The first friend I ever made was named Donna. She had blonde curly hair and blue eyes and she and her family lived across the street and up a block. We might have met earlier than we did, except that neither of us was allowed to cross the street by ourselves. As it was, we didn’t become friends until my older sister started babysitting for Donna and her siblings.
From that point on we were like sisters ourselves. Sleepovers, vacations with each other’s families and just lots and lots of fun. By the time we were in 8th grade we had a nice little circle of friends and quite a history. That was the year that Donna’s father accepted a job transfer and moved the whole family south to rural Virginia. Needless to say, we were devastated. Her mom and dad promised they would do whatever they could to make sure our friendship survived.
All through high school we endured the four and a half hour drive back and forth between New Jersey and Virginia. Sometimes we went with family, sometimes with friends and one time, all by ourselves on a rather scary Greyhound bus (a story all in itself, especially the layover in Washington DC!) She spent part of each summer at my house, hanging with our old friends, and I spent part of the summer at her house making new ones.
In between, there were letters – lots and lots of long letters sharing every little thing that was going on in our lives. This was back before email and cell phones so there were many photographs sent back and forth as well. Each letter was signed “TTFN” our code for “Ta-Ta for now,” because that way it wasn’t really goodbye, it was just a break until the next time.
We made occasional phone calls to each other but long distance was expensive so it wasn’t very often. One call, however, will always stand out in my memory. It came late one night during our senior year of high school. Donna called to tell me that her 18 year old sister had died in a car accident. It was an awful feeling not being able to comfort my friend in person. Suddenly the miles between us seemed so much longer.
Life moved on. When she was 19, Donna married a Marine Sargent named Bob. I was maid of honor. She settled into being a military wife, going with him when she could or living with her parents, working and taking college courses when she couldn’t. At the time of my first wedding, in 1985, they were living in California, making it difficult for her to be my maid of honor, as I had hoped. In fact, we weren’t even certain they would be able to come to the ceremony until the very last minute. They did manage to make it but our visits, and even our letters were becoming less and less frequent.
Nine years later I was planning my second wedding. Donna and Bob were once again living in Virginia and working in Washington D.C. It had been a few years since we had been able to see each other but I’d promised myself that if I remarried, I wanted her to be my maid of honor. Hubby and I drove down to visit for a weekend so they could meet and so that we could work out some of the details. Then, in May, Donna, Bob and her mom came up to New Jersey for the wedding. We were both thirty-one and had known each other for over 25 years but it felt like life was making it harder and harder for us to stay connected.
Flash forward twenty years. My life revolved around raising my kids, working in a school, and spending time with my family. I was a small town girl living the simple life. Donna, on the other hand, had finished her masters degree in computer management and had been working for a company that sent her all over the world updating their systems. Her life had become about work, taking care of her fur babies and globe trotting with Bob. They had chosen not to have children and instead spent much of their free time traveling and exploring.
Our lives had moved in such different directions and our emails, which had dwindled to a few a year, started sounding impersonal and distant, like those newsletters people send in their holiday cards. We hadn’t talked on the phone or seen each other face to face since my wedding. She had never met my teenage children. We had, for the most part, dropped out of each other’s lives.
Then, last November, my mom passed away. I knew Donna would want to know so I sent her an email, not even sure I still had the correct phone number. To my surprise, she called that night and we had an awkward conversation, both of us a little embarrassed about how much time had passed. Her schedule made it impossible for her to make it to the funeral but before we hung up we made a promise that we would do our best to arrange a visit.
It took seven months for that visit to finally take place. She and Bob arranged to drive up to New Jersey for a long weekend. They had more time available since they had recently opted for early retirement. I was glad they had chosen to book a hotel room instead of staying in our home because, even though I was incredibly excited to see her, I was also feeling very anxious about spending time with this person who felt like a stranger to me. What would we talk about? How could we possibly relate to each other? Once upon a time we could finish each other’s sentences, we knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets, we told each other everything. Now I was afraid our visit would be filled with awkward silences.
The evening they arrived was very emotional, filled with hugs, introductions and basic catch up. There were a few uncomfortable moments but not too bad. We made plans for the next day including a visit to my moms grave so Donna could pay her respects and then a road trip to Chaddsford Pa to visit some historic sites. It was a two hour drive. The men took the front seat while Donna and I sat in the back.
Something amazing happened during those two hours. It was almost like we were transported back in time to our teenage years. We settled into the familiar rhythm of our friendship, engaging in jokes only we understood and finishing each other’s sentences, completing ignoring the guys in the front seat! The day flew by and before I knew it they were heading back home again, but not before plans were made for the next trip a month later.
The second visit was even more fun. We discovered a mutual love of fantasy fiction and antique shopping. She and Bob are building a retirement home in the country so interior design and decorating has become a common topic as well. But the connection is much more than that. I think, even though our lives and interests changed, deep down we didn’t. Our, now weekly, emails are more like chats that are following an already started conversations. I was hoping that we had made it back to a good place, but I knew for sure when Donna signed one of her notes “TTFN!”
It made me giggle, warmed my heart and made me realize that best friends are always close, no matter how far away they are. So if there is a friend in your life that you’ve lost touch with, take my advice, pick up the phone. After all…
Good friends are like stars. You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.