It's a Long Story

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Robin is mad at me. Or, she should be. It's been months since I've written to her, and so much has happened. I want to know about her new baby, Willa. I want to know how big sister Amelia is doing. I want pictures! I want to know all about the new house, and I want to hear how she's coping with a year so chock-full of change.

The wanting is the easy part, the asking and the laughing and the show of support. The telling is the hard part. The telling, I think, is what is causing distance between me and so many old friends. It's not that I have something huge to tell Robin; I have no big identity-changing secrets to reveal. There is just so . . . much.

Here's the thing. Like Robin, Susannah is mad at me. And so are Kathy and Judy and Kit and Lynn and Sally and Joanne. Or, they should be. And I should be mad at them. We don't keep in touch in the ways we believe we should. Even so, somehow "being mad" never actually enters the equation. We forgive, forgive, forgive and forgive. We are friends who fall into a special category I can't quite name.

People talk about "old friends" as if all of them are the same: folks you shared some good times with, remember fondly and, if you happen to cross paths with them, folks you'd love to hang out with over martinis and tell knee-slapping stories of the good old days. Anyone who has ever gone to college, or had any sort of social life at all during early adulthood, has many such "old friends."

Anyone who has ever made it beyond those years probably has some of this other kind I'm talking about, too. I need a name for them. They are more than "old friends." They are friends who matter deeply. They are friends with whom you once shared a lot of life's content. A first baby or a first heartbreak or a stint in rehab or some exciting claim to fame. Big things happened, and you were there for each other.

Then one of you moved away, or got married and got too busy, or simply got involved with a new group forming over some shared love of perennials or fine wine or rugby. Here's the thing: I could open my MS Outlook right now, fire up a blank screen and begin a message to Robin. I could say, "Oh, my gosh," and, "I'm sorry it has been so long since I've written," and I could begin to reconnect. If I do that, I know what I (and poor Robin) would be in for: perhaps 25,000 words of summary to get her up to date with the everydayness of my life. She is not the sort of friend to whom I can say, "Oh, the kids are doing great," and be done with it. I have to give her content, just as I would need it of her.

"Content friends."

Well, that doesn't exactly sing.

"Companions of substance." Hoo-boy.

I wish I knew what to call these people, to differentiate them from the rest. You could advise: "Just call her!" Of course. But once again the commitment of time required to do the job right (17 or 18 hours of gabbing, minimum) isn't practical. You could say, "Just send one of those long family holiday newsletters" or, "Start a blog." But these formats don't cut it for friends you need to process with, friends you need to be understood by.

Susannah recently sent me an e-mail with a photo of Andrew, her first child, whom she adopted.

"What?" I wrote back, and, "Oh, my God!" I had no idea she was even thinking about adoption or even motherhood. She wrote back saying, yeah, she'd been meaning to write. She said she didn't know how to write to me without committing to a message that would take days to compose.

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