Because I was brought up in the chaotic, transient life of a Military brat, I can’t point to anyone and say, “We’ve been friends since childhood”. I’ve met people who can say that and I really envy them for that reason. To have the friendship of someone for that long must be a very rewarding and comforting thought.
My first memorable friendship was one made as we transited into a base and my friend’s family was on the way out. We were all living in “transit quarters” which is where you live while you’re in limbo awaiting your transfer orders out to a new assignment or, as we were, awaiting a home on the Air Force base. I met another boy there who my age, about five or six years old. We played together constantly as that was about the only thing to do; no school and not much TV back then, just a wonderful playground with a see-saw, slide, monkey bars, merry-go-round, and swings. Our favorite was the see-saw where we could spend endless hours going up and down. He taught me a song about “Albert Finigin who grew whiskers on his chinigin”. Other than when we were called home for meals and sleep, we’d sing and see-saw and play as the day passed us by.
My concept at the time was that we’d always be together playing and singing. It would never end. My child’s mind never considered the pending breakup of this seemingly permanent relationship. The obvious didn’t occur to me that his family was going in the opposite direction as mine and, after a week or so of bliss, it was time for him to leave. They were going to an assignment in Italy. We’d talked about it. He was excited about living in a foreign country and I was excited for him, but I couldn’t comprehend that it meant an end to our friendship. My young mind couldn’t grasp that fact. I assumed we always be together like characters in a fairy tale.
As I watched him depart for the airport, it suddenly hit me like a load of bricks. I felt my heart fall of my chest, tears welled up in my eyes. We were not going to see-saw and sing, and swing ever again. I cried for the next few days. I was inconsolable. I’d lost my best friend. To this day, I vividly recall soaking the sofa pillow with my tears as I spent an entire day crying into it.
In the years that followed as I moved from place to place and school to school and friend to friend, I was to learn that making and breaking friendships was a recurring fact of life as a military brat. In the fragile, emotional early teen years, I would pledge my love and loyalty to my “best friend forever” but that was gone in a few weeks and a couple letters. By the time I was in tenth grade I had attended ten different schools. Eighth grade was at three schools spanning from Mississippi to Michigan to Florida!
This cycle of gaining and losing friends would continue for most of my young life until I finally lived somewhere for more than three or four years at age 25. But the damage was done, I believe. I had traveled the world and seen many places and lived many places but I had no one to call a life-long friend. And, I found it difficult, as I do to this day, to find and keep a friendship. I really don’t know how. My experience is lacking because in the deep recesses of my mind I fully expect to not have a long-term friendship so I never learned how this thing called friendship operates.
I had one other significant friendship and that was in the last two years of high school. Because my parents were out of the US, I chose to return and live in a boarding school. There I met David and we spent almost every hour together that we could. We both enjoyed a variety sports and he was the school mascot and I was the school cheerleader in anything we didn’t play and that was very little. But the really significant time together was spent in long, teenage talk about everything under the sun into the wee hours of the morning. We’d talk until 2 or 3 a.m. when we couldn’t talk anymore. I don’t think I’ve shared my inner thoughts with another person in my life more than I did with David.
After graduation, we went our separate ways. Again, another break up but I didn’t feel the pain as I did when I was a child. I couldn’t feel that anymore if it was present. I had hardened myself against it. We talked on the phone a few times after that. I really wanted to keep the friendship going but as most of us find, a long-distance relationship is doomed to failure. I recall our last conversation. I was lamenting something about being broke and struggling to get by as a penniless college student. He asked, “Are you asking me for money?” I was really offended but I don’t recall how I answered the question. I wasn’t asking him for money and never expected him to give my any. But that’s all I recall from the conversation and it haunts me because it’s the last time we spoke.
Over the next several years, we went to college, graduated, and got into our careers. I found his name on a school directory several years later and called him. He didn’t answer so I left a voice message. I called a couple times more and no return calls. At our 20th class reunion, I saw his sister and spoke with her. I asked her to tell David to call me and he never did.
I really don’t know what I did or said that put him off but, like I said, to this day, it haunts me. The only platonic friendship I felt I had invested myself in was come to naught and I am still confused and hurt to this day some forty years later. Sad? Yes. But it’s how I feel. Was it something I did or said? Is friendship such a fragile thing that it can start and end as casually as chatting with someone in the grocery store checkout line?
The net of it is that I don’t understand long-term friendships. I don’t know how to get them or keep them. I’ve never had one and it far too late in life to have one now. I’m sure it’s my failure and no one else’s. But, I still envy those who can point to someone as their life-long friend. If you have one, appreciate it and make sure they know that. You have something much more valuable than anything you can buy.