An old college friend called one day. We tried to have a conversation. But then her daughter woke up early from a nap. And then my daughter started asking to go to outside. Then her other daughter started crying that she was hungry. And then my dog, who is prone to suddenly throwing up, threw up. Then my friend felt kind of sick because she was pregnant with her third daughter, and she needed to go throw up. Then we said, Good talking to you, take care, good-bye.
We met as undergrads in Rhode Island, where we were both majoring in psychology. She had a gift for Statistical Analysis. I had a knack for Psych of the Abnormal. When I met her she was pre-engaged to a high school boyfriend. I had no idea what pre-engaged meant. “You mean, engaged?”
“No,” she corrected, “Pre-engaged.” Which I learned was engaged to be engaged. I wondered if there was a pre-pre-engagement state, in which one could talk about getting engaged to get pre-engaged. “You know, I would just rack up as many rings as you could with this whole situation. You could end up with each finger adorned.” Despite my lack of knowledge about this type of commitment, and despite my inability to filter impulsive comments, she laughed. And a friendship was born.
There are friendships born of circumstance. And there are friendships born of soul. The ones born of soul, of kindred spirits connecting, are the ones that last. Jane and I didn’t have oodles in common. But we shared a sense of humor. And we were both idealists. Through four years in and out of classes, in and out of dorm life and parties, figuring out rent and jobs and boys and career paths, I found her to be rock solid, incredibly trustworthy. And I knew we’d be the kind of friends who stayed connected long after we’d thrown off the tassels of graduation and started down paths not marked by tuition payments and term papers.
I was right too. We kept in touch across states, attended each others weddings, kept pulse on the status of each others romances, relocations and roommate catastrophes. The last good conversation we had was the winter we both discovered we were pregnant. Months later I birthed a healthy girl, and 8 weeks after me, she birthed 2 healthy girls, twins. (Because people who are good at Statistical Analysis tend to be efficient. And there’s nothing more efficient than birthing two babies at once. )
Then, we lost touch. The minutiae of motherhood took over. She was feeding, diapering and tending to two babies, and I was inefficiently doing the same for one. She went back to work as a teacher. I started working evenings as a therapist. Our schedules never synchronized. And if they did, I was probably napping.
The strange thing about this losing touch was that we still made the effort. Each summer we took turns visiting each other. She and her hubby and twin 7 month olds drove in to Rochester and stayed for a weekend. The following year, my hubby and I and our 1.9 year old drove to her home in New England. The following year, she and her crew, now 2.9 year old toddlers, were back on our turf. But, it wasn’t the same. Because something about catching up over 3 maniacal toddlers is that it tends to be a lot of talking about the kids. And talking with our husbands. Which is awesome, and important, and funny.
But the once a year visit followed by a few futile phone calls felt essentially as though we hadn’t really talked in years.
After the last of these phone calls, I dropped her an email. It read:
“Hey. You will probably think this is absurd. But. Would you consider a correspondence that follows these guidelines: Each month one of us writes the other a letter. Length is not important. All that is required is for the writer to state the truths of her life at that moment. And, total confidentiality. Sound crazy?”
I expected her to write back, “Truth? Who has time for truth?? I have twin toddlers for Pete’s sake!”
But she wrote back, “I love it.”
So, I wrote the first letter. And as I sealed up the 7 page missive and posted it, something shifted in my soul. When was the last time I’d written the truths of my life? These were not the things we talked about on our annual visits.
Her response arrived on a particularly harried and snowy day. I was late for work, my husband handed me three items: a birthday party invitation, a bill, and her letter. I tucked it into my briefcase, and after finishing my sessions for the evening, and paperwork, I savored opening and quietly reading the truths of her life. Her validation and support of my truths, and her bravely stating her own, filled me with a calm relief that I’ve often heard attributed to Wellbutrin.
The correspondence continued over that summer, into the fall, through the winter. Sometimes I was late (really late) in writing. Sometimes she was late (not as late). Sometimes the letters were a manifesto, characteristic of an idealistic person making sense of work and family and marriage and God while surviving another tundra like winter (me). Sometimes they were short and succinct, 2 pages, signed and delivered. But always, always, they were truthful.
There was a freedom in stating the deepest truths of one’s life at that moment. Because we didn’t see each other in our daily lives, we weren’t checking up on how we were resolving any disparities between our ideal life and our actual life. And the most incredible thing that I learned, am still learning, is that my truths change, sometimes drastically. What feels earth shattering and permanent in February is sometimes a distant memory by May. But the letters gave me documentation of that process, a sort of evidence that time is efficient after all, and that momentary truths, when given enough breathing room, will reveal something else if you let them.
I saw Jane again last month, it was our turn to visit her in New England. We had fun with the kids, caught up with our husbands, and relaxed, knowing that if anything wasn’t touched upon on the visit, there would be a letter to follow up. Which reminds me, it’s my turn to write. Even if I am a bit late.