RICHMOND — People of a certain age become aware that their roster of very long-term friends is getting shorter by the month. That’s when you might start thinking about which ones you’ve known the longest.
For me, it doesn’t go back further than high school. One of my 60-year-plus friends has retained friends from kindergarten, but we moved often enough to lose elementary and junior high friends — despite the emotional versions of “roses are red” that they wrote in my autograph book.
In high school, we exchanged senior photos in little folders, and everyone wrote messages on the blank side. Perpetually sorting, I came across my collection the other day, almost every one of them triggering a memory of something good or regrettable (or tragic, in the dramatic world of teens), and I recycled about two-thirds of them.
I’m still in touch with just one, the girl who often hosted our “hen” parties, where we drank soda and shared our one pack of cigarettes. She’s a talented writer, haven’t seen her in years, but the phone rings and we are instantly in sync again. It’s a thing to be treasured.
These old friendships occurred because of where we were and when we were there. Happenstance. As much on chance as a lottery ticket.
My former neighbor might have built her house 60 years ago on a different street in a different Berkshire town. But, she didn’t. So, despite her moving about, we still talk, visit occasionally or email as if she were still just a cup of coffee away.
I started thinking about the happenstance of friendship the other night when I spoke on the phone with a friend I met in graduate school 66 years ago. He’s 90, complained briefly about a series of bothersome physical difficulties, and then we went on to stories about our offspring and grandchildren, then the state of the union, the planet, his writing and mine.
It’s been a number of years since we met for a drink, but I’m hoping. And I realized after 45 minutes of nonstop conversation that I met him by happenstance. The seat arrangers at journalism school put my desk next to his in the cavernous newsroom. For no particular reason.
In the days when deans had total power over such things, college students were handed a roommate for better or worse. I stayed close to two out of three, one lost too young to cancer and the other still liking my rare entries on Facebook.
Think about marriage. It’s fascinating and a little alarming to realize how often a meeting and melding were merely by chance.
I met my husband in The Eagle newsroom, and one reason I took that job was that my boyfriend was also in New England, and I didn’t want to be far from him. My future husband was there by chance as well.
A native of Pittsfield, he was on his way to his Ph.D. at Columbia when his parents became ill. He came home to temporarily help out, took a temporary job at the newspaper — and that was that. A few years later, I appeared in the newsroom, was wiped out by the boyfriend within months and, after on-again, off-again dating, we married.
Happenstance can also lead to a car crash, catching a virus or doing a face-plant. But, it’s often the base of a long-term relationship and the triggers for a million memories. And easier to figure out than six degrees of separation.