In early August I spent the weekend with someone I once never thought I'd see again. For most of our childhoods we were closer than sisters, and then suddenly in high school we weren't, for reasons it took me the better part of twenty years to understand. The end of our friendship was something I mourned deeply for a long time, complicated of course by the fact that we ran in the same circles, dated the same guys (fortunately not usually at the same time) and thus were always in some teeth-slightly-bared competition with each other.
We've all had those friendships, and most of the time we eventually get over it. We see each other at a reunion and wonder what we were ever thinking, or we eye each other in frozen foods and pass pleasantries in line at the deli counter. And eventually we stop wondering. Most of the time, we don't get the chance to build a bridge back to the times we used to write each other four page notes every night even though we had all our classes together except gym, the time when we could finish each other's sentences because we knew each other's history almost as well as our own. We grow up, we get married, we get divorced, we have kids or we don't, we get jobs we hate, we get several useless degrees in rapid progression, and then (this is the part that rapidly becomes a cliche lately) due to a certain social networking tool that rhymes with Spacehook, we get back in casual touch.
But I never stopped wondering. I'd been hanging the ornaments she cross-stitched for me on my tree every year in the intervening seasons. I've been making silly paper hats and filling them with confetti (the singular of which is confetto). I've read my collected works of e e cummings more times than I can count, even though she still prefers Dickinson. And so when we learned that our lives had been following pretty much parellel courses (without the cancer on her part, clever move there, though she did have some other health issues I managed to avoid) all this time, we didn't know whether to be startled or amused.
We'd seen each other a few times in the past five years, mostly drive-through visits while one of us was on our way from Connecticut to Pennsylvania or back again. We played a lot of internet Scrabble and had some long late-night phone calls about the fact that even though we're on the cusp of forty boys are still pretty much dumb. But this weekend in August was the first time we'd had close to 72 uninterrupted hours in each other's company (excepting the time we were in separate rooms administering the State EMT Exam, which is another story altogether: I got to impersonate a stroke victim every ten minutes for so long that I practically had one of my own) and really, it was unnerving the way time collapsed and we were in her mother's kitchen again instead of hers, me spilling lemon juice out of the teaspoon onto the floor because I never could steady my hands; before bed, I thought about the innumerable times I'd slept on the box spring in this very same bed frame while she slept on the mattress on the floor at her parents' colonial split, instead of the guest room of her two-story condo. The cat was different, too, but it kneaded the same blanket.
But what got me most of all was watching her drive. Our falling out was long before either of us got our licenses, but there were those hands on the steering wheel, the strong piano-player knuckles and rounded nails that I knew as well as my own, as well as the hands of any member of my family, even my husband. For some reason, it was the sight of those familiar hands that made me want to break down and cry. I have no idea what that might mean. All I know it was a relief to be near someone again who has known you longer than you've known yourself, and still manages to forgive both of you.