Several of the friendships I once considered second tier are now filled with life and sentiment because I’m giving them the attention they always deserved. When something irks me, I still put it forcibly into context. I’ll never be a pushover, but now I’m not so blunt. Before I hit the wall with an opinion, I’ll try the detour. Now I honor the child’s rule of counting to 10 before I speak (and the cyber-commandment of waiting overnight before I send an e-mail).
Inevitably, there came a day when I ran into Elizabeth and Charles at a play. My three younger children, including my youngest, Elizabeth’s godson, were with me. Liz stretched out her arms to him, but he was shy; it had been a year, and he didn’t remember her.
“How are you, Jack?” Liz asked me. She looked genuinely concerned.
“I’m really OK,” I told her, as bat wings of mascara, formed by my tears, gave the lie to my words. “It’s so good to see you.”
It was good to see her. My heart had hungered for the hard hug of those fragile, graceful arms, for the luster of her smile. As the kids and I walked away, I glanced back. Liz had drawn down the brim of her straw hat and was leaning on Charles’s shoulder. Perhaps there was a shadow in her life that still held my shape. I got into the car and adjusted the rearview mirror. In it I saw Liz throwing her arms wide and leaping with delight at the approach of her friend Asia.
Well. I would have wished it otherwise. I would have wanted to be the one who lit the light in her eyes. Still, I could be philosophical. It had taken half a century and a hard knock to teach me not to be prouder of having friends than of being one. Now it’s the other way around. Friendship for me is made from a tapestry of personalities, each of whom shares a part of all I care about.
With just a little more time, I expect to be able to give my relationship with Liz the place it deserves in my life history. It’s over. But it was, as my friend David said, an epic friendship.
I fold it tenderly, as I would the baptismal gown of a child now grown. It is no longer useful. But it is still precious. It always will be mine.
All the names and identifying details in this story have been changed.
JACQUELYN MITCHARD’s 23 novels include the award-winning The Deep End of the Ocean. Out this winter: What We Saw in the Dark.
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