bowling. He was good at stickball. And he loved talking about all of these things.

He was very unlike 20-year-old me—I was so cautious and reserved at the time. I wished I could say whatever was on my mind, like Cory. I was 13 years older than he was yet we shared a bond over unstructured time and having fun in the street, at a museum, or at some event listed in the Boston Phoenix newspaper. It was always easy with Cory.

Two men and two girls outdoors, with an elephant in the background

Many years after they first visited a zoo together, Thomas Kim and his “little brother” Cory went to another zoo with two of Kim’s daughters. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kim

It wasn’t just the two of us, though; Cory’s family and neighbors immediately embraced me. When we went to the Tufts campus, his sisters, brother, or a neighbor sometimes tagged along. I became part of the gang playing kickball, and soon felt like an extended member of his family and the Endicott community. What started out as a commitment to myself became a weekly ritual that we both looked forward to. 

As I puzzled over life after graduation, my time with Cory inspired me to apply to Teach for America. When I was accepted and moved to Los Angeles in 1991, keeping in touch with Cory was never a question; it just came naturally. Cory asked me if I had a fax machine where he could send me notes, which seems funny now. I didn’t, so we called and wrote letters.

Our relationship grew and evolved over time, our 13-year age gap becoming less pronounced. Early on, Cory would tell me about his growth spurts, his bowling scores, and game nights with his friends. As he got older, he talked about his relationships, his breakups, and the concerts he went to. He loved music, including the bands Nirvana, Green Day, the Offspring, and the Beatles.

As he worked toward becoming an Eagle Scout, Cory talked about the challenge of balancing that effort with school, sports, and his after-school jobs. When he became an Eagle Scout, he invited me to speak at his induction in 2002. I was honored. And when I got married the following year, Cory and his mom were there.

Teaching in Los Angeles prompted me to earn my master’s degree in public administration. I went on to work in local and state government for 20 years before joining Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, where I’m the director of performance improvement. The guiding goal of my career, impacting young people in society on a larger scale, began with Cory. 

The two of us are family; he introduces me as his brother and he’s gotten to know my wife and three daughters. Being his big brother taught me to be fully present with those I care about. And like a big brother, I’m proud of him: He’s grown up, graduated from community college, and bought a home large enough to share with his mom and brother. I’m impressed by the career he’s built.

We influence each other, too. Cory still has game nights with friends and plays sports, which he’s inspired me to maintain well into middle age. Ultimately, though, our relationship is nothing more complicated than having somebody to talk to and having the other person listen. 

When I met Cory, he was a 7-year-old chatterbox who pulled me into his world. More than 30 years later, I can’t imagine my world without him in it, too.

—As told to Heather Beasley Doyle

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