Sort of memory of a sort of friendship.

Street view of the side of city buildings.

From time to time someone will pop into your head and you wonder whatever happened to them. And then you google them. Yes, you do, don’t deny it.

Memory is like the studio of a dishonest photographer, cluttered with altered photos he will proudly show the ego–and half-developed ones that might have told the truth. Those he usually buries.

In my own memory are those half-developed photographs  of friendships that weren’t, that never really took off, and remain unfinished, leaving me with a slight question mark.

Such a one came into my mind.

It was during my first year at my second try at graduate school, in the insecure huddle in the back corner of a classroom, that I met a girl from Chile. I say “girl” but I think she was actually a year or two older than I was. (You have to be at least ten years older than me to no longer qualify as “girl.”) She hadn’t been here very long.

She had very dark hair then. Now it’s blonde.

There was something fragile about her, so small and so far from home. I remember how, without even asking, she would push her puffy winter coat into my arms when she’d go to the restroom. There was one time when, out of curiosity, she entered one of the bathrooms designated for sixty or more genders (our school was very ahead of the curve). She walked in and came right back out. I never knew what it was she witnessed in there.

The details of lunch or coffee meetings are almost nonexistent in my mind now. I remember smoothing out non-native grammar at one o’clock in the morning of the day papers were due.

Now that I write all this, kinda sounds like I was used a bit, huh.

We were both waitlisted for the Ph.D. program. This was a blessing for me because I realized I didn’t want to continue, making it easy to quit when the eventual admittance came. She was admitted as well but switched to Sociology—I think Politics was too difficult but I don’t quite recall the reason why. I think the research methods course demolished both of us.

It seems she is now “ABD” (all but dissertation) and is an adjunct professor at a couple of good universities in the city. She receives glowing reviews about how challenging, yet compassionate, she is. I cannot be jealous—for once in my life–because she worked hard for it. And wanted it far, far, far more than I ever did.

I wonder, idly, if I had stayed, would we still be friends? Would we read each other’s papers? She is engaged–so am I–would we both be making plans? Probably not. I flee from that stuff.

The last time I saw her was after we submitted our final papers in the spring. We walked to a well-known local park and sat on the bench under some trees on a quiet path, and watched the weirdos in the open square. There is never a shortage of dangerous weirdos at these parks. I can’t remember what we talked about.

After we parted, probably promising to get together again soon, I walked back the other way to a used bookstore, looking for what, I don’t know. Maybe some old book, unopened for years, that would describe exactly what I was feeling and keep me company on the train ride home.

I don’t think I found anything. Yet I know it’s not an uncommon experience, when the story just stops and it’s not clear whose fault it is. Though in this case, I believe it’s mine, because I just disappeared. It’s probably for the better in the long run, because I know that the political differences we had but didn’t discuss eight years ago (eight??!!) are a chasm apart now. So it would have petered out anyway.

Sometimes it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.

58 thoughts on “Sort of memory of a sort of friendship.

  1. A captivating tale of a past friendship, Hetty.

    Very well written.

    A washroom for 60 or more genders?

    Truly a grad school ahead of its time.

    Undoubtedly a meeting of the future Joe Biden cabinet was going on when she walked in.

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  2. “and watched the weirdos in the open square” 😂😂😂.

    I know what you mean about the story abruptly stopping, since you mention it I am sure that it’s a universal experience. It’s healthy, like pruning withering leaves from a plant. We are all subtly changing over time through our philosophies and experiences, so it only makes sense that relationships are naturally pruned and re-created. A more accurate analogy is probably the way that synapses strengthen when neural pathways are used, and weaken when not used. And it’s totally possible for friendships to re-start when circumstances re-align. For myself over the last few years I experienced an almost total pruning of existing relationships and growth of new ones, based on what was needed in new circumstances. The new ones are much stronger for now.

    Anyways you don’t need to be jealous of anyone, with your writing skills :D. This was a storybook post. It would only be moreso if it ended with you coming to the realisation that you WERE the weirdo in the park 😂😂😂.

