On a whim I called her. We hadn't spoken in several years. Give or take. She lives in Boston, more or less. I live in New York. Kind of. We used to work together, that was 30 years ago. She's a writer, I'm a writer. We are both brunettes, first by nature now by augmentation. We've both been married three times (each, not aggregate). I have children, she does not. She has a college degree, I do not. These were the choices we made. Which is to say we are different but alike, the way most good friends are. Geography is the only thing that's ever has kept up apart. That and busy lives, and oh yes, grief. Marriages break up, loved ones die and though friends afar can help, there are some dark roads that one travels alone.
I knew it was about to be her birthday. I remember those things. I don't know why. They stick to my brain like Velcro. So I left a message on her answering machine saying the next time she was in New York we should try to get together. The next time turned out to be the following day. You know what they say - timing is everything.
She and I have this saying; it's our short hand for the fact that we can always pick up where we left off, even if years have intervened. So anyway is what we say. And then the conversation continues.
She looked just like she always does. Beautiful. She arrived at the restaurant with roses. For me. I arrived with a birthday present for her. And pictures of my kids. She'd asked me to bring them. The photos I mean, though eventually she'll get to see the real deal. She's never met them. Now they're in college. She's met my husband a few times though. They like each other, another plus.
I'm starting a new chapter in my life I told her. Life after kids. I'm starting a new chapter too she replied, but I don't know the name of it yet. I'm still writing, still teaching, still married, but something has changed, and I mean for the better. I know what you mean, I said.
She was in New York to see the Vermeers at the Met. She had to fly out west the following week to see her mother who now needs nursing care. When I get back I'm coming to New York again she said. After Thanksgiving, before Christmas. Maybe I can finally meet your kids she said. Maybe I can finally meet your husband I replied.
There is time now in both of our lives to re-activate our friendship. We are standing on the terra firma that finally forms under your feet when you simply hang in there. That's the main thing we have in common. We're survivors; like most primates we've had losses and reversals. And yet we continue. Even through our tears we insist on getting the joke. Though life as anyone can tell you isn't always a laughing matter.
Another friend of mine, a girl I met in high school (we were ex-pats in London) died three weeks ago. She and I had reconnected a few years back. She lived in Berkeley, but we emailed back and forth, talked on the phone from time to time. One summer she came east with her teenage daughter and we spent a weekend together. The following year she came again and we had lunch with another high school ex-pat pal. And then last March my friend got a gruesome diagnosis. Seven months later she was gone.
I didn't go to her funeral. I couldn't for so many reasons. But I did call my other friend, the writer who lives up in Boston, more or less. We honor the dead by loving the living, by making time for dinner.