Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Of Friends, Old and New

The other day, I said that my friend, Stuart, and I were in New York City for what we called a weekend of coffee, beer, and photo ops. But what I didn't say was that I was also in NYC for another reason: one that made this vibrant, beautiful city only the setting.

I was there to be with friends.

Stu and I have known each other since the ninth grade, when we were 13 years old. That was 35 years ago. Thirty-five years! I have friends today who weren't even born when Stuart and I started hanging out together.

Throughout high school, Stuart and I were inseparable. He would pass my house on the way to school and we would walk the rest of the way down the street to school. We were in many classes together, including music and drafting, algebra, and English. On our breaks we would hang out in the cafeteria or in the student lounge, which was known as the Red Room. And, at the end of the day, we would leave school together.

Our after-school activities were rituals: I would drop my school bag at my place and maybe retrieve one of my many vinyl albums, or not, and we would then continue to Stuart's house. We'd have a snack, often a cold glass of milk and a cookie; sometimes, a piece of apple spice cake. We would listen to music and just hang back, and relax after a day of classes.

I would stay until dinnertime, when my own meal would be waiting for me at my own home. Occasionally, I would be invited to stay, and I would only head home when the dishes were cleared and the kitchen cleaned.

And then our ritual would return on the next school day.

As we got older, during the final years of high school, Stu and I would go for long walks in the evenings, when we would talk about our woes of the girls we liked and of our unrequited loves.

My first trip to New York City was in 1984, with our high school's art department. Stu and I roomed together, at the Hotel Empire, across from the Lincoln Center. I would return to the Big Apple with Stuart two more times, when he was finishing his undergrad year in 1989 and again a couple of years later, when he pursued his PhD at Princeton.

A couple of years ago—three years to this week—Stu and I met up in Edinburgh, Scotland, both of us on separate research trips, but taking advantage of the timing to spend some time together. It was the first time we had travelled together in many years, but with us, time tends to stand still when we're living our separate lives, only to resume, as though little has changed, the next