Thursday, September 14, 2006

Old Friends

Old friends,
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends.
A newspaper blown though the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends.

Old friends,
Winter companions,
The old men
Lost in their overcoats,
Waiting for the sunset.
The sounds of the city,
Sifting through trees,
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends.

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears.
- Paul Simon

Does anyone understand how it is that friendships grow, then wither away? How do we come to be so very close to someone, and then one day look back and realize that it's been years since we spoke? Sometimes we are the initiator of this change, and sometimes, it is merely inertia that does a friendship in. I have a few friends, friends whom I thought would be with me forever, and now, I'm not so sure. I thought we'd be like those friends on the park bench that Paul Simon talks about. Only time will tell.

The first of these friends, I'll call Leslie. This is because her name is Leslie. We met at Delta Jr. College in Stockton, maybe in a History class. Leslie is tall and beautiful and smart and wonderful. Leslie and I became close, and I came to think of her as one of my very dearest friends. We agreed on politics, we agreed on movies and books and we had a similar sense of humor. I loved her. I wanted her to be in my life always. When we first moved to San Francisco, she lived a block away from in an apartment, she in the USF dorms. We saw each other often. When she moved to the east coast, we kept in touch. These were the days before email, and we wrote letters and made phone calls. We went to the east coast for a convention, and she cancelled a camping trip so she could come visit us. When she came to the west coast, we would get together for drinks and dinner. We always had a great time. She moved back west, we moved out east, she moved back east, and through it all, we were friends.

Then, something happened, and we lost touch. I wrote. She didn't write back. I called. She didn't return my call. Finally, I got desperate, and I called her mother (a wonderful woman whom I considered a friend as well.) I asked her if her Leslie was OK. She said, No, Leslie isn't OK. She's going through a divorce (I was her maid of honor, she was one of my bridesmaids), and she's terribly depressed. Don't give up on her. So I didn't. I kept trying. She called me one day, and I cried with relief to talk to her. But after the first part of the conversation, where she told me of her divorce, of how she had gotten back together with her high school boyfriend, who was also divorced, and how she was going to move to Idaho soon, our conversation sort of...faltered. It was like, beyond catching up, we didn't have much to say to each other anymore. Was it that our lives were too different, me with my toddler, she with her divorce? Was it just time that had passed? I don't know. She promised me that when she moved to Idaho, she would call and give me her new number. That was over 8 years ago, and she has never called. My number hasn't changed. At one point, I mailed a letter to her, in care of her mother, but she never wrote back. Maybe she didn't want to be friends anymore. Maybe she couldn't use her words and tell me that she didn't like me anymore. It's possible. But boy, it hurt.

Which reminds me of a friend of Ted's, who he no longer wanted to be friends with. They had been very close for years, but the friendship had changed, and the friend couldn't come over without them getting into a shouting match about something. I don't think that Ted ever told him that he didn't want to be friends anymore (although they did have some conversations, trying to figure out what the anger was about, so it's not like he didn't TRY to fix it), but when this friend would call, Ted wouldn't call back. When I think of this friend, I think, is that me? Am I the annoying friend who won't go away, and Leslie is Ted? Because honestly, I've done that before...ignored someone's calls until they went away, just because they had become SO unpleasant to be around. But my vanity doesn't want to accept that I could be the person on the other end of this relationship.

But even if all it was was inertia on her part, it hurt me deeply to know that I wasn't important enough for her to try a little. I'm going to write her whole name here, in case she might someday google herself, find me here, and contact me. My phone number is in the book, Leslie Lucchesi. If you're ever interested, I'm here.

God, I sound pathetic.

Then there are the friends that I have lost through inertia.

Karol Ann, whom I also met in Stockton, at a hotel we both worked at. We were very close for a short time, and at this point, we are Christmas card friends. We write to each other once a year, but we don't take the time to get together, even though we only live about an hour away from each other.

Neva, who was my best friend in 6th grade. We slept at each others houses every weekend. We loved each other like sisters. Then we went to different Jr. High schools, and nothing was the same again. This one, happily, has a happy ending. We got in touch about 5 or 6 years ago, through, and we are darling friends again. We get together for dinner, we laugh, we shop, we eat and drink and are merry. Thank god for Neva, who knew me even before I had boobs.

Rosemary, my soulmate friend. We met in the 9th grade, and we were best friends, literally, from the first day we met. (And you know I don't use literally unless I mean it!) We were so very close for so very long. I loved her more than I loved myself. And I suspect we will come together again as our lives slow down, but at this point, she is so damned busy that she only has a passing thought to spare for me, only a bit of time to spare so we can get together when she's in town (they live on the east coast). This hurts a lot. I miss her. But I don't know what to do about it. She is one of the most defensive people I know, and if I confront her, will she even hear me? I guess if I care this much, I need to at least try.

Rainie, another Stockton friend. She moved to San Francisco a semester before I did, and we attended San Francisco State together. She was the first of my friends to get married. The first to have a baby. Her husband is Pakistani, and they moved there in '92 so they could care for his aging parents. They returned to the US when Pakistan started getting scary fundamentalist, and we got together once, but neither of us has bothered beyond that.

Why is that? Why is it that there are these people in life, people that you love so damned much, they feel like your tell them everything about yourself, they tell you everything, you share so many joys and sorrows...and then...they just drift away, only to be replaced by newer friends, perhaps as close, perhaps as not, but people who are willing to make the effort required to maintain a relationship? I don't know. Do I need a psychology class? Or perhaps a sociology class? Or maybe, I just need to make more of an effort. But so far, my experience has been that this effort is one sided, and I get tired of feeling like I'm not worth the effort that the other person would have to make.

I wish I understood this kind of thing.

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