Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Old Friends

Just before starting 7th grade, my family moved to a new town. On the first day of middle school, not knowing anyone in the town, I sat down in homeroom, nervous and uncertain. Almost immediately the kid next to me started talking to me. He didn't introduce himself. He didn't ask questions about who I was or from where I came. He just started a conversation as if we had known each other forever.

He became my best friend, my security, my confidant. Our friendship grew over the years. We went to the same middle school and high school. We attended the same church. We spent a lot of our free time together. He helped me with art projects and I helped him with math. We both hated PE but joined the choir. We traded albums and books. And then high school ended.

No problem. We were roommates all through college. We both were successful debaters. We both loved drama classes. We both worked for the local radio station to earn extra cash. I don't think we ever dated the same girl, but we certainly gave each other feedback about our choices in women.

College ended. He got married and moved to another town in the south. I got married and moved to New England. Initially, we wrote letters (yeah, I'm old enough there was no e-mail!) a few times a month. Then it dwindled to less. We called each other on our birthdays and Christmas. And then not so often. And little by little, our contact became nothing more than a card at Christmas with maybe a note that said "hey, we had a baby" or "notice the new address...we moved". But other than that, the person I was best friends with for a dozen years became barely even a connection.

A few weeks ago I decided to make more meaningful contact with my old friend. I had his e-mail address from the card that came this past Christmas. So I sat down to write a pretty lengthy letter. But what do you include in just one letter? It can't be everything. And our last real exchange of information was more than twenty years ago. He has never seen any of my kids. Had no idea that we had a kid with special needs. Doesn't know about my hobbies or my job. Do I talk about fun stuff or serious stuff? Politics? Spirituality? Or just what TV shows I like?

I did a summary of lots of different things and sent the note on its way.

A couple of days later, I got a great response. He had many questions about my life and shared a lot about his life. And he sent a link to his Facebook page so I could see some photos.

And that was a weird sensation. Even though we have not talked in years, I knew him so well in the past that I still had this feeling that we know each other. So I experienced this odd sense of my world shifting as I looked at photos of a life I've never known. Pictures of his kids that I've never met...who are now adults...some even have kids of their own. There was my middle school buddy holding his grandchild! Photos around the Christmas tree on Christmases I know nothing about in homes I've never visited. Pictures of his parents who I knew so well growing up - now old. It was almost startling to see his life spread out before me and realizing the person I once knew better than anyone else - now I barely know at all.

I wrote my friend about my feelings. The fun of seeing his photos and the weirdness and sadness of realizing I had missed so much of his life. He had similar feelings when viewing the photos I sent him. And we've swapped e-mail several times since then.

I'm not naive. I don't expect us to ever be friends in the way we were as kids. Family and work and paying bills and a million other things make it difficult to stay in touch with someone so far away. But I think we can do better than just being Christmas card buddies. Even at a distance, if we are committed to it, old friends can slowly grow older together.
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


Thanks to Simon & Garfunkel for the lyrics.

45 comments:

meno said...

How very cool of you to reach out like that and initiate contact.

It MUST feel weird to see him older and with grandkids, but it sounds like there is still the recognition there.

thethinker said...

Reading this makes me want to get in contact with a best friend that I haven't seen in about 10 years. It's strange how we lose track of people who were once extremely close to us.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

This is a wonderful post, it touched a chord with me. Recently I was stunned to be traced by someone I used to date when I was 17 (I'm now 47)!! No, he wasn't hankering after rekindling any flame, like me, he is happily married with a family of his own. He is also very ill, and just wanted to find out how my life had panned out.

Star said...

That's great. Do you think you will ever meet up in person ? I beet in made him feel good that you reached out to him. And I am sure the pictures fill in a lot of gaps.

Winston said...

Good move! I have not been so fortunate as I have tried to find and re-establish contact with a couple of close buddies I grew up with. It is sad that we drift apart, and so sweet when we again find each other.

charlottalove said...

