|Not all fall days are bright-colored|
Recently I set aside a book I’d started reading, marking my place in Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Frontier in American History on page 93, to get busy reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, our challenging reading circle choice for November. A week later, over halfway through the Mann novel, I set it aside to devote an evening to an intriguing modern nonfiction book, The Friend Who Got Away: Twenty Women’s True-Life Tales of Friendships That Blew Up, Burned Out, or Faded Away. Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell were the editors of the volume, with introduction by Francine Prose. Twenty women’s true-life stories of lost friends! What woman could resist?
The little mini-bios at the back of the book don’t give the ages of the women who wrote their stories for the collection, but often there are clues in the essays themselves — popular songs or groups mentioned, national events, even descriptions of clothing — and sometimes the writer says of an event that it took place “thirty years ago” or something like that. In short, I deduced that while some of the women were clearly younger than I am, a few others are part of my cohort. (Older? No. And what does that tell you?) Some accounts describe friendships that went on for decades, others for only part of a year. Most stories are about girl friendships, but a couple tell of close friendships girls had -- or thought they had -- with boys.
The theme that emerges is the complicated nature of friendship — the excitement of finding a friend and the anguish of losing one.
“Maybe,” someone remarked to me a few weeks back, “some friendships are by their very nature time-limited, not meant to last forever.” Every time I hear about a dog needing a “forever” home, I think, Nothing is forever. With a dog, of course, what we mean is for the rest of the dog’s life, and doesn't the shorthand of the whole 'BFF' thing suggest that our friends, too, might last our lifetime?
Sadly, like dogs, many friends leave life before we do, and “No one replaces anyone,” as my friend Helene said to me years ago. (Certainly, no one has ever replaced her in my life.) Other friends move far away (or even not so terribly far) and fail to stay in touch. The “break-up” of a friendship, topic of so many of the essays in The Friend Who Got Away, can leave the kind of pain one might imagine only comes with divorce, along with questions, regrets, and confusion that, like divorce, can also last a lifetime when the friendship does not.
No wonder, I’m thinking more and more these days, older people fortunate enough to have them turn increasingly to siblings, children, and grandchildren. They may or may not be close friends in the sense that they welcome our confidences. TMI, Grandma! On the other hand, they’re kind of stuck with us. For life. Thank heaven!