59. The Reconnection

59. The Reconnection

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Reconnection

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.

~Elbert Hubbard

My heart pounded as I made the long distance call, the telephone receiver gripped tightly in my hand. Maybe it’s the wrong number, I thought. Maybe she won’t even remember me, or she’ll hang up at the sound of my voice, or… A female voice answered on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

“Hi, Pat, it’s me,” I said.

“Oh my god,” she whispered. “It’s been so long. I thought I’d never hear from you again. I don’t even remember how we came to lose touch with each other.”

Her voice, low pitched and gravelly from years of cigarette smoking, sounded achingly familiar. I’d heard it for years back in upstate New York when we were across-the-street neighbors and the best of friends. It was hard to believe we hadn’t spoken in almost twenty years.

• • •

Pat Kelly and I were friends from the first. We met in the summer of 1970, near Syracuse, New York, when I knocked on her door to welcome her to the neighborhood. We were young married women, each twenty-six, and each with two sons born four years apart.

Pat towered over me, a full-bodied, six-foot-tall earth mother, with long black hair and a hearty laugh. She was the worldly one, having traveled and held a variety of jobs before starting a family, while I’d married young and never worked outside my home. I was the artistic one, the painter, working my way toward a degree at the local university, juggling academic and family responsibilities, trying to have it all. I warmed to her quick sense of humor and confident manner, and she to my talent and determination. We bonded immediately and over time became close as sisters—sharing thoughts and feelings about daily life as well as deeper issues, and providing each other with unwavering loyalty and emotional support.

I earned my BFA in 1973—a year before my marriage unraveled and my former husband relocated, becoming a long distance dad, and leaving me to raise our sons pretty much on my own. My mom’s financial help kept us going until I found a job. But I doubt I could have survived that first, terrifying year as a single parent without Pat’s practical advice on just about everything—from dealing with my new boss to my first date as a single woman.

“Trust me, you’re going to get through this,” she reassured me. “You’re getting stronger and more capable every day.”

She was right; I was gaining strength and confidence. Still, I was stuck in a dead-end job, without time or opportunity to use my artistic talents. I felt my life in our small town was going nowhere. Then, in late 1975, an opportunity came up to manage an art gallery/coffeehouse in San Francisco. It was an adventure and a chance to make a fresh start. Hard as it was to leave Pat behind, I couldn’t turn it down.

“What will I do without you?” she asked when we said our goodbyes.

“We’ll keep in touch,” I promised, hugging her. “We’ll telephone, write, and visit when we can.”

“Friends to the end,” we assured each other, and felt certain, despite the physical distance between us, that would never change.

• • •

Never say never, as the saying goes. West Coast life was good to me. The job at the coffeehouse didn’t work out, but I began selling my artwork at Bay Area street fairs, and provided well for my family. I made new interesting friends, dated, and enjoyed the multicultural offerings of city life. I was becoming the strong, confident woman I wanted to be.

A year later, I took my family back to upstate New York for a visit. While our sons were delighted to see each other again, my relationship with Pat simply wasn’t the same. What I’d once seen as strength and confidence seemed bossy and controlling—and when I challenged her right to advise and instruct, as she always had, we clashed. Words were said. She called me a college-educated idiot, and I called her an overbearing know-it-all. Feelings were hurt. Trust was shaken. Neither of us would back down.

We communicated less frequently after my return to San Francisco and I began to feel we had outgrown the friendship. When I moved in with my new husband, in 1986, somehow I forgot to send Pat my new address and phone number. When I finally called her, months later, the number was out of service and my Christmas card came back stamped, “No longer at this address.” Pat had disappeared from my life.

I never felt right about the loss of that friendship and thought of her many times, recalling the closeness we’d shared. In 2009, my urge to reconnect with her intensified, until it led to an Internet search, yielding a phone number in a small town near Syracuse.

The joy in Pat’s voice when I called was heartfelt. I felt the prickle of tears in my eyes.

“I’m sorry for whatever it was we fought about,” I told her.

“I can’t remember either,” Pat chuckled, softly. “So what have you been up to for the last twenty years?”

We talked ourselves hoarse that evening, filling in each other on the details of our lives. And just like that, all was forgiven and the friendship renewed.

I visited her that summer. We were two white-haired women who cried in each other’s arms when we met—and when we parted. She was still bossy and overbearing, in my opinion, but what mattered to me now was that we were still friends. After that we stayed in touch by phone and e-mail and talked about her coming out west to visit me the following summer. But that never happened. By then, Pat had learned she had lung cancer and began a long, futile course of treatment.

I called while she was in hospice care. She said I made her laugh in spite of everything. We talked every day until the day she said, “I love you, but I just can’t talk anymore.” She died the next day. Friends to the end.

~Lynn Sunday

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