Was my idealistic friend happy? Did her life fulfill her dreams? Why did she die isolated from family and friends? Why didn't I do more?
|Ever a mystery. On the J-School lawn.|
Once close, we shared some fine adventures that still make me smile. Sadly, we had been out of contact for more than half our lives, for no good reason.
I knew her well enough to spend a night together in a Sun Valley motel long ago. In fairness, we were sick as dogs that time and fled our campground for a real bathroom.
That adventure started as a platonic camping trip for four with her ex-boyfriend and his wife, who shared the next tent beside an idyllic stream. The Sterno we lit for heat in our tent apparently gave us carbon monoxide poisoning.
I was in the military then in southern Idaho and she came down from Seattle to help break the loneliness of near prison conditions. It was typical of my friend to cobble together an awkward outing that tested the boundaries of fidelity and marriage.
That was in the Vietnam era of conscientious objection, free love for some, and antiwar activism. Add to this my friend's stoic German heritage, stubborn personality, fervent Catholicism and seemingly contradictory feminism. None of it fit together very well.
She held her friends to impossibly high standards of integrity and consistency. Few mortals measured up. I did backflips trying to earn her approval.
She moved to California in the 1980s for a newspaper job and disappeared off the edge of my life.
By then she was disappointed in me and I was exhausted by her, and this breakup probably worked for us both. It was just the toll of friendship, never anything more.
Over the years I pictured her living elegantly in her new home in the Golden State, married or with some hunk-boyfriend, surrounded by large numbers of adoring admirers, entertaining graciously and ever the center of any party.
The reality was different, as her closest friend explained in a note the other day. She liked men but never married. Her relationships, including many friendships, ended in disappointment and rejection. She did not stay in touch with anyone I know from the old circle who were once so close.
After a bout with cancer, which she won, she drifted into reclusivity. She doted on two cats. She often wouldn't pick up the phone, even for this lone, close friend and his wife.
It was a far cry from our euphoric days as journalism students on the tight-knit campus daily. The 30,000+ university could be an impersonal place for some, but for those on the newspaper it was glorious. We had the coolest "job" on campus, an office that was our home-away-from-home, a mission to spread the truth, and a band of instant colleagues.
She was a gifted writer who literally stood out in the middle of all this, a tall blonde impossible to miss. I think of writers as my people, easy with words, open with their lives and comfortable with sharing.
But clearly in later life, my old friend isolated herself. My little fantasy of finding her on Facebook was just that, a fantasy. She didn't want to be accessible.
Now as for the lessons I take from this, oh man.
The big one, I think, is the importance of accessibility and friends, both old and new. To me, the lifeblood of happiness is to live in a rich, well-mixed world of friends, community and ideas.
I don't know if my friend was happy. I hope so. I fear she gave up on her dreams too soon and walled herself off. I deeply regret I didn't do more, sooner, to rebuild old bridges.
That is the other lesson I draw. Tend to those old friends. Yes, you can get new ones, but you can never replace the old. They own a piece of your soul that no one else shares.
Wherever you are, dear friend, I miss you. I wish you peace.