I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot, and so I read my old diaries. So many of the people in those pages I have completely lost touch with. My high school reunion (15 years) was last summer. I did not attend. (I just now erased “of course” from that sentence.) The three girls who were my best friends were all there in the pictures of the reunion on social media. I remember discussing this very reunion when we were 18 years old. I remember talking about whether or not we would come back. I remember that all of us said “no way.”
My diaries include copies of emails that I sent or received. Sadly, not as many as I should have saved. My first year of college I was homesick and disillusioned and hurting. I hadn’t wanted to leave my friends and when I did and found that the tiny Illinois college I first attended felt like it would be another four years of high school, I couldn’t take it. There were two boys that emailed me back when I wrote to them about my woes.
One wrote this: “Listen, that is not yours to have anymore. At least never in the same way. You chose to leave the comfortable, safe, sheltered, easy life in Macomb in search of something more. Just because you have not found it yet does not give you the right to give up.”
The other wrote this: “Some people have changed, but you know, a circle of friends is what you make of it. Sure, sometimes that lil’ circle spins around a bit, but it’s still a circle, you know? Just keep holding hands, I guess.”
Both of those boys are now dads. They have wives and jobs and mortgages and I only know these things because I see them occasionally pop up on social networking. Fifteen years ago we were close enough friends that we could write these things to one another but at the time I barely even realized it. I always thought we would become closer—that as we aged we would know one another better and better—and it is strange that the opposite is actually true.
At different points during my last two years of high school I had wanted to be the girlfriend of each of those boys. There are other pages in my diary full of girlish, embarrassing detail about the way one of them had hair that was curly when he let it grow, or how the other one wore a particular green shirt that showed his muscles. I cringe as I type these details here. There are worse ones, too, that I will never admit to fawning over.
There’s a pull that ties us, somehow, always back to the friends we had when we were young. Why? One of the above boys once acknowledged it (we were maybe 25 years old by then) and said it was due to “pubertizing” together. At any given moment, he said, he could look through my eyes and know (mostly) what I was thinking. I agreed with that when I was 25 years old. I think I said that I felt the same way.
Now I think it is a lie. I know a version of him, just like I know a version of many of the other people I was friends with then. It’s a version that is only complete because life hadn’t complicated us yet. We were only understanding (and knowing) a version of ourselves. We were all from the same place. We had the same experience. Of course it’s so easy to think you know someone!
When I think about how well I know my husband, there are still vast pockets of mystery within him. I can hardly even imagine what he was like when he was 17. I cannot fathom to understand everything about him, or to look through his eyes and know what he is thinking. Maybe I’ll never really know. But I’m far closer to him and feel more deeply for him than anyone I’ve ever known.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I watched television for hours. Then I ran my fingers over Joe’s face until he woke up. I stroked his cheeks and kissed his hair. I whispered that I loved him. I was so frustrated at not being able to sleep that tears were running down my face. Everything felt so desperate and immediate, like the night would never end and nothing would ever feel the same. He was so calm and serene, sleeping there, drifting into consciousness a little bit at a time.