    We should all have a buddhist approach to life and our place within it, that it is more about living in the moment and dealing with what we have, living to our values etc, not being too quick to judge (others or ourselves) or predict and extrapolate, but keeping an open mind.

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    1. I think you make a very good case for not feeling bad about the petering out of friendships. They serve a purpose at a certain time in our lives and then we all move on. I laughed out loud at the thing about finding out I’m the weirdo in the park. Trust me, these guys are world famous heavy-hitters. Actually literal heavy hitters when they punch passers-by who die.

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      1. I’m always right! 😄

        “They serve a purpose at a certain time in our lives and then we all move on”

        Yes indeed :). And those few long-term friendships are rare and satisfying for a reason. The longer-term it is though the more painful it is if they do peter out :\. Fucking Peter.

        Oh my god they actually hit/kill people? 😐 Yeah you’re right that’s Will Smith level crazy 😬. They should get an Oscar for that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I dunno why I was being secretive but I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I went to grad school in New York City, so there you go. NYC is not what you see on glossy films and television shows, it’s what you see on the eleven o’clock news. And it smells like peepee.

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  3. We’ve all been there, I have no friends from anytime in my life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that its because I couldn’t be bothered putting in the effort. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have been happier, but I suspect not.

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    1. Your comment just made me realize something I should have always known but never thought about too much. I have no friends from my past. I suppose none of us actually do–I mean, you know, define “past.” The kept friend is rare indeed, I think.

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      1. I wonder if there has to be a gap to be called “past”? I’ve been in a relationship for fourteen years–I wouldn’t say he’s from my past because it’s still current and will always be current–yet someone I was friends with fourteen years ago but not now is indeed from my past.

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  4. Friendships like that are certainly real, but when they fade out, you have to be content with the idea that some intuition on your, or her, part steered you away from each other. Not a bad thing, just . . . a thing. You described it perfectly, so I recognized it as something of my own.
    I still stay in contact with an old friend from grade school, and that’s a positive thing, but we would never be friends now, I don’t think. Our lives definitely went different ways. Anyway . . . just wanted to say where I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m just sayin’ we probably had more genders. Nyah.

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    1. You make an interesting point about the intuition. It’s just one of those things that mean something at one time and doesn’t fit in after that, leaving an odd feeling you can’t really do anything about but accept. My fiance and I only hang out with one person from college. He was the mutual friend we met through.

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  5. In 2015 I went looking for the “lost years”. I found some old friends, some I didn’t care much about back then, but once found they still send me emails people. Otherwise, I have a very good memory of people and events, and only allow the “soft focus” you speak of to drop in as a matter of not being an asshole. Otherwise, I could still ignite dealing with a lot of those people. I hold a theory that we meet everyone for a reason. That the universal billiards (or pinball) game sends us reeling into them and they either drop into a pocket and disappear or stay on the table with us, clacking into one another over a lifetime.

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    1. Honestly I don’t want to face anyone from my past! They can stay there and live on in my memory where they receive the “soft focus” treatment. Let me wonder what happened, let me be wistful, but let me alone. It is interesting though when we look back and see the role certain individuals played that we didn’t even notice at the time.

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      1. Worse, the importance and impact they had in our vocational or educational development and they’re like “Who? Oh right…you were the guy with the crazy laugh, weren’t you? Or was that someone else…” The social situation can, as you say, stay there for the most part. Until you need an “old friend” who has a weed card and is only 90 minutes away.

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        1. Oh gosh I love that feeling when you run into someone whom you’ve built up as this pivotal figure in the trajectory of your life and come to find out you barely even registered for them. I used to feel depressed as though that negated the experience, but now I realize it doesn’t. Or what’s even more mortifying is when I discover someone built ME up. Because that’s plain stupid.

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  6. I agree with the others. This was published memoir quality writing about a subject that resonates no matter where we sit on the abandonment disorder scale. I Loved the special category bathroom experience. I can imagine how intimidated your friend was to see all those ladies standing straight at the urinal with a thumb holding the pant in the right geometry while the free hand worked the hair out of their eyes to avoid spoiling their aim. I looked like a gobsmacked owl the first time I saw that in the men’s room at a rest stop in Oregon. Without those good friends, we couldn’t survive such shocking revelations.

