Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Substance of Friendship

Most of us have one or two friendships that reach back into the prehistoric recesses of our past. My oldest friend, Elyse, and I met at the age of ten, when her family moved next door to mine in a newly-built cluster of Long Island tract homes.

We played Barbie dolls and Monopoly together. In one of our more creative moments, we made up an imaginary game based on two popular TV shows of the day, “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters.” Our scary housewife characters were modeled after Lucy and Ethel of “I Love Lucy” fame. My moniker was “Lethal,” her handle was “Batina.” I must confess, I've forgotten what we named our imaginary ghoulish children.

We grew older, as children do. We went to high school together, swapped 45 records with each other, talked about boys. As we moved into college, our paths diverged, as so often happens. I went away to school, met and married Pete during college, had my children soon after and moved to California. Elyse stayed in New York, commuted to college, pursued her career, then married and had her own family, long after I had moved far away. We kept in touch through the decades with holiday cards, a rare phone call, and occasional visits during some of my trips back to Long Island.

I called Elyse after Pete died. She had been one of my bridesmaids, after all. A few weeks later, she called me back and said simply, “I’d like to come visit you.” A sweet spring of joy welled up inside me. I recognized its warmth immediately, as happiness is an unusual sensation of late.

At times of deep loss, we learn what our friendships are made of. Elyse arrives today to spend the weekend with me. Although it’s been several years since I’ve seen her, I know we will fall into easy conversation, as though no time has passed. We’ll talk about our children and our childhood, our parents and our parenthood, old times and new times, life and death.

In the midst of our catching up, I must ask if she remembers what we named those imaginary children of Lethal and Batina.