To what degree do our friends in childhood influence who we become as adults? And how many of us don't always stay in touch with those people who once peopled our small worlds? Facebook makes it easier to stay loosely connected with minimal effort, but it's not quite the same.
If I re-read my journals from when I was a girl--10, 11, 12 years old-- my world is peopled with C---s. They were (and are still) the family down the street. Their oldest son, Chris, was two years older than me and our younger brothers were of an age. Christina, the only daughter, is 2 years older than my sister Sarah and the twin boys a few years younger than that--I baby sat them now and then. The father, Ted, is a formidable Greek man with the kind of vivid personality that intrigues and amuses, but sometimes embarrasses his own preteen children. The mother, Sue, is one of the most giving people I know. In my memories she is as American mother as a Donna Reed archetype, except warmer, more approachable, and with a much greater sense of humor.
I loved them in the casual, eternal way that young children love, firm in the belief that what is now is what always will be. Chris, being two years older, was an object of adoration. As I was preparing for junior high, he was old hat at such things and was on his way to the unthinkably miraculous and grown up world of high school. We played in the woods that was adjacent to our street, often taking our brothers with us.
Brian, my brother, and Tim C were best friends. They were together always. In late elementary school, they would set up wooden ramps in the peaceful street where we lived and try to perform tricks with their bikes. They were tree climbers. They hoarded the backyard basketball hoop and the C---'s pool. There were scraped knees and broken glasses and many, many sprains in their adventures together.
Chris and I grew apart as I attended far away schools in Silver Spring and he stayed closer to home. We each became firmly attached to the school world in which our peers now occupied. We would see each other on the block now and then and say hi, but as first he and then I learned to drive, these casual hellos would be fewer and fewer. And after college, I would be surprised if we even recognized each other if we weren't both on the street where our parents lived.
To look back on it is sad--the gradual, slow, fading away of a friendship that once was as vital to me as the grass and trees and water. But the casual slowness of the loss, like the loss of so many other childhood things--magic, innocence, freedom--made it not so sharp. You wake up one day and you don't believe in unicorns and realize that you haven't for several years; in some ways you can't even remember really having believed. So it was with my friendship with Chris C---.
I don't really know what happened, but as the friendship between our brothers was ever more intense, so too was the ending of it. Sometime in middle school, Tim and Brian stopped speaking. From then on, my brother's looks were always hostile and hurt at the mention of the C---s. I used to wonder about it now and then, but hadn't for a long time. Although Christina's friendship with my sister healed some of the hurts, the splintering between Brian and Tim pretty much ended the closeness our families had once developed. Another family moved in that had children close in age and their world became the rich, lucky one that was peopled with C---s.
On June 15, Tim, now 28 years old, was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who was going the wrong way on the highway. It was an awful, stupid, unfair injustice to a family I often wish would have stayed forever as they had in my childhood. I attended the memorial service yesterday at the local church. I learned about life for Tim in the years since he and Brian were no longer inseparable. Life had been cruel to the boy I knew. He suffered. More than he--more than anyone--deserved.
Hearing the family speak about their loss was powerful. They are all such amazing people. And I felt my own loss--not for the boy who was dead--but for the man he had been. The man I had never known. The man who was once a boy I thought would be part of my life forever and then wasn't. And now, I suppose, never will be.
My life is richer, I am a better person for having a childhood filled with the C---s. But now, I don't want that to be the end of the story. I want to reach out. I want to make a bridge across the years and be there for the family. And I don't know how, or if it would even be welcomed, in their grief. All I know is that I will try. I plan to summarize my thoughts I've shared here in a letter.
And maybe I will add them as friends on Facebook...