Great post. I have a friend like yours. We wrote letters, phoned, and vacationed together during the summer breaks. We are still far apart but can pick up right where we left off.

Sadly, I have other friends that I have been able to get in touch with again. It makes me sad to see just how far we grew apart. So far that we have nothing in common with each other except a memory. That always makes me sad. I really do think that people come and go in our lives for a reason. Some just stay longer.

Chelle said...

I like that you took the time to get in touch with your old friend. I hope your friendship remains strong....and no, it probably wont be the same as it was before...everything is different.....but just being in touch and sharing your lives with each other is great thing!! :) I am very happy for you.

Oh..and I love Facebook ....I have reconnected with a few old friends from high school and family members I haven't seen in yearsd. I guess there IS some good to this thing we call the internet ;)

Jill said...

That's really cool. I haven't stayed in touch with many people people from my younger years, but the instant familiarity I feel when I do see them is astonishing.

Big Brother said...

Good for you Em, being an air force brat and having spent my youth bouncing around from place to place means that I've pretty well lost track of all the friends I had when I was young. I'd surely like to see how some of them are doing if I could find a way to contact them.

May said...

What a touching and well written post!
I wish that I was able to say more but words fail me when I am greatly impressed. Thank you!

Jenny! said...

That's awesome! It's good to rekindle old friendships, pick up and its like the years didn't even pass!

Above Average Joe said...

Isnt it amazing how "life" can get in the way of maintaining friendships?

Jocelyn said...

I thought you were going to say you just sent your friend a link to this blog with a note saying, "Here. All you need to know. XXXXXXO, Em."

Lovely post and story; I like your realism about what you've meant to each other and what you can and will mean to each other.

Jazz said...

How great that you made contact again. Like you say, you'll no doubt never be best friends again, but such a shared history can go a long way to helping you stay in contact.

SzélsőFa said...

I also have a friend who used to be my best friend in high school, but have not seen each other ever since, except once or twice in reunions.
Finding out that you might still be friends but are not is sad.
But in your case, it can be a lot more different!
It was an interesting read.

Kati said...

That's awesome that you got to reconnect with your friend. But it is so odd to have the memories you keep in your head replaced by new thoughts & ideas about this person who you thought you knew so well.... And turns out you don't know that person at all.

Had similar experiences just a couple of weeks ago with my 10 year HS reunion. It was odd, to say the least.

Hope y'all are able to build a new friendship on new grounds, while still appreciating the things you saw in each other all those years ago.

Jenster said...

Great, Great post! I'd love to say more, but I think I have a long-distance phone call to make.

Rebecca said...

I think thats great. I'm terrible at keeping in touch. Life always seems to get in the way. But you make me want to do better.

CS said...

That's a fabulous story. Since the advent of email I have re-connected with some old friends and it can be a bit disorienting. But always worth it.

Gretchen said...

Can I just say that I love that guys think this way, too?!

Good for you for taking that step forward, Em. No, you likely won't be the buds that you were in 7th grade and thru college; but grown friends, in a different season is just as cool, if you ask me. Not only to you have your previous frame of reference, you have tons of new stuff to chat about.

liv said...

What a beautiful post. I wish that my best middle/high school friendship had turned out the way yours has. And I love that you took that risk, gave of yourself in a leap of faith, and got all of these treasures back!

A said...

What a wonderful post! I have a college friend like that, half a globe separates us, and yet a phone call brings us close instantly, almost like we haven't been living in different hemispheres for years!

It does take effort and and a certain level of commitment, though! Good for you!

A

tkkerouac said...

Awesome memories of a great friend and true friends can pick up from where they left off as if it were only yesterday due to comfort level. Hope you hook up again one day.

velvet said...

That's really great. Even if you haven't been a part of each others lives for a long time, you still share a past. That's the best. :)

MaryB said...

This is great, em! I'm fortunate to have kept up my my closest childhood friends (I usually see them once a year). About 10 years ago I tracked down my much-beloved 6th grade teacher, and she and her family are practically a part of our family now. Connecting with someone dear to you in your past is an amazingly rich experience. Congrats on rediscovering your friend.

