Love and Sensitivity

A Letter to an Old Friend

Hey man,

I just wanted to write and say I had a really good time at your wedding. It was great to spend some time with Mary, which I hadn’t really done before. I’m exceedingly happy for you guys. You both made me feel really comfortable. I guess I already knew this, but you’re both really good people.

To be honest, when you invited me to your wedding, at first I was nervous about going. I’ll even admit that part of me didn’t want to go at all. But don’t take it personally. I just felt guilty having not spoken to you in so long. When you asked me to be a groomsman, I didn’t think I deserved it. I have a knack at shutting people out, and I don’t really like the phone, and I automatically think it’s my fault that we don’t talk consistently. But I know your heart is in the right place.

Do you remember the time you said you hoped we’d still be friends at forty? That was almost ten years ago. We must have been twenty-three or so. I was driving and you were in the passenger seat. We’d just come around the curve at Dowd Junction, heading east on I-70. I can picture the moment clearly. I’m reminded of it nearly every time I drive there now. I guess that’s just how my memory works because the place seems really important. I made a conscious effort to remember the exact location, maybe because I thought I’d remember nothing twenty years from then. Or maybe I remember it so well because I feel like I betrayed you in that moment. I was already trying to remove, with a scalpel, my shy high-school self.

Long before your wedding, we’d spent so much time together in high school, and then we went to different colleges, and then, even though we’d lived together for a year in Denver, we started hanging out less and less until we never saw each other at all. I had this idea that we hadn’t talked in so long because we’d grown into different people, and that our youthful friendship was no longer possible. Maybe because we faced tough times and become more introverted. Then family became more important. Most likely it’s because once college was over and we were suddenly thrust into adulthood, everything got really complicated.

At the wedding, though, I realized that even as adults we really aren’t different people. (I mean both different from each other and different from each of our high-school selves.) And I realized that cutting out my high-school self was not only pointless and impossible, but also a mistake.

You had gone to the bar to get another drink, and your wife told me the story of when you guys first met. She said you two had talked all that night, but when the night ended, before she left, you were suddenly and unexpectedly tongue-tied, so she slipped you her number without you asking. It’s a sweet story because it might have been the first time you let a girl know, even if by accident, that your effortless conversation wasn’t always so effortless. Maybe it was like when Lex and I met and, like we’d already known each other for years, she broke through my practiced playing-it-calm-and-cool affectation.

But, you know what? I have a confession to make. One summer (maybe the same summer you said that thing about our future), some girls were over and we were sitting on the couch, and I saw something in your eyes. I could read it in your face. I knew it was nervousness because I recognized in your expression the same thing I was feeling. But that’s not my confession. That’s not the thing I regret. What I regret is that I didn’t say anything about it. Back then we wouldn’t dare talk about our anxieties, even if it had occurred to us to do so. And it’s too bad, because we had even more in common than we cared to admit. We probably became friends in the first place because we had the same secrets. Your nervousness was probably always similar to my anxiety (though we manifested it differently—you became the extrovert, me, the introvert.)

But, all those secrets built up. I didn’t learn until college that trust can be built only through self-disclosure. (Strangely yet expectedly, I learned that in a class on advertising.) Though even knowing that, I still haven’t mastered it. I remember our junior year when you, your girlfriend, and I went ice-skating at that seasonal, outdoor rink in Cherry Creek. I don’t know if you remember it, but it was just a few weeks before you guys would break up, and I have to admit your break-up hurt me. Looking back I realize that’s selfish (and pretty funny), but the reason I took it hard wasn’t because I had so much fun that night. Rather I only found out about you guys splitting up from someone else, and it’s odd to hear about your best friend’s life through rumor. Looking back, it had nothing to do with me, and Lord knows I had my own secrets. So maybe the bond we built in geometry class in ninth grade or in line-drills during lacrosse practice faded away because, eventually, the false fronts became impenetrable just as everything got really complicated.

I guess almost everyone is self-conscious in high school. But all these years later your wife’s story showed how even though we all thought the false fronts were so effective, we actually built our friendships on the parts we desperately tried to hide. And it’s time to leave the self-preservation behind.

So I felt that bond again at the wedding, with us both “in a good place,” as Lex would say (I’m “in a good place” partly because of my woman, and I have a feeling the same thing is at least partially true for you and Mary). I’m not saying we should talk every day or anything, and who knows, maybe it will be a while before we see each other again or even talk, having built up a wall of ignorance about each other’s lives on the foundation of five disjointed years. But, if anything, I hope the wedding left us a clean slate.

One more thing about what you said to me in the car ten years ago: The funny thing is, we’ll always be friends, even if we spend another ten years so rarely seeing each other. Even if in some dreadful scenario we never see each other again, let’s not feel guilty about it.

Here’s to old friends,

Chris

Chris Black lives with his wife in Los Angeles. He is a former associate editor at Black Clock and wrote feature articles on rubber duck races, birds of prey, and other mountain topics for The Vail Trail weekly.