As we begin 2014, my 58th on this planet (God, am I really that old?), I find myself doing some looking back and reflecting. I don’t know if that because looking back and reflecting is something many people do as they end one year and prepare to begin the next or because I am simply “at that age.” Regardless of the reason, I’m doing it.
Of course, for me, looking back at the past and reflecting on it is nothing new; it is something I’ve done quite a bit over the years. Some of those around me would likely argue I spend too much time dwelling on my past, and they would like be correct. However, there is one area of my past I’ve never spent as much time thinking about, and that is the friendships I’ve been part of over the years.
Perhaps that is because I’ve never considered myself as someone who has had a great many friends in my life. I’m not an easy person to get to know, and I may be an even harder person to get to like; I’ll let my friends (if any are still speaking to me after this) reflect on that. Still, I have had some meaningful friendships in my life, as well as some meaningful gaps in friendship.
The first real friend I remember having was George. George and I were best friends in elementary school for three years. Before we met, I don’t really remember having any friends; there was constantly trouble at home, and I put a great deal of energy into simple survival. There was a girl named Marsha that I played with, but I don’t remember us really being friends, although to this day I still remember her full name, the fact that she had blond hair, and that she wore blue horn-rimmed glasses. Not to mention that she was as tough as any of the boys.
George and I became friends when my mother, my sister, and I moved back into town from the small former mining community in which we had lived. The town was Rosamond, California. It wasn’t really notable for anything, except its relative proximity to Edwards Air Force Base. In the late 1960s, the town made a few headlines because of the uproar over the fact that the new north-south freeway (now known as the Antelope Valley Freeway) being built was possibly by-passing Rosamond, with the nearest on and off ramps set to be located several miles away in either direction. (We moved north before construction was completed, and the plans appear to have later been changed.)
George and I remained friends through fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. I don’t remember ever going to his house or him coming to mine, but we spent all of our free time at school together. We ate lunch together, cut up together, got in trouble together. I remember him having a flat-top haircut, a fairly popular cut for boys in those days.
We were thick as thieves, until the day in 1968 when my aunt loaded my sister and I into her Pontiac station wagon and moved us north to Seattle. (My mother would join us several months later.) We promised to stay in touch and did, in fact, trade a couple of letters, but by the start of 1969, the childhood friendship was over, victim of a trait I have been known to exhibit throughout my life, a failure to follow through and a willingness to cut ties and move on.
After another move a few miles south to Kent, Washington, I made a new best friend, one with whom I would navigate some of the difficult waters known as high school. Wally and I spent a lot of time together in the five years we were in junior high and high school. I don’t remember a lot from those days, as I continued to have my own battles for sanity and survival at home. But I do remember us walking through downtown Kent with two other friends in the dead of night, looking (unsuccessfully as I recall) from some place to get a pizza. I also remember one Fourth of July, one of the few times Wally came out to my house (we lived on the outskirts of town, a mile or so from the nearest residential neighborhoods), when he nearly blew off his fingers when a firecracker with a short fuse went off just as he was throwing it. My right ear rang for three days.
When we graduated from high school, Wally and I drifted apart, each of us off to different colleges. I saw him again a few years later when I received a surprise wedding invitation, then lost track again for a number of years until I talked him into attending a high school reunion. (I still don’t know if he’s forgiven me for that.) I think of us as still friends, though we have each built our adult lives separate from one another and have little contact with another aside from the occasional e-mail or Facebook post.
It would be another ten years before I formed any new close friendships, each lasting a few years at most. I’ve heard it said from time to time that people come into your life for a reason then leave when that reason is no longer valid or that need is no longer present. Looking back from this stage of my life, I can see that is probably true. The few friends I had growing up provided a lifeline that helped save me from the continual turmoil I felt in the family home.
Oddly enough, though, I suspect technology has altered that philosophy and will continue to alter the nature of how friendships build and are maintained. Case in point: fast-forward to 2008. I was taking a job with a grocery chain in its division office. The person coming in to train was the person whose place I was taking. She was not retiring or leaving the job voluntarily; she simply had no desire to move out of state. What could have been awkward turned into something special as we developed a rapport born out of humor, simply political views, and experiences to which the other person could relate.
Heidi and I have been what I consider best friends ever since, despite the fact that we have only seen each other on three separate occasions in the intervening five and a half years. A friendship such as ours would have been difficult, to say the least, five years ago. It would have been impossible, I suspect, before that. Technology has made our friendship possible and has allowed it to thrive.
Most of our friendship has played out via e-mail. I suspect we both communicate better through writing (I know I do), and I feel able to say things I might not otherwise share if not for e-mail. In the past, some of those messages have been lengthy tomes, as one of us would be dealing with something painful, and the other would offer words of encouragement and support. Some of the messages have been no more than a line or two, asking the other if he or she had big weekend plans. They are the kinds of conversations friends have, only in writing and conveyed electronically rather than in person and face-to-face. In a way, I suppose our friendship harkens back to the heyday of pen pals except that our friendship via electronic correspondence might be likened to pen pals on steroids.
Life is sometimes referred to as a race, one long lap in which you strive toward the finish line and your place in the hereafter. With the advent of e-mail and especially Facebook, which have allowed me to build new friendships and reestablish old ones, I feel as if I am getting to run a second lap. Thanks to technology, I am not “living in the past,” as Jethro Tull once sand. Instead, I have brought my past into the present and have worked to balance then and now. The journey continues.