Dorky Dad said...

Fantastic that you reconnected with an old friend. And it makes me want to do the same.

Now if I can only think of a friend I want to get back in touch with ...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is lovely. As we get older, sometimes, the friends who knew us as children become few and even more precious.

You shared so many years of your lives. That kind of connection is never broken, even though life often interrupts it.

Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

Jeff said...

Very powerful post EM. I recently did the same as you and found my best friend from high school who I've had no contact with for about twenty years.

I located him by a google search that found his blog which in turn inspired me to start my own.

Since then I have met many new people who I am happy to call friends even though I have never met them face to face.

I never thought about it till just now, but by reaching out to contact an old friend, I have enriched my life greater than I ever thought.

Beth said...

I love this post Em....wow.

Ruth Dynamite said...

My best friends to this day are the ones I made in junior high school. No one can take their place.

And even when time gets away from us, we always manage to find a way to pick up right where we left off. I bet it'll be the same for you and your friend.

Logophile said...

Man, those connections of the soul, good stuff.
Glad you reconnected, I hope you stay connected and grow closer even with the miles in between.

A wildlife gardener said...

How wonderful to reach out through the years, like stepping back in time to one's youth, and being rewarded with the same warm person whom you had known all those years ago. I wish you both well in your reunion of friendship :)

Melody said...

Oh wow. That is great that you got back in contact with one anoother. Great friends are the kind that don't need constant contact, I have learnt that myself. I bet it was a great feeling to both of you for having contact with each other again. Nice one Em. Nice one.

Chicky Pea said...

Yes, once you start living your lives it becomes very difficult to maintain a friendship with which you once had. Glad to hear you reconnected though. Even if you don't have the level of friendship you once had, it can still be special.

tulipmom said...

You've inspired me to try to contact some old friends with whom I have lost contact. Having read your post, my usual excuse of "it's been so long, won't it be weird after so many years?" seems a little silly.

Mama P said...

That was a very moving post. I might have to bug you later about pitching it as an article somewhere. What makes it so poignant is not only that two friends reunited, but that you are male. Sorry for the stereotype, but many guys would just "let it go." I love that you went from letters to emails - a great tribute to technology. Seriously, a very moving post. And me, always thinking of how to make a buck - what a story for print!

Dirk_Star said...

Nice post!

I've been contacting some old friends lately too.

It has been my surprise that many of them are doing quite well and are leading lives as good as my own.

Yeah, its summer and I've been busy... Still, I just wanted to say hello.

Wizened Wizard said...

Wonderful post, Em. The Internet has been a wonderful connector and restorer of friendships "lost" or strained by time and distance. I'm so glad you were able to reach your old pal. A good friend is a treasure, and even if your paths diverge, there is something wonderful in opening the chest and sifting through the gold again.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Attila The Mom said...

How wonderful that you guys could reconnect after all those years!

Loved this post!

Kevin said...

That was a very good post. Really. It was fantastic.

Trish said...

I read a recent newspaper article that talked about the friends we made as teens being the most sincere and having the potential to be life-long.

I met up with some highschool friends this past spring and was amazed at how we just picked up where we left off 25 years ago. I loved it!

tulipmom said...

I just gave you an award.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I think if you are really close with someone it never really goes away. Congrats on getting back in touch and starting the friendship up again.

I have a signal! It is sketchy (don't know how long it will hold) and not the one from the school, but it's a welcome sight (as is your blog).

Midwest Nest said...

Great post! Sometimes it is really hard to reconnect. I'm glad you were able to do so. This post has really gotten me to think about who I haven't been in touch with and what to do to reconnect. Thanks.

psycho-therapist said...

em. your post led me to look up two old friends! one, i spent several wonderful stay-up-all-night and never stop talking days with, and the other, i will get to see next week. thank you for inspiring me to reach out.