February 13, 2018

amber

"The sun, the moon, and the stars make the wind blow
It took me twenty years to understand
But lost to me is how the lives of friends go
Like autumn leaves in Oklahoma wind."

-Vince Bell



"Best friend" in childhood gives way to semantics in adulthood that reflect our first-world compartmentalization.  A person comes to have a "best gym friend," a "best work friend," a "best playgroup friend," and maybe a "best church friend."  But there was only ever one best friend in the beginning, and that person retains a lifelong status, even if clarifying terms relegate him or her to "best childhood friend."

My best friend and I sometimes live many hours apart, but she moves a lot, and sometimes she's in adequate proximity to enable punctuated mini-eras of lunch dates.  We can go three years with only an e-mail or two between us; then we meet at Wendy's and no time has passed at all.  We pick up on whatever thread of conversation was left sitting beside the plastic salt and pepper shakers on the table.  Twin worldviews and overlapping experiences have forged a distinctive bond that weathers time and place and the ways in which we both change and grow, a bond preserved in amber.

Most of my friendships, and those shared with P.J., follow the same kind of punctuated pattern.  It doesn't help that most of them, like us, are introverts, or that they live at least an hour away in this direction or that.  For every e-mail I have written to my best friend, I have written another to a friend who has drifted away, both of us being lousy correspondents who keep the other frozen in time in our minds.  Copious, warm and wistful thoughts of the friendship, but never quite having the time to reach out, then not knowing what to say, then knowing we have to say it anyway.  And always the "we really need to get together soon," and meaning it, but seldom seeing it through.  When we do see it through, it's always good, and we say, "We're going to do this more often, I've missed you."  Then we let them drift again, return to our routines and ruts and know that they will be out there.

We are all of us fools.

"Taking things for granted" doesn't even begin to suffice.  We do not savor and attend to what we should, when the world has taught us that things and people are snuffed and vaporized, that our friends are living, breathing vessels of change, and mortal.  We fail to understand that the amber comes later, when only memory remains.  We are guilty of indefensible complacency.

P.J. and I reeled when a friendship was snuffed last spring.  Friends who were family, who took precedence every holiday meal, whose daughter was a niece.  Friends imperfect, and so the more endeared to us.  A friendship so comfortable and broken in that there were sock feet on the coffee table.  Twelve years of friendship, never neglected and very possibly burned out.  They grew tired of us long before they were brave enough to say "yes" when we asked if it was so.  Unforgivable things were said, and then they were ghosts.  We have not seen or heard from them again, though they live close by.

I feel responsible.  I broke it, I say.  I broke our friendship during my hypomania and because of my attempt.  There were wounds there that my actions opened fresh, and it was too much to bear, even for family.  I drove them away, I tell myself.  I cost P.J. and my son their closest friends.  I have to be reminded that no one is capable of doing that single-handed.  We are not in a vacuum.  They are ghosts because they chose to become ghosts.

Not gone, but estranged.  No one has ever discovered a ghost preserved in amber.

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