My son, who is fourteen, sometimes asks me why I am no longer in touch with someone I have mentioned, or talked about with fondness. He can’t understand at all why I might have been close to someone, even loved someone, and then poof!, they are no longer in my life, or perhaps relegated to bi-annual phone calls, maybe a card, maybe a visit now and then.
From the time I was five, all the way through and after college, beyond my move to Rhode Island, I was just like my son. I believed that any friend was a close friend and once a friend would be a friend forever. I hated the word, or the idea of the word ‘acquaintance’. To me, intimacy came with the first heart to heart, and a deeper closeness was just a matter of time and energy. If I felt that anyone in my circle was drifting away, even a little, I would feel a sense of panic. I would have to call, to make a date, to pull them back to me and keep them close until I felt secure that they really were back. It sounds a little pathological, but really it was sentimental.
My grandpa Alvin would tell me, especially when I was in college, that most of the people I knew then would be but a distant memory to me eventually. I did not believe him for one second. At any rate, gramps was right .
I don’t remember the exact time or situation when I realized that not all friends were forever. I look at my wedding pictures from 1992 and though some of those friends invited to share in that day are still close, many are not, and some are barely hanging in there. The thing is, that my expectations have changed. I don’t believe any longer that when I meet someone, grow to love them, that we’ll be close through old age or until dementia and death. I don’t hang on as hard to people who never seem to care much that I want to stay connected. I don’t allow myself to be part of a one way relationship. I have friends that have become close after months and years of casual conversations and those friends do tend to be the ones I can count on and call any time. Sometimes I’ll feel a twinge of something close to sadness when I realize that I don’t have the level of sheer intensity I used to have about almost everything and everyone. But mostly I am glad that I can know for sure who’s really there, and who is a passer-by. And, sometimes those passing by do turn around and come back, and I am always glad when they do.
Now, here is what happened to some friends I have lost. The names have not been changed because we are out of touch, so what difference does it make?
Susan Patterson. She was my ‘best’ friend from around first grade and on and off through high school. Mostly off from middle school onward. She had long straight blond hair, a sort of tragic existence with a single mom. Her dad disappeared more or less due to schizophrenia. She was abused by one of her baby sitters and she came from Swedish stock. Her mom Ann made us Swedish pancakes whenever I stayed at her apartment, which was as often as possible. She was poor, I was not, but we both liked her place better than mine. She had elaborate Barbie doll set ups, mostly home made. She lived in a slightly dangerous NYC area and we often tried to get into trouble, which we sometimes found. She was deprived and spoiled at the same time. She got a scholarship to a fancy private school(Friend’s Seminary), and that was the beginning of the end, when she found new friends. She would show up every now and then looking for help or advice and then wander off again. Eventually she went to Germany where she met and married a German man and, according to her mom spent her time making potatoes and sausages. Too bad. She was a very talented artist, way better than I.
Gary Fishbein. I met him after college when I worked as a benchperson for various jewelers and jewelry companies. Gary had his own business and hired me almost full time. He was and is gay. He only played classical music, which I did not like to work to, but it was okay because I did a lot of grinding and polishing which is extremely noisy so it drowned out the music anyway. His boyfriend was Dennis who was tiny and very smart. Their apartment was perfect. Everything tidy and in it’s place. Eventually I stopped being his employee but remained his friend, though he was a mercurial, high maintenance friend. We had some terrible fights. Dennis became very ill with AIDS related problems and after he died I attended the funeral in New Hampshire, where he was from and where he grew up. I was the only friend who came to that service because most of their friends were from NYC and went to the Manhattan service. Gary cried for days and weeks and longer. After Denis died he called me every night at about midnight, after he had taken a sleeping pill and he would talk until the meds kicked in so he could sleep. This lasted for about a month. I had just had a baby and was fairly sleep deprived, but I wanted to be there for him. One weekend when I was visiting family in NY I arranged to visit with him. He never wanted to ‘share’ me with anyone, so I left my young son with family who lived close to his apartment and visited him alone. I looked nice. I had smart black shoes with two inch heels, which I pressed against the edge of the bottom of his designer couch. I took care not to flatten his pillows or spill crumbs because he was very fastidious. I thought we had a lovely visit though mostly we talked about his attempts to find a new boyfriend, which were unsuccessful. None of them could live up to the perfection of Dennis. Gary called me the following week, when I was home in RI and after a long chat that somehow turned into a discourse about how he couldn’t live with a man who flattened his pillows or was sloppy in any way he mentioned that my two inch heels had left small moon shaped marks on the bottom of his couch. I realized he was not joking when he thought this worth mentioning. At the end of the conversation he said “surely this won’t be the last time we speak”. But it was.
Last and not least, Caroline Lask. She was my main friend in high school. We were both slightly gawky, not terribly sexy kids, looking for love and good music. She was so sweet. She had a slightly whacky, maybe even crazy sister named Fern. Caroline was my friend until she went to college in Albany, and then moved hither and thither. She lived with guys, changed her address and kept changing her circumstances so that I finally lost touch, which still makes me a little sad. That was in the time of no e-mail, no cell phones, no facebook. I have looked for her on facebook, but haven’t found her. She looked a little like Carole King. I hope she is fine.