Friends

Todd often complained that he “had no friends.” But I’ve never met anyone who stayed in touch with more people over the course of his life. He had regular phone calls with: childhood buddies, high school gang, advertising cohorts, upstate locals, and especially, my friends.  When I moved to California, it was like starting over. I didn’t know a single soul, but the timing of our arrival in 1993 and the influx of amazing people to the Bay Area was opportune.  In the first six months, Amee and I made some of the best friends we would ever have. From next door neighbors, to co-workers to Burning Man pals, to technology innovators who we approached at conferences and said, “I’d like to be friends with you,” our dance card became very full.

And Todd jumped aboard.  Since Todd was such a big person in our life, we invited him out to visit, we brought new friends back East to meet him and he took them on.  By the last years of his life, he would continually ask me, “What do you hear from ______?”
“What’s up with ______?”   But by this time, things had quieted down considerably.  We had moved to our small town on the coast. The go-go 90’s and millenium era had given way to the busty 00’s. People were starting families, noses to the pavement, job-hunting, or just laying low, changing careers, moving out of town.

I was not in daily contact with anyone but my nuclear family and folks we saw walking the dog or dropping Bodhi off at school.  I had developed a real distaste for the telephone and the only calls I answered were from Todd himself, and those, only one in every four.  I felt somehow resentful about these questions: “What do you hear from ______?”  I would say, somewhat angrily, “I don’t hear anything. I saw him last Summer once.”  or “It’s not like the old days, we really don’t see any of those folks much, maybe once or twice a year.”  I was angry but it wasn’t for the reasons you’d think. It wasn’t that I felt deprived for being out of touch. I was happy in my quiet retreat, though sometimes it was easy to miss the heyday, from this fleece-clad burg.  Most of the folks here were surfers, contractors, gene-splicers and biotech salespeople who used this spot as a place to raise their kids, and compared to those halcyon SF/Black Rock days, it did seem dull, socially speaking. But the reasons I got angry were because Todd had been absorbing my social set, or trying to.

Like most close siblings, we traded stuff. I’d find his t-shirts in with our laundry; he constantly left us good books he had just finished; we shared stories, hobbies, and at his insistence: friends. Mine.  He met them, excited them, entertained them, got their numbers and made them part of his daily call log.  One childhood friend had told me that he only needed to be friends with “one Godwin brother at a time.”  Now this gave me pause. I could totally understand it. Todd was a big personality, as those of you who knew him, even casually, know.  When he was in your life, you only needed one friend. So once he moved in on my male friends, I could understand that I was always welcome, but rarely “needed.”   I was pretty much okay with this. I felt he needed them more, no matter how many friends he had, he just needed more.

But maybe that was part of the problem. No one friend, no ten, were quite enough for him. So what was really going on, I wondered?  What kind of friend was he?  Could he listen, did he do for friends? Or was it all about him? Were they just being used to fill this never-ending bottomless pit of loneliness that informed his every waking moment?

The other day, I attended the memorial for my neighbor Newton “Skip” Walsh. Skip was a race car driver, mechanical engineer at Kaiser, and all around great guy who died suddenly last month in his mid-70s. This was a very large group of assembled mourners/celebrators of his life. I’d say there were well over 100 people there, mostly with AARP cards.  The testimonials from these folks, the recounting of the road tales, the love for what a kind and ‘do anything for you’ friend he was, was heartwarming.  Someone quoted Skip saying, he had measured his wealth not in money, accomplishments or success, but in friends, and no one had more than he did.

Then, this morning on The Daily Rumpus, Stephen Elliot, who is inspiring me to begin blogging again, talked about his “friend load;” how his girlfriend once told him she wished she was one of his “friends;” how he had no more room in his life for new friends, he was so busy being friends with all his friends. Admittedly, he has no permanent partner, no children that he’s raising, so he must have more time for friends.  But I had to think to myself, “what riches!”  These days, there are still just a few people trying to find me, but I do value their persistence.  I still find the company I need with my family and can’t go anywhere around here without bumping into someone I’ve shared good times with, from yoga, to Jewish community on the coast, to the many folks I’ve met through music and kids around here, to dog-walking acquaintances and the online friends who reach out. There’s never any shortage of humans to share a moment with if you’ve got one to share.

But I do miss those phone calls from Todd. And if he were making them now, I’d definitely pick up two out of four, at least.

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