Old Friend, New Friend

A few months ago, I reconnected with an old friend from college.  Gerry was an old boyfriend’s roommate.  As is often the case in college, we became good friends, simply by association.  We took several classes together, played guitar and sang late into the evenings, sat together in dining halls, and drank beer in the campus bar.

Gerry was fun to be with.  Prone to contemplation, he would give long soliloquies about simple concepts, sparking endless discussions about subjects like the value of plastic beer cups or the profundity of the lyrics of an advertisement jingle.   The bizarre nature of the topics paired with his perpetually impish grin often made me wonder if he were indeed serious, or if the entire exercise was a ruse, meant only to see how far he could engage me in much ado about nothing.

He loved Todd Rundgren’s music.  I remember watching him practice the same guitar riff over and over until his rendition was as clean and exact as the record album.  He drank beer while he cooked eggs for Sunday breakfast- a recipe that to this day still makes me gag.  It was his idea to ditch class one afternoon and instead, convinced me to tour the Narragansett brewery in Coventry, Rhode Island.  He gave me a red plastic Mr. Peanut cup for Christmas – an item I kept filled with spare change until it disappeared to that mysterious place where broken toys, jewelry and sports memorabilia make their final resting place.

We re-found each other through a mutual friend and have been emailing ever since.  Gerry has lived a remarkable life.  I know this only by the small references hidden within the sentences of his emails.  He never boasts, but I know he is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist, who has performed with a litany of amazing musicians. 

Gerry’s kindness permeates his emails.  His sentences are punctuated with a sweetness that that brings light into the room and a smile to my lips.  His emails are well crafted, with words carefully chosen and lyrical sentences that read like musical stanzas.  He tells me about living for a time in the Southwest, of traveling by motorcycle, that he still plays hockey, about the joys of raising his two sons, and that he loves his wife.   Through those small admissions, much is revealed about who he is.

He tells me that he learned from me how to hear and sing harmonies, and that he passed that knowledge on to other musicians who struggled to learn this skill.  He doesn’t know it, but this information is balm to a tender spot in my soul- a scar left by a sense of failure and lack of accomplishment.  How often do we get to hear that something we did left lasting impact on someone’s life, and created a ripple in the continuum of time?  To me, this is no small thing.  It gives meaning to my life.  It reminds me that I have purpose- that I have left a small mark on this big planet.

One of the nicest things about reacquainting with old friends is that although many things change, the essence of the person does not.  We are older, grayer, wider, slower.  We are balding, arthritic and scarred.  But the Gerry I knew when we were twenty is the same Gerry who fills the blank spaces of our virtual stationary.  He is kind, sweet and oh, how he makes me laugh.  I’m glad I knew him then.  I’m more glad I know him now.

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The Rain that Brings Us Together

This morning it was pouring outside- coming down in buckets.  I looked out my bedroom window and watched the rain wash down the pavement and soak the faded brown leaves, and all I could think of was dodging raindrops during final exams.

I went to college in southern Massachusetts.  It was not unusual for it to rain the whole week of exams  before Christmas break.  I still remember pulling up the hood of my snorkel jacket while I ran from the dorms to the classroom, and dripping onto my blue book while I took the Abnormal Psych exam.  All that week I’d run to take an exam, stopping off at the cafeteria for a quick coffee-milk, and after the exam, run back to the dorms to peel off my wet jeans and hop between the sheets for a nap.

The college was comprised of several futuristic buildings formed from concrete and steel.  In the rain, the concrete darkened from dove white to seagull gray.  The campus was dismal and depressing- outside.  But inside was totally different.  Perhaps because of the gray outside, during the rain the inside became bright, warm and cozy.  We who lived in the dorms would push cafeteria tables together, sitting in large, family style groups.  We often lingered over meals on rainy days, choosing to sit close to one another, laughing and teasing, instead of trekking across the large expanse of soggy grass and puddled pavement.  It was as if there were an unspoken rule that if it rained outside, we had to be doubly cheerful inside.

It is not only in college that rain brings people together.  We huddle together under umbrellas and run in synchronized steps to escape a deluge from above.  We snuggle our children under fuzzy blankets and read to them as the rain patters against the windowpane.  We crowd around the dining room table in front of steaming bowls of soup and home baked bread.  We discuss the weather with strangers in the elevator, instead of standing in silent solitude.  We smile to each other in commiseration, while we wait in line for a cup of coffee at the corner cafe.

A friend once noted that when God first created Eden, there was no rain.  The plants and trees were nourished by the morning dew, and rain didn’t occur until they were cast out of the Garden.  I don’t know if that is true, but I wonder.  When Adam and Eve first sinned, they each blamed the other.  That must have caused a rift between them.   But we all know that people need each other. We need to warm each other, to soothe each others’ broken hearts, to blend notes together in harmony rather than lonely unrelated lines of melody.  Maybe a fresh motivation to draw close and face the harshness of the world together was started with a drop of rain.

Last evening I had a phone conversation with my daughter that didn’t go well.  Perhaps it is the generational gap that I pretend doesn’t exist.  Perhaps it was because I had a headache.  Perhaps it was because we just disagree.  Whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough to justify hurt feelings and a damaged relationship.  I sulked for the rest of the evening and woke this morning still feeling grouchy and out of sorts.  But then I saw that it was raining, and remembered how in college, rain brought us together.  She is the same age now as I was then.  She probably dodges raindrops on her way back to the dorms and slips into bed to grab a nap after her exams.  She probably migrates to her friends in the dining hall when it is cold and gray outside. 

She flies home from school tonight and you can bet I’ll wrap my arms around her, pull her close and shield her from the wet drops that pour from the sky and dribble from my eyes.  Then we’ll  go home where it is warm and dry.  Because rain brings us together.

Friends

 I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my friend Mary today. We sang together in pubs and coffee houses during college during the 70s.  She was my suite mate- my first encounter after my father kissed me goodbye and left me standing alone in a barren dorm room.  While her mother sprayed everything in sight with Lysol, she introduced herself.  She had a warm smile and sparkling blue eyes.  She played guitar and she sang like an angel.  My harmonies blended with her melodies and our friendship was sealed forever.

 

Somehow, we lost touch after graduation.  Husbands, kids, jobs, dogs… the excuses were louder than the bidding to keep the friendship alive. Our paths briefly crossed once and then again diverged.  Another eight years passed and suddenly, there she was, a face on a website.  The same sparkling eyes. The same warm smile.

 

Emails ensued and the reunion planned.  I was terrified.  My voice has lost its elasticity, and my singing is now confined to the privacy of my car.  My once willowy frame now bulges from the ravages of pregnancy, childbirth, and too many cookies.  I have few credentials to boast- a salaried job, a sunny apartment, a blue sedan that bears the scars of teenagers learning to drive, a broken marriage.

 

But then, there she was, striding down the hall to my open door. With one embrace, thirty years disappeared and we were eighteen again.  We spent a delightful day, not talking about what we do, but sharing who we are. 

 

Friends don’t read your resume.  They don’t notice your gray hair.  They don’t care if the carpet is stained or the back seat of the car is covered with dog hairs.  Friends cup your chin when the water is rising over your head. They hold you tight when the storms of life blow so hard you think you cannot stay on your feet a moment longer.  They bring salve for your wounds, a blanket for the cold and a candle to carry you through until dawn.  They encourage you to forge forward, to redefine your life, to remember the things that are good. 

 

Welcome back, Mare. I’ve missed you.

 

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