It was a perfect afternoon in May, sometime in the 1990’s, when my car died in the parking lot of the grocery store. The Blazer was nearly new, but in the ten minutes that it took to pick up milk and some pizza toppings, the on-board computers conspired against me; the engine simply wouldn’t turn over when I returned, ready to head home. It was too far to walk, and besides, I was in work clothes complete with stockings and heels.
I skimmed the phone numbers in my Palm Pilot (remember, it was the 90s) and quickly ruled out few dozen names: those who lived too far away, those who weren’t home from work yet themselves, those whose young children were clambering off the school bus right about that time. In the end, I called on my grad school buddy Denise, who came to the rescue within minutes.
That, as the song says, is what friends are for.
I’ve passed the stage of life when I collect a lot of objects. I cleaned closets and sold off more than a few things at a consignment store a while back, and now think long and hard about a purchase. I have come to realize that my treasured collections in life boil down to two things.
Today, a group of old friends visited the Titanic Exhibition in Detroit. Knowing they were together aroused sweet memories of the days we shared laughter over lunch at work, and (more often) logged hours in meetings trying to fix what was sometimes not fixable. I felt a moment of melancholy, mixed with the certainty that if miles didn’t separate us I would have been at the museum today, too, laughing over lunch once again.
Another friend left her home in Washington State a couple of weeks ago on a two- month boat trip up the coast of British Columbia. She and her husband will pilot the boat; often, she will be too far from civilization to send pictures. That’s okay. Her adventure is, in some small part, my own.
Sometimes I don’t keep in touch the way I intend to. But I know that those old friends don’t hold it against me. I have yet to write to Beth to congratulate her on her marriage, and it’s going on two years. I don’t have Rachel’s new address, but know that work has her buried this time of year anyway. Donna’s phone number is neatly tucked into my smartphone, but I missed our annual Mother’s Day call. And I want to let Bill know that I saw a flyer for an organ recital that made me think of him.
Ironically, I am struggling with another friend today. A different kind of friend; actually someone I “friended.” We’re acquaintances really, with some shared interests.. Education. We know some of the same people. I admire her recent training for and completing a 5K. We hang out in the same virtual communities.
But she has revealed a side that I didn’t expect. She has become, in her own words, a “mean girl,” and is enjoying the experience a bit too much. She’s dug in her heels. She won’t apologize for some cutting remarks. She won’t go public about her rationale. Not that I need to know, really, and not that she can explain it away.
Some say that her unkind remarks are based in her own unhappiness. I know that she has her share of struggles right now. Job woes. Raising a family. Losing her mom a few years ago.
But short of personality change stemming from a brain tumor, there no excuse for deliberate unkindness.
For much of the day, the dilemma of whether to “unfriend” her has bothered me more than it should. I’ve wondered why.
It comes down to this: It would take a lot for me to turn my back on a real friend. I expected more of my troubling and troubled friend. I am disappointed in her, and a little angry besides. She isn’t the person I thought she was. Maya Angelou says that when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time. And Maya also says that once you put words out into the Universe they hover there forever. Kind of like the old saying, you can’t un-ring a bell.
So yes, I will be clicking her off of my “friends” list this afternoon. We may see one another again, down the road, but maybe not. I have debated whether to let her know the reason why, but truthfully, she may not care.
And whether a friend is a friend in “F2F” world, or online, I guess that makes all the difference.