Growing up an Air Force brat, I never made lasting friendships.
Which is not to say I didn’t have friends. I did…but those friendships were transitory. There’s no way to avoid that when your family packs up and moves every three years or so. You make friends, and then bam! One day there’s a moving truck outside your house. Or theirs. It’s just a fact of life when you grow up in a military family. I think it makes you more independent, but also, maybe more of an introvert. Those traits are probably the result of an innate distrust over forming tight bonds with other people. The mentality is, don’t get too close, because it’s not going to last. These experiences help shape your personality. I know they’ve directly affected me; I’m a little bit quiet, but other times I yearn for attention. I work fine in groups, but I’m more comfortable on my own. A writer is about as solitary a profession there is. Oh, and I cope with humor. You have to laugh at life, because sitting around depressed over your lot in it achieves nothing – especially when change is a constant.
Most of the time, you never hear from these people again. There are hundreds of classmates of mine spread all over the country, I am sure, people who were part of my daily life and are now scattered like seeds in the wind, strangers doing who-knows-what with their lives. People I counted as friends, as crushes. A few I have tried to find. My best friend from high school disappeared from my life 25 years ago and I have never been able to locate him, despite how easy modern technology (the internet, social media) makes it. As I’ve said, most of the time, they’re gone from your life forever.
Most of the time.
When I was growing up in Hawaii, between 1973-1977, there were two kids my brother’s age and mine who lived a couple of houses down. Andy and Julie. We were close friends, and used to play together a lot. Here’s a photo of the four of us on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, across from the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. 1976 A.D.
When a moving truck pulled up outside our house in 1977, that was it. Goodbye, Andy and Julie. I hadn’t seen, or heard from, either of them in 36 years. Thirty-six years; man, that’s a lifetime. Occasionally I would think of them, and wonder how their lives turned out, but those thoughts were fleeting. Besides, I had no idea if they even remembered me or Scott. Life and time have a habit of clouding memories. Trying to track them down seemed futile.
This is where that phrase most of the time comes into play.
A few days ago, Tara was looking through Facebook emails, and mentioned that she found one from an old friend that had gone into her “other” tab.
“What’s this ‘other’ tab?” I asked.
Well, it turns out that if you aren’t official friends with somebody on Facebook, they can still send you emails. Only instead of going to your In Box, they pop up in this Other tab. Which I had never even known existed. It’s right there, in plain sight, but if you’re not looking for it…
“You should check yours,” Tara urged.
So I did. And found a slew of emails dating back to when I first signed up for a Facebook account, in 2008. Oops. Most of them were spam or generic updates from pages I’d liked. But then I found one from a woman named Julie, dated June 2, 2012. She had the same last name as my childhood friend. But it couldn’t possibly be the same Julie, right?
Hi Mark! Not sure if you remember me but we used to be neighbors on Hickam AFB in the 70’s. My brother Andy and I used to play with you & Scott. I noticed you were on here & I thought I’d say “Hi”.
I was blown away. Truly, to hear from somebody who played such a big role in my youth, out of the blue, 36 years later (well, 35 if I had checked my email when it first arrived almost a year ago!) was a shock, to say the least. I responded immediately, hoping she hadn’t disappeared, and within minutes we were chatting, catching up on each other’s lives. Turns out both she and Andy, and their parents, all live in Phoenix now. They’re grown up, of course. They have kids. And jobs. Life went on for them, just the same as it went on for me. It’s kind of amazing to see what they look like now.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, I said I hated technology. But that’s a blanket statement. Sometimes it’s pretty useful. Occasionally, I can admit that I like it.
As cool as it was reconnecting with my childhood friends after so many years, sometimes reality does not live up to the fantasy. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a girl I had a major crush on in 5th grade. Kelly, a cute blonde who I considered at the time an unrequited love. Because after the moving truck pulled up in front of our house in 1980, I never saw her again. But I did write her a letter in which I admitted how I felt about her, and she wrote back…telling me the same thing. Holy hell, that stung. Our Relationship That Wasn’t took on mythical proportions in my mind, and I thought about her often over the years. I went through a real nostalgic period in 2011, when I wrote the above post about her, and it ended up fueling my solo road trip back to my childhood home. I decided to make an all-out effort to find Kelly. My own love life was at a standstill then; I had no idea that in a few short months I’d begin a relationship with my great friend, Tara. So I did some internet sleuthing. I figured the odds of actually finding Kelly were slim, as she was probably married with a new last name and might literally live anywhere in the world.
But I did find her.
I never wrote about that here, because – as I said – sometimes reality smacks you down to earth. I’d painted such a beautiful picture of longing and romance. I couldn’t sully that with something as trivial as the bitter truth. Because, after tracking her down, I sent her an email, reminiscing about our time together and our missed opportunity at romance.
And she had no freakin’ memory of me.
Don’t get me wrong, she was nice. A wife, a mother, a yoga instructor. Living in Texas. We chatted a bit. Talked about our 5th grade teacher, the years we spent in Ohio, what we were up to nowadays. But when I brought up our love letters back and forth, she simply did not recall anything about them. She thought she remembered me, vaguely. Talk about a knife through the heart. That was the moment I realized some things are better left untouched. The past is the past, and even when it’s painted a nostalgic shade of gold, it may still end up tarnished. Thinking that she was out there somewhere, unreachable but perhaps harboring thoughts of me once in awhile, was far better than finding her and learning she had forgotten completely about me.
I’m not bitter anymore. I have Tara, and she is better than a hundred Kellys put together.
So, have you ever gotten back in touch with somebody from your past? Did reuniting with a former friend or flame live up to expectations?