People pop into my mind at the most inexplicable times. I might pick up a bottle of lemonade at the grocery store and think of Betsy Barker. Together we created many, many concoctions at West Virginia University, but I’m pretty sure none of them were based on lemonade. I may be crossing the George Washington Bridge when I start chortling to myself remembering how I used to call Beth Snow “Barfy.” She guided me through my courtship with my eventual spouse, but we never once barfed about it. I can be riding my bicycle up in Rockland County and Jeff Simmons tugs at my heart. Once, while seated in a booth across from him at a Pizza Hut I jumped up and started dancing in the aisle. But I promise you, we never rode bicycles together.
It’s hard work keeping in touch with people when they’re no longer in your day-to-day life. I thought it would get easier as the kids got older and I had more time to myself. But things like Mahjong and book clubs, writers groups and Pampered Chef parties, monthly getaways and yearly cruises (not to mention time killers like work and basic housekeeping) get in the way, crowding out the what-was for the here-and-now.
Why and when old friends resurface is an enigma to me. And when they do, I make a mental note to track them down. But my mental notes aren’t as sharp as they used to be and more often than not, my old friends retreat to the far recesses of my memory before I even get to send an e-mail.
And so, I’ve started writing my friends’ names down. I have sticky notes on my desk. Voice reminders in my phone. Scraps of paper in my pocketbook.
“Linda’s kid – going to college.”
“Ask Susan about Papa.”
Last weekend was Maggie’s memorial service. I met her many moons ago when my kids first started school. The bus stop was up the hill and she lived around the corner and we met in the middle to bid our children farewell every morning. I was in total awe of Maggie because not only was she the first PTA president I ever met, but she also had the bus stop moved to a safer location. Something I never, ever would have thought I had the power to do. Back then, I was working part-time at CNBC and she was working full-time as a homemaker, in every good sense of the word. On the days I wasn’t working, we wore our sneakers to the bus stop and after waving goodbye to our offspring, headed for the high school track.
As we walked we talked about our worries and wishes, our political views and spiritual beliefs, our physical shortcomings and our mental defects. We shared our deepest secrets, flinging our closets wide open to let the skeletons out. We knew each other’s extended family members without having met them and recognized our respective demons that kept us from being whole. There wasn’t a whole lot we didn’t know about each other, yet our conversations were often as circular as the track we trekked. We were both headstrong in our own ways and often had to agree to disagree and just keep walking.
One thing we disagreed on was Maggie’s move to Montville. When she made her mind up to leave, I knew there was no dissuading her. And so, instead of defending Teaneck’s honor, I started suggesting surrounding towns with great school systems and lower taxes, resigned to the inevitable.
Montville is a mere 25 miles from Teaneck. But, as I suspected it would, it made all the difference in our friendship. At first we visited back and forth. I envied her big and beautiful and ultra-modern house. And she still came to Teaneck for an occasional visit. But things were never the same once we weren’t in each other’s everyday life.
We talked on the phone a lot at first and then e-mail became our source of communication. E-mail turned into Facebook messaging and eventually we were keeping in touch only sporadically.
At the time of Maggie’s death, I hadn’t talked to her electronically, or otherwise, in well over a year. We perused each other’s Facebook pages and clicked little “likes” or commented on silly things, but I hadn’t had any one-on-one with her in a long, long time. I hadn’t seen her in at least five, maybe closer to ten years.
Yet, because I knew her very well for a long time, I felt compelled to speak when friends started sharing their sentiments at her memorial service.
I didn’t say anything particularly profound. I talked about how much she adored her two boys and touched upon the little life lessons I learned from Maggie. She taught me that even the pickiest eaters will eat, and eat well, when they’re hungry. I used to mock her mercilessly for having a full dinner ready for her kids when they got off the bus at 3 pm. When I finally tried it myself, I realized it was a surefire way to get kids to eat their vegetables.
And I told of how Maggie retired after her one-year stint as PTA president while I went on to over-volunteer for way too many years. Maggie tried to stop me, she really did. But I didn’t listen and I didn’t learn until it was too late that it was infinitely more important to spend time raising your own children than every other kid in town.
It wasn’t until I was driving home reflecting on all the heartfelt stories that I shed my first tear. I truly believe that Maggie is in a better place, but couldn’t help but feel sad for her kids and her husband and for all the friends and family who loved her. But, mostly I was sad for myself for all I had missed.
Maggie made me realize the importance of keeping in touch. In person. You can text and e-mail and like Instagram photos and write all the little Facebook comments you want, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face friendship.
We all make our hollow declarations, “I miss you! Let’s get together soon!” thinking some time soon we will. And we mean to. We really do. But sometimes time runs out.
In honor of my old friend Maggie, I’m collecting all my little post-its and hand-scribbled notes and making some face-to-face plans.
So, Chris Kirk, get ready. I’m coming to see you.