As milestones go, one’s 20th High School Reunion hardly seems significant compared to the funerals, weddings, graduation, etc. affected by this virus.
And yet, milestone it was.
Reunions often seem to prompt some kind of mild (or full-on crisis-level) identity crisis. Is this who I wanted to become? No offense to my 18 year-old self, she was actually a pretty earnest and empathetic human being. She also proudly listened to Ricky Martin. Maybe, just maybe, she didn’t have it all figured out yet.
One of the things that I was getting good at by high school graduation was friendship. Back then I was learning the contours of maintaining friendships, the inevitable ebbs and flows that come when two, or three, or a dozen imperfectly perfect people interact with each other.
Friendships fade. Lives change. People move. Good people lose contact with each other.
There are four of us from the dozen or so original friends who remain close. Two of them are now Nicholas’ godparents. In many ways, we are not a predictable group. Different careers. Different lifestyles. Half us of us are married with children and half of us are single.
Over Zoom on a recent call, one of my friends shared that Eve had a baby. My other friends on the murmured various versions of congratulatory remarks. I stared numbly into the screen, not fully trusting myself to speak. Eventually, the conversation drifted onto other topics and I was left alone with my pounding heart.
Afterwards, I quietly relayed the news to Richard. He looked at me quizzically.
“You seem sad. You love talking about birth and babies. Why is there a disconnect here?”
“I’m happy for them and the baby, obviously. It’s just that…I didn’t know. I didn’t even know that she was pregnant.”
“Why would you have known? It’s not like you speak to her often.”
I must have opened and shut my mouth several times before simply saying, “She was my best friend once.”
“Best friend, really?” I could see the gears click through his analytical brain, cataloguing stories that I have told him about Eve over the years. In none of his mental computations, had he ever equated Eve as a best friend. This realization made me sadder still.
Eve and I met in English class during our freshman year of high school and were inseparable through college. I have so many associations with her. Seeing Phantom of the Opera together on a school night; we were such renegades. Adding rainbow sprinkles to her ice cream for the first time, Eve proclaimed, “this is the best of American excess!” Back-packing through Europe together the summer after our sophomore year of college. To this day, I cannot see a picture of the Eiffel Tower and not automatically picture myself standing beside her.
Some might categorize the friendship between teenagers as frivolous or superficial; I think that is a gross stereotype. If anything, teenage friendships are inherently real and impassioned. These are the very years where one learns not only how to relate to each other but to process the pain of the world. If anything, the conversations between Eve and I were inherently real. We talked about her experience immigrating to the U.S. at the age of nine about and my ongoing health woes related to a congenital heart defect.
When I had heart surgery ten days after our high school graduation, it was Eve, not my parents, who scheduled hospital visitors. She was determined that I should never be alone during open visiting hours, even if a friend was simply there to watch me nap. Eve’s rationale? “Well, you’ll wake up at some point.”
Eve eventually went to medical school and I pursued my graduate studies in theology. Our visits became more infrequent and emails began to shorten. By the time we graduated our respective programs, we only saw each other as part of a larger social group. Part of me wishes that there had been some catastrophic fall-out between us, at least there would be seeming finality…instead there was only a flicker and a fade.
I did send her a congratulatory baby care package. As I folded the onesies and added the Chauo chocolates, I tried not to overthink the fact that it is exactly the same gift I give every new mommy in my circle. It was not particular to her, but I hope it represents my genuine care and joy for her and her family.
Every once in awhile, a song will come on the radio that is your run-of-the-mill, sad-sap break-up song and it will make me think about Eve. It’s not that surprising when I try to analyze it rationally. Eve and I once shared this wordless communication, complete with the most subtle of eyebrow arches and exaggerated sighs. That kind of intimacy cannot easily be compared to my prior romantic entanglements, which were generally short-lived and uninspiring.
If Eve ever reads this, I hope she knows how special her friendship was to me. There will probably always be a part of my heart who will miss what we once shared.
Of course, the flip side of this story is the other faces on that Zoom call and all the other friends who have wandered on this life journey with me in those subsequent years.
I am so grateful to have had these decades of friendship.
I am so grateful for the laughter, tears and support.
I am so grateful.