I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been good at maintaining contact with friends who move far away. Living in a college community (five colleges, in fact, including a university,) transience is a fact of life, so I guess I’m doing pretty well to keep up a long, once-a-year conversation with a couple I was close to maybe forty years ago, especially since they prefer the phone to letters or e-mail, and I’m not all that comfortable on the phone. If I can’t see someone’s facial expressions or body language, I’d at least like to be able to edit what I say before I send it along. I’ve managed to hang on to friendships with a couple of my former employees, mostly via e-mail, but even then they usually have to initiate the conversation. More of my friendships now are with writers I’ve met online, and only occasionally in the flesh.
But we’re supposed to be taking about lost friends, not tenuous relations with current friends. I’ve lost a few friends to death. I suppose it would be strange if I hadn’t, by my age, but these friends died when we were all fairly young. In some ways youth is more dangerous than age. When I think of lost friends, though, I think more of those who are still living their lives, but those lives and mine have diverged, and the bonds we once had have frayed and, in a few cases, broken.
Some of those losses have been my fault, or just the inevitable growing apart as our lives follow different paths. A few I wish desperately could have lasted, but I understand why they couldn’t. Sometimes the very nature of a friendship, the stresses, the mutual support through a hard time, makes something that was essential during one stage of life difficult in another, more settled stage. In one case, I think, I’m a reminder of things and times that the friend would rather forget, and I understand perfectly why that should be so. There’s the practical matter of distance now, but it’s even more a matter of my friend’s well-deserved security in a happy new life, and I can’t help but be glad. I’ve tried to make contact, but not persistently enough for anyone’s discomfort, and that’s just the way it is. I have plenty of life to live myself.
There’s a very different kind of friendship on my mind right now. Hard as it is to get my brain around, I have a milestone college reunion coming up in just a month or so. The friendships formed during my college years were, in retrospect at least, the closest of my life, and for many years several of us kept in touch and got together occasionally. But for one reason another I’ve only been communicating with two of them over the past decade, and that only sporadically. A couple of others used to send out those generic holiday newsletters full of cheery family updates, and I just dropped the ball on replies. Somehow when you have a child with something like Asperger’s, you can’t always manage cheery family updates, and by the time my family life was more settled, I was out of the habit of corresponding. And then the friend I’d stayed closest to, a fiercely left-wing activist with great success as a journalist, just couldn’t quite shake off her lapsed-Catholic conditioning when it came to lesbians and gays. Or, for that matter, erotica, even though we’d once plotted together in college to write porn for men’s mags (she’d chickened out, I’d actually submitted and got my first rejection.) In any case, we hadn’t communicated for about the last decade.
But now there’s a reunion. Two reunions, in fact. I expect I’ll go to both of them. My college is just half an hour from where I live, so I gave in to pressure from the two not-as-close friends who plan to go to the official one, and signed up. But the other reunion is the one I’m really looking forward to. It will be smaller, just for people who lived in the cooperative dorm all of us inhabited at one time or another, including those from other years who overlapped with us. We had one of these mini-reunions about ten years ago, and on the last morning of that weekend we met together in the faculty parking lot where our dorm used to be, formed a circle, sang the parody version of our Alma Mater song (plus a few other transgressive favorites,) and deliberately dribbled green candle wax (I supplied the candles from my store) on the pavement. The best part this time is that my journalist friend is the person who organized things, and contacted all of us, and apparently all of us (the seven from my year) plus many from the other years are planning to come. Even the one person who’d dropped all communication with any of us by about ten years after graduation. I’m pretty sure I was the last one she kept up with.
So sometimes lost friends do meet again, with long and varied lives behind them, and more ahead, but memories that still bind them together. If they don’t all remember the lyrics to the parody version of the Alma Mater, well, enough of us will. And I’ll go to my former store, now owned by a couple of my former employees, and stock up on green candles.