Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Son the Smuggler

This morning Sean asked if he could take his T-ball portrait and team picture to school.

"I need to show them to my friends," he explained.

I nixed the idea because Sean is not what you'd call careful. I hate to be a killjoy, but I like those pictures and don't particularly trust that they'd return home unmangled.

Case closed, or so I thought.

As we were hustling out the door (Do we ever leave any other way? No.), I noticed two photographs lying on the floor. The same photographs we'd discussed earlier. I picked them up rather absent-mindedly and set them on the hall table.

Midway on our walk to school, Sean stopped and patted his shirt. "Wait," he said. "I need to go back home to get something."

Ding! Went the lightbulb above my head.

"Sean, are you looking for those T-ball pictures?"

"Well, I put them under my shirt, and now they're not there."

"Yeah, I saw them on the floor and put them on the table. Remember how I said you WEREN'T supposed to bring them to school today?"

"Oh, yeah."

You, sir, are so busted.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


(This was inspired by Aliki's post about a reunion with a friend from high school. I'd wanted to write about this over the summer, but self-recrimination is a mighty foe, apparently.)

In early August I got a call from an old high school friend. We're no longer close, but she is in the periphery of my life because she is good friends with Jeff's brother. A call from her is most unusual.

She wanted to tell me that another friend from high school was ill. Dying of cancer, in fact. If I wanted to see her, I'd best do it soon.

My shock at this news was palpable -- I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.

Some backstory is necessary at this point, I think. Debbie and I were best friends through senior year. Things started souring midway through that year, and by graduation we were no longer really speaking. And not just she and I. She cut herself off from the other two friends in our little quartet as well. I was hurt and bitter and angry.

After graduation I heard not a word from her until our 10-year high school reunion. She seemed willing to rekindle our friendship, and after catching up -- she had just married her third husband at age 28 and was about to enroll in law school -- we kept in touch for about a year. It was a shaky reunion, and one remarkable primarily for its superficiality, in such contrast to how close we once were. At no point did we talk about our "breakup" (that's truly what it felt like to me).

I never had the chance to really address it, either. She moved again, and the reforged bonds slipped away. Oddly enough, though, at that 10-year reunion Debbie reconnected with another friend from our foursome, and this time they clicked in a way Debbie and I didn't. They remained very close for the next 10 years, and it was that friend who called me.

As I found out this summer, Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. After a mastectomy and grueling treatment, she was in remission for about 6 months. Around the time she and her husband adopted their second child, the cancer recurred, and spread to her brain and spine.

Which brings us back to the phone call. I hemmed and hawed for a over a week about whether to go to the hospital. On the one hand, I knew that I should go, even if we hadn't been in touch for so very long. On the other, I was, simply, afraid. Afraid she wouldn't know me, afraid she would ask me where the hell I'd been all the time she was sick, afraid of seeing a dying person I didn't know very well at all any more.

I never went.

I floundered in indecision, till the decision was made for me -- my friend called again to tell me Debbie had died.

At her funeral, I knew almost no one other than her immediate family and husband. The fourth person in our little high school group, who is my dearest friend to this day, sat next to me in the church, and we reflected on whether it was somehow inappropriate for us to be there. As still photographs flashed across a video screen -- images of Debbie at her law school graduation, of her holding her five-year-old and one-year-old sons -- I felt such remorse for missing so much of her life.

And yet would I have sought her out, tried once again to reunite, had she never gotten sick? I don't think so. I think we had changed too much, drifted too far apart to be friends again. There was no acrimony, no anger on either part, but fond memories and nostalgia aren't enough to sustain a friendship, either.

At the cemetery, the remains of our high school foursome stood together, for the first time, I think, since high school. It felt right, somehow, for us all to say goodbye to Debbie like that.