Friday, February 23, 2024


 Everybody has friends that they used to be so close to and then time and distance comes between them. Most of the time you can see pictures of that person on social media and get the posted version of their life. You can tell if they are single or got married if they still live in the same city they used to, or if they have children. It doesn’t equal a real friendship with that person but it is better than having them slip out of your life forever.

I have one of those friends. There was never a conflict between us that tore us apart. We never had a falling out. I never intended that we wouldn’t always be friends. We lived across the hall from each other in New York. The building was on 71st Street on the Upper West Side. It was an old brownstone that was seemingly divided into a bunch of tiny apartments. It was a walk up and she and I lived on the fourth floor. My place, you could not even call it an apartment, was on one end of the hall, and hers was on the other. In between us, there were two other tiny apartments. She and I both had a window, but that seemed like the biggest feature. We each had a loft bed, a stove, and a tiny toilet with a shower only big enough to squeeze into. When you opened the front door it hit the loft bed because there wasn’t enough room for it to swing all the way open. The only sink was a tiny bathroom sink with a medicine cabinet over it where you could keep toiletries and dish soap.

Between us, those two other tiny apartments didn’t even have a window. They each only had a glass skylight overhead. One was occupied by an old woman and the other by an old man. They weren’t friendly but they seemed to be friends with each other. They tolerated us youngins. My friend and I would sometimes open both of our front doors to make the hallway appear to be part of our “apartments.” More often than not though we would go out down the street to grab food, take a walk, or sit and talk somewhere. When Krispy Creme came to NY there was a location dangerously close to us around the block. The first time we tried them we couldn’t get enough and ordered seconds together.

That was a moment in time in our twenties. We were both recent college graduates just taking our first steps out into adult living. We hadn’t quite landed and didn’t know where we would put our feet down. She was living on her own in a new country having grown up in Prague, and I was living on my own in the same city I had lived in my whole life. When another friend of mine asked me if I wanted to drive cross country with her to try living in Los Angeles, I had to make a really hard decision — one that would impact the rest of my life. I remember weighing the pros and cons while sitting in my tiny apartment. I didn’t want to move so far away from my family. I didn’t know if I wanted to say goodbye to NYC. I wasn’t sure of how I would get started once I made it to California. I didn’t want to leave my friend across the hall, but as I sat in that tiny apartment I looked at my belongings I had a feeling if I stayed I would just end up like the two people in the hall who probably lived in these apartments their whole adult life. 

That was twenty-five years ago, and I never moved back. I go home to visit often, but I am a California Girl now and I love it. My husband is from here, and we have started our own family here. When I go back to NYC, I try to see as many friends as I can but once I had kids that became harder and harder. I had to settle for updates online as a poor replacement for seeing people face-to-face. My friend across the hall married the boyfriend that she had met right before I left. They stayed in the city for a while building their careers before eventually having a little girl. A few years later they had a little boy. I was excited for her as well as in awe because I too eventually wanted to start a family and she seemed to get the whole package. 

A few years later I too got married, then had a little girl followed by a little boy. We all had our hands full and before we realized years had gone by since we were in touch. A few years ago I saw a photo of them all out and we said a quick hello to one another. Then yesterday I saw she posted a photo of her son saying she is missing him, especially on his birthday. I scrolled back to see if it had ever said anywhere else anything about what happened to him. There wasn’t much but it didn’t take a lot of investigating to see a photo of him a year ago without any hair, and then another with him ringing the bell at the hospital when he completed treatment. I went back and reread the message from yesterday over and over. It didn’t seem possible that he could be gone. Maybe she said she missed him because he was away somewhere. He couldn’t have passed away because he was not even sixteen, and it all would have been too unfair. I could not process what I was reading. It was too unimaginable 

When I became a mother a friend of mine gave me a book called “Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott. In between nursing, changing diapers, and trying to catch up on sleep I read the book. She spoke of wanting her son to become all these great things when he got older and then stopped herself and said “ I don’t care what he becomes just Oh dear G-d please let me outlive him.” That quote has stayed with me every day since I read it with my tiny infant in my arms. When I send them off to school or camp or even to a friend’s house I say a little silent prayer that they will be safe and live longer than me. It is my biggest fear that some tragedy harms my children and stands in the way of them living a full life. 

I could not accept that this nightmare had been lived by my friend. Her son’s bright personality always came through from what little I saw of him. Stunned, I wrote her straight away and said that I had seen her post. I said I didn’t know what had happened but I was thinking of her. She wrote back with such a direct statement about how and when she lost her boy. She said he had Leukemia and was treated and came out of treatment okay, when he went back a few years later he once again completed treatment and was healthy. They had planned on doing a bone marrow transplant and that is when things went wrong. He got an infection and sepsis. He did not make it and passed away. She wrote these words to me followed by how losing him has been so hard on the three of them and that they are learning to go on. My heart sank as I read her words and I began to cry. My stomach tightened and my head hurt because I couldn’t swallow how unfair this news was. How final! 

I let myself sit for a while before writing her back. I wasn’t even sure how to respond to her devastation. She had asked me when I would be back in NYC next and there will be no excuses to put off seeing her when I go. If I could beam myself to her right now to hug her I would. I went to sit on the couch where my son was sitting. I sat behind him and hugged him so I could breathe him in. He couldn’t see my face, or my tears, but all I could think of was that my friend couldn’t hold her boy anymore. I held on as long as he would let me. I will never let go first. Time is precious.

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