Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Friend is Moving

When we said we were leaving Milwaukee and moving to Topanga almost six years ago, some of my friends appeared shocked that we would do such a thing and took it personally (which bugged the shit out of me and still does). And other friends, although sad that we were leaving, embraced the excitement of the move and were thrilled that we were doing what we'd talked about doing before words like chemo and infusions and staging and tumors became part of our everyday lives. They were also glad we were moving somewhere they'd like to visit! Their excitement for us made our much-anticipated move easier and I hoped and prayed that they would visit us with regularity, even though we were a four-hour flight away. And they did/and they do. Some still act surprised that we could leave the Midwest and while it was tough saying goodbye to friends, it wasn't so hard leaving the area.

They asked how we could leave our house. "How could you just leave it," they'd ask? That question always left me a little flat. I did like the house a lot, but it's not like we had designed it, built it, birthed our children in it and swore up and down that we'd die in it. It was just a beautiful, old house. And Milwaukee, to us, was just a town. I had no childhood memories, although after almost 20 years of living there, my children certainly did. But they, too, had moved away. Roger's work brought us to the Midwest and we had arrived on a bitter cold New Year's Eve at Chicago O'Hare, not knowing what to expect, aside from cold winters and beer. And we left knowing that it was a wonderfully vibrant city, filled with extraordinary people who became and remain my most special of friends.

As the years we've been away stretch (almost six now), their visits aren't quite as frequent, but the depth of the friendships remains. We care deeply about one another. I have often tried to examine why this move, as an adult with adult children, was easier on many levels than other moves we'd made. Cell phones, cheap long distance calling plans and more money in one's pocket help, they all help. It is understood that visits and phone calls will continue, while separations made in the past with small children were hard. Then I knew I most likely wouldn't see people for years. Travel and phones were expensive. And I knew that when I saw them, their children wouldn't run to hug me or remember me. And I knew I wouldn't truly know them, just as my children, their very best friends (forever they promised through goodbye tears), would be strangers to them. You get used to missing someone, and then the pangs lessen, they just do. It's life.

So, when friends move, I do not take it personally (I try, anyway). I know they are doing it for their reasons, not to hurt me. I am not a part of their decision-making and I jolly well shouldn't be. I know that we all move for various reasons and I also know it's so very difficult to say goodbye. To be left behind.

So here's a little story about my friend Betsy who is moving, tomorrow, to Portland. And why I know our friendship won't diminish because of her move, but will become different. Less day-to-day certainly. But not smaller.

Here are a few words about the importance of embracing new friendships. Something I wrote not long after I met Betsy.

Betsy, January 2008
Topanga, CA

Establishing friendship in adulthood is a much more delicately trod road than that traveled in childhood. When you’re a young adult, say just out of your teens, you still enthusiastically embrace people who you think you could be friends with, only to find by the time you’re in your thirties that they’re an absolute liability and take up more time than you’re willing to give. At this age, too, time is usually consumed by young children, complex career paths (and if you’re a stay-at-home mother, even more complex issues) and inordinately high expenses that seem to have nothing in common with your earnings. When you’re a parent, most of your friends are parents. It’s just a fact. It happens that way. That’s how completely and wonderfully invasive is parenting. In fact, inviting childless friends into your kid-smudged world usually just makes them uncomfortable. You’re used to it, though. It’s the life you inhabit and the one you embrace…for the time being, anyway.

But then when you’re fifty-something most of your friends have at last packed their kids off to college. Of course you do have friends (men, mostly) who didn’t become parents until their late 40s and they’re just going to be leaping to a different piper until the day they die. But as an early starter, you have gotten used (again) to a good night’s sleep and no longer listen for the first whimper of a little one or the burglar-quiet entrance of your teen, long past curfew.

You aren’t looking for friendship with people whose lives are consumed by young ones. Hey, not that it’s all bad; it’s just that since you’ve already done that, so have most of your friends.
So, when you do meet someone who you just know you could be friends with, and she’s only a few years younger, and she’s funny and cool and all those things that make a whole woman whole, a little dinger goes off inside you that screams, almost like when you were in your twenties, DING DING DING DING, she could be your NEW BEST FRIEND! You look at the drawbacks, and there are a few. She lives 25 miles away from you when you’re wintering in her part of the world, and 2,000 miles away from where you spend most of your life. You can’t help but think that these are definitely drawbacks. She has two young girls (uh oh), younger than 11 but older than 7. While we all know that’s not criminal, it most definitely is a drawback. The timing for get-togethers will be much trickier.

She also has a husband and while that is good, it’s also an obstacle. I have a husband, too. For some people that wouldn’t impact a friendship at all, but for me, it does. One sounds as though it has nothing whatsoever to do with friendship development, but believe me, it does. What if we want to get together at night, as couples? What if my husband doesn’t like her husband or hers doesn’t like mine or she and I can’t understand why on earth we married this other person? If that happens, then you can believe the friendship will never be as open or unguarded as one where everyone in the foursome is fond of the other. We got lucky, truly lucky. Not only did our husbands like one another, they seemed to prefer each other’s company to the exclusion of us. It was novel, but we got used to it, and came to like it. Seems like they had found a new, good friend as well.

So, there seemed to be no major impediments to this friendship and we both set about establishing it with an intensity and joy that continues to this day. How did we do that, given the physical distance from one another and the very different demands of our lives? We wrote to one another, and not just little how are you notes, but emails full of details. We called each other. We commiserated with one another and, because we had a true fondness for the other’s family, we were able to talk about them with honesty, humor and annoyance. We didn’t let 2,000 miles get in the way; we had the Internet and we had a nickel-a-minute plan for long-distance calls. We used the Internet like the Victorians used the Penny Post, and we wrote.

Writing to one another became a cure-all for the frustration of the day. The minute I typed my frustration, I felt it dissipate. So much so that frequently, when I got a letter back from Betsy which stated in no uncertain terms that she completely agreed with me and would be angry with (insert any name here) too, I had more frequently than not forgotten what I was angry about. Therapists were unnecessary expenses and chiropractic visits decreased in accordance with my stress level.

Writing became a requirement of this friendship. If one didn’t write, or ignored a received letter for too long, the other became pushy, wanting good, solid reasons for such indifference.

And I expect that now, 11 years after our friendship began and six years after the physical distance between us shrank to only 10 miles, out friendship will endure.

Tomorrow Betsy and Lee say goodbye to Southern California and begin the drive northwards to Portland, perhaps a temporary home on their way even further northwards to Vancouver. Maybe they'll return to the Santa Monica Mountains and maybe they won't. Tomorrow I'll share with you a little story on how we met one another.


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