Thursday, October 14, 2010

the friend who has gone missing

I spent many years in graduate school. Many. Probably too many. Anyhow, graduate school allowed me to have a rich and evolving community of friends. New students would arrive and we'd bring them into the fold. Other friends would graduate and we'd send them off with love and promises of eternal support via email or phone. We had fights. We threw lavish parties (lavish on a grad student budget, that is). We dated, broke up, and became friends with one another over and over again.

I'm reducing a lot of complexity down, but you get the idea. Over the course of nine years (!), this community sustained me and allowed me to feel less alone in the world. Exactly what a community should do, right?

But then I graduated and went off to my first real non-tenure track job in a faraway state. I got the big sendoff and the many promises that we'd all keep in touch. It was heartfelt from all directions, mine and theirs. And yet. That community has completely dissipated. I'm in touch with two of those folks still, one of whom is at my same university (a strange and completely random occurrence) and we're friends-at-work, though we aren't close in the way we used to be. And the other friend is almost 400 miles away and we keep in touch via phone. The rest? friends and that's it. Some of this can be attributed to distance and time, and other parts of it is due to lifestyle changes. My local friend-at-work has no kids and lives a very kid-less life. He's never asked to meet W in the 10 months of his life, and I expect they'll never meet. How strange is that? I didn't notice how odd that is until I typed it just now.

There is one friend I truly miss, however, and while we're FB friends, so I know where she lives, what food she's cooking (she's a wonderful cook), that her old sweet cat just died, and where she works, I don't really know her anymore. She was a central part of my old grad school community. She and I were like the linchpins, at least that's how it felt to me. We've completely lost touch. And I don't know how to get it back. We lost it somewhere around 2003--ages ago, now--when she accused me via phone of not calling her often enough. It seemed to me an odd accusation, as we generally called one another every few months when one of us finally had a free moment to call. I hadn't stopped calling her or wanted to cease speaking, but I had not called in a while. It was a weird year for me, too. I was changing jobs, changing boyfriends (again), and moving from one city to another. Things got a little lost. I never meant to lose her in the process. She and I were living three states apart and it seemed to me that this little fight would eventually pass. It hasn't.

When I joined FB in 2008 (also eons ago, now), I friended her and hoped we could really reconnect. She said yes to the friend request, but ignored the two or three emails I sent saying that I'd love to chat on the phone and really catch up. So here we are. I know where she is. She knows where I am. And yet there is nothing more. I feel a real sadness when I see a post from her that references the time in her life where we were close friends. Best friends, even. She posts about food she's cooking a lot because the FB posts link to her foodie blog, and so many ingredients or dishes are ones that she first used or cooked for our grad school community. When she does this, I get a twinge. Why are we not close friends again? What happened?

When W was born, I announced it on FB after not having mentioned my pregnancy there at all. I kept the pregnancy secret because I honestly wasn't sure it would end in a live baby, so I didn't want to deal with having to announce sadness to my most casual of friends. She acknowledged the announcement with a message that was cordial and distant. Kind, but distant.

Man, do I miss her. And I miss having that sense of community surrounding me. I'll write about this another time, but since leaving that grad school community in 2001, I've never gotten it back. I've not found another set of friends or colleagues with whom I could be as silly and comfortable. So maybe missing her is really a stand in for missing community? I recall a book in the past few years about female friendship loss and the NP.R commentary made me think of her and the other friends I was so sure would be in my life forever. They're not, and I'm feeling wistful about it.

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