Gratified by the persistence of an old friendship

By By Jayson Jacoby November 08, 2013 10:37 am

He was my best friend for most of my teenage years and when we met for the first time in almost a quarter century the occasion, as it so often is in such cases, was a sad one.

My friend’s dad had died.

I stood outside the restaurant at the golf course where the post-funeral reception took place and I waited for my friend to arrive.

You used to worry in these situations.

You used to wonder whether, after so much time had elapsed, you would even recognize the face that you once saw every day and that was as familiar as those of your family.

Wrinkles breach the formerly smooth planes.

Hair goes gray.

Often, pounds are added.

(Rarely, they’re subtracted.)

You fear the embarrassment of seeing someone who you feel you ought to know and then hearing, in the tentative timbre of your voice, the question mark when you say his name.

You fear, above all, being wrong.

But we live in a Facebook world, where, for millions of us, the inexorable weathering of our facial features (and other features) is chronicled in high-megapixel detail.

So anyway I knew my friend had aged well, and I thought there was little chance of my making a humiliating misidentification. 

Indeed, when he drove past in the parking lot I immediately recognized him, even from the side, and through the haze of the safety glass.

He got out of his car and started walking toward me and we each raised a hand, in a sort of combined salute/wave, at almost the same instant.

He grinned and I grinned and the years, as they sometimes do when our past and our present collide, seemed suddenly to shed most of their oppressive weight.

Nothing was the same — nor could it be the same, so many missed weddings and births and deaths down the line — yet this was of no great consequence.

We knew that our bond, though not strong enough to keep us close through the years, was in its own way a powerful one.

Except I didn’t know, until that moment, that this was so.

I wondered, as I drove to the reception that morning, whether our friendship was forever trapped in childhood, the link severed when we collected our high school diplomas and left on our vastly different journeys into adulthood.

But as we shook hands and had a clumsy embrace (I’m not a hugger, and invariably foul up the etiquette of greeting gestures) I understood that this was not true.

I understood that those distant and murky days of junior high and high school, when we played pool in his basement or watched TV in my living room or sat in his room and listened to Van Halen’s first album and wished we could make our guitars sound like Eddie’s, those days mattered.

There are many kinds of friendships, of course.

Some last a lifetime, or nearly so.

But most, it seems to me, and in particular those that begin in our childhood, do not.

I’d like to believe that this brief reunion with my old friend will revive in some way our dormant relationship.

I suspect, though, that this will not happen.

We live far apart, and not only in a geographic sense.

But even if our next meeting comes years from now, and even if the reason is again a somber one, I have a newfound appreciation for our friendship, indeed for all true friendships.

Each person must give something of himself to create such a connection, and this seems to me a mutually beneficial exchange.

I have an idea of the person I was back then but the picture is an incomplete one. Yet this vision comes clearer, comes closer to a whole and true thing, when I can reminisce with the one person who knows that part of me.

I don’t understand how this works, only that it does work, and that it’s a sort of magic.

Which, come to that, is a fair way to describe friendship.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.