Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Friends Left Behind

When I was 17, my best friend was Bruno, the first guy I ever met who regularly went to a gym. Bruno was a big French kid who worked out religiously and it showed. Where I was spindly, he was massive with huge pecs and biceps that impressed the girls but not his Swedish mother, who regularly beat him with a belt for real and imagined offenses. Bruno tried to run away on more than one occasion but it never worked, except for the time he ended up spending the night at the house of the girl I was dating. Her parents were out of town and he stayed there three days and the friendship never recovered. I don't know where Bruno is today, though I tried several times to find him through the French Minitel system and later, with the Internet.

Bruno, was one of the first person I played music with, the best third of my very first band. He became one of those friends who vanishes but is never really gone. I wonder what happened to him, whether he married, had children, bought a house in the south of France as far away from his mother as he could get while staying in the same country.

There have been others like that over the years, friendships that flourish and wilt. They're occasionally based on mutual interests--motorcycles, sports, shared nationality, music, writing. When the interest wanes, so does the friendship.

I have friends who date from 40 years, 30 years, 10 years ago. They're each different, each very much a part of me; the friendships took decades to build and are made to last.

And then there are the friends who become so almost overnight. You discover what the French call les at├┤mes crochus, the hooked atoms. In a matter of days, weeks at most, something deep and vital develops and life isn't the same as before. A gap is filled, a necessary element that was missing is suddenly realized, completely apparent, and you wonder how you existed without this person. Things happen within the psyche, tectonic shifts, an instant sense of trust and well-being. Emerson said such people are the ones "before whom I may think aloud."

But there is a danger to such friendships. They endow the other with powers; they make one vulnerable, they play upon emotions and take great strength to maintain. They are miracles with a price, yet worth every penny.

The British novelist Jeannette Winterson described it best: "We are friends and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn't mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often.”

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