Friends

A belated Happy New Year to my faithful readers—all six of you—and here’s hoping 2018 surpasses the previous year. In my case, that won’t be hard, for myriad reasons (No play productions?! No love life?! My beloved cat diagnosed with a baseball-sized tumor on her liver?!). But as lousy as my past year was, I know I have it good compared to the loved ones of an old friend.

I didn’t even know—let’s call her Karen—Karen was sick when a mutual friend on Facebook noted her passing in December. I waited for several weeks for an obit to go online. When it finally popped up, thanks to the same mutual friend, all it said was that she had been diagnosed with “her illness” during the summer and she died at home. The illness could have been many things, but my first thought was cancer. Not that it really matters.

She was 59.

Too young, too young.

What I did know before I read the obit was that she was brilliant, a doctor and an activist with a huge, warm heart, and who had watched painfully as someone close to her struggled for years with addiction. She would have been sensitive to the needs of someone fighting that sickness anyway, because of her medical background and innate compassion, but seeing it devastate that loved one made it doubly difficult—and made her even more advocate to fight the opioid crisis in any way she could.

Karen was not quite a lifelong friend; our first contact had come through her sister, who I had met in 7th grade. Karen was two years older. But starting when we were in 8th grade, my circle of friends began to overlap with Karen’s, through sibling ties and romantic relationships. So that’s how it came to be that a group of us met at Karen and her sister’s house one Sunday afternoon, and we got our first exposure to Monty Python from one of their albums that I had found in a cut-out bin (any young’uns reading—ask an elder what a cut-out was). I remember the almost non-stop laughter, fueled by both the humor and some pot; the memory of that day remains one of the best of my life.

friendship-1After that, there were other parties with the two gangs, and I came to appreciate Karen’s dry wit and intelligence. But then she graduated and her sister went off to a private school, and my interaction with them was almost nil for decades. Then, as the marital dissolution was unfolding, I made contact with her sister, and she and Karen came to my house for a visit; mostly an exercise in nostalgia, but as with any people with whom you once shared seminal moments and with whom you still feel a connection, a spark reignited. Karen and I did not become close friends in the years since that reunion, but we wrote each other on FB from time to time, checking in, sharing personal stories or our indignation over social and political ills.

Karen’s last message to me was dated 12/27/16. I had reached out to her that Christmas, after we had not contacted each other for several months. She had just been demoted at work and her loved one was going through another shaky round of recovery. “Life is short,” she wrote, “and I’m trying to focus on what’s important.” She also tried to comfort me after I had recounted some of my usual woes. “You are not alone!” she assured me. “You are loved!”

And she talked, as we had in the past, of seeing each other again: She had earlier invited me to come East to accompany her and her sister to a retreat they often attended; in that last message, she said she hoped to come West to visit me.

Karen never made it to New Mexico, and our last time together turned out to have been several years before, at the wake for the mother of a mutual friend. I fear, as I get close to 60—still a few years away, but undeniably close—that wakes and funerals will increasingly become the events that draw my circle of old friends together, whether for parents, siblings, or the friends themselves.

That is a really shitty thought.

So, to make this first post of 2018 a little less morbid, I want to think about the friends who are very much alive. I bemoan, often, my dearth of friends here in my home so far from Connecticut, but I cherish those I do have. And with my old friends scattered around the country, I try my best to stay in touch—I write, I call, I keep tabs on them through social media, and I visit when I can. A few have visited me too, as I’ve extended an open invitation to all of them to see just what it is that drew me to and keeps me in Santa Fe. But I know the trip isn’t an easy one, and everyone has their own work/family/health demands. So, when some don’t make it out here—I understand. I get a little sad, but I understand. And I try even harder to keep the connection we do have as strong as possible over the many miles that keep up physically apart.

Somewhere in my library—I looked today but couldn’t find it—is a purloined textbook from my hometown high school (I’m assuming the statute of limitations has passed and it’s safe to say that). I remember opening it years ago, and on the inside front cover, where every student who had the book from one year to the next wrote his or her name, I found Karen’s. I smiled when I saw it; it was just another small link between us. I’m going to rip through my books again, trying to find it, praying it wasn’t purged in one of the periodical thinnings of my library. It’s a link I want to keep, along with all the good memories of a friend gone too soon.

 

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~ by mburgan on January 12, 2018.

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