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      1. You obviously are careful in your patronage and that’s a good defense against gobsmacking adventures. Life taught me that dignity and grace is often superfluous but it never stopped me from trying.

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          1. Can I assume that living a sheltered life has helped you remain grounded and sane in this ungrounded and insane world? I have lots of stories and scars, mental and physical, but I wear them like Boy Scout badges. I have seen crazy things and sometimes I still giggle and can’t stop. There is probably a pill for that.

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                  1. Here is my reasoning for the above TC&S statement (Totally Cool and Sophisticated). We are all aware of the effort to legalize gender affirming medical treatment for third graders. What if we could declare and affirm other human traits like intelligence, physical attractiveness, and charisma as an example, even tho facts and opinions of our peers and boss are out of sync with our feelings about ourselves. We should be able to say we identify as TC&S and our pronouns are awesome, magnificently magnanimous, and bodaciously delightful. No one has the moral, ethical, or legal right to disabuse us of our personality we choose for ourselves. Are you in? 😎

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                    1. It’s true, unfortunately. If you use libertine logic on libertines, it confuses them and they go straight to cancel bombs DEFCON 4. Maybe I should try to stay invisible through camouflage, cover, and concealment. Keeping my mouth shut might help too. 🤐. I’m afraid if I don’t jabber, I’ll become explosively flatulent from all those decaying words in my gut biodrome.

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                    2. We just had one of our most experienced engineers working on high priority projects get fired for not taking transgender awareness classes. Woke in the workforce has tragic and corrosive impacts. Now the company does not have the expertise to deliver the end product to the military, which is a breech of contract, and could cost the company millions in lost revenue and even federal fraud charges. But, we gotta be stupid before we can be right. The fact this employee already treated everyone with proper professional respect and courtesy was not considered. All non trans people are suspected of trans attack, unless properly trained not to. That type of thinking is beyond stupid.

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                    3. That’s just plain nuts. They’re that afraid of the woke mob that they’re willing to lose millions. Unless they plan to make it up elsewhere as a reward for being so woke. Or not actually have to face the consequences. Remember that consequences are only for words and attitudes that are mean to the poor oppressed people who make other people lose their jobs. Like the person who got fired for making fun of poor oppressed Kamala’s (the most powerful woman in the country, God help us all) brown suit.

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                    4. I’m thankful for you and your sensible nature. Otherwise, I might think all this woke is normal and I’m a total misfit, a dinosaur among mammals. You help me feel like maybe “they” are the alien freaks Thor Heyerdahl warned us about. I really wonder about the ethics of aliens that came here for Spring Break to Bork the monkeys and turn the planet into a mutant farm. 🐒👨‍🚀🙈🙊 that was not cool.

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  7. Even though I don’t have a story that is exactly like this, I found this incredibly relatable. There’s also something lovely about the way you wrote this up – the mix of little details like holding the puffy coat outside the bathroom, the used book, etc. along with the wistful thinking. The parallel universe of friendship if we’d gone down different paths / kept in touch. Beautifully expressed.

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  8. Upon reflection, those friendships were always encased in a dream of future success. We were all going to be somebody. It turns out they became someone, while I never did. I just never cared enough, never pictured myself as successful. The few times I’ve attempted to reconnect fell flat. They’d made it, I hadn’t, the disdain, unspoken, was palpable. Better off left as memories.

    Given a serendipitous encounter:
    “Where do you see yourself in 100 years?” I’d ask.
    “I’ll be dead,” they’d answer.
    “Yup, everyone of us,” I’d reply.

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  9. Ehmagerd, I do exactly this. Only thing is that I’ve forgotten names, and so I don’t know who these strangers in my head are.

    But once in a while, I’d think about the lady I’d convinced—she was going through a rough patch with her husband (yeah, people tell lotsa things to their hairdresser)—to NOT chop off her hip-length hair to a pixie cut.

    People always want drastic makeovers during emotional times in their life, but I knew that she would regret this particular decision. I wonder what happened to her.

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