Friday, July 26, 2013

All My Mistakes

I have some "friends" they don't know who I am
So I write quotations around the word friends
But I have a couple that have always been there for me
- from "All My Mistakes" by The Avett Brothers on Emotionalism
I was one of those kids who preferred painting and reading to group activities. I enjoyed playing with my kid brother and the neighbor boys, but I was content to be a bit of a loner. On every visit to West Virginia, my grandmother would ask me if I had made any new friends. Growing up poor and practically fatherless during the Depression, she had come to understand the importance of friendship at a young age. Until her death five years ago, she was still regularly seeing her childhood chums. 
It was the boy who would later become the husband of her best pal who first nicknamed my grandmother Sparky. The name suited her sunshiny personality and brilliant red hair. It stuck. I'm grateful that Sparky lived long enough to see that my life has been filled with the most amazing collection of friends.

Today, I caught up with one of those dear kindred spirits. I met Becca shortly after our mothers began working together in the late 80s. She was this vision of petite blonde loveliness. I, on the other hand, resembled Toula's self-description from My Big Fat Greek Wedding - a 'swarthy six-year-old with sideburns.' Becca and I couldn't have looked less like one another. And yet, there was an immediate recognition in our young hearts that we shared similarities that were infinitely more important. We were sensitive souls, and in an instant, she became my first bosom friend.

Becca and Henry

The last time Becca and I were able to spend time together was over the holidays. She was six months pregnant but hardly showing. The Jennifer Aniston-like figure she had sported since high school was still very much intact. Today, she brought her 16-pound 4-month-old son Henry with her so I could finally meet him. I was immediately smitten.

I've only seen Becca a handful of times over the last five years. She fell in love with a wonderful man. They married and moved to Georgia. She finished her dental hygienist degree. And now she's the doting mother of a darling boy. I remain happily single. (I'm one of the last hold-outs of my generation it seems.) A fulfilling job, art projects, and family and friends keep me on my toes.

But I miss my friend. I miss being able to drive ten minutes to Becca's house whenever I want. Five hours separate us now, but on these all-too-rare occasions when we manage to get together, the miles and months fade. Remaining are those initial feelings we first shared as children - unconditional love, deep joy, and real peace. The years have only served to strengthened our bond. We have a history. So many of my favorite stories include her.

When I try to see myself through Becca's eyes, I can almost glimpse the woman she says is beautiful and talented. What a gift. With Becca, I am free to be myself. She loves me just as I am. 

I should write and call more often than I do. I should take a few days off and drive down to Georgia. I should spend more time with Becca's family (my 'second family'). They still live close by. 

I'm thirty. I feel like I should have this grown-up thing figured out by now. Somehow, I usually end up relating to Jo March from Little Women. I celebrate the joys that come with getting older. The ones I love find their own stories and fill them with partners and babies, careers and adventures. I rejoice. But I also acknowledge that part of me longs for the days when we are all young and lived within minutes of one another. 

I know we can't go back. So I am determined to journey ahead. Sparky and I always had such fun together. I now know it's because she never really lost her love for life. Inwardly, she was always her bubbly 14-year-old self. That gives me hope. As I notice more silver hair and a new wrinkle, I remember Sparky's laughter. I remind myself to try to look through Becca's eyes.

Every year, more and more friends are added to my life. Old hippies and misfit artists, young theatre kids and unsure new parents, and so many others make unexpected appearances and remain. I really don't deserve the wild assortment of friends I enjoy. I could easily write essays on hundreds of people who have enriched my life. Through all my mistakes, my true friends stick with me. I will always lift prayers of thanks for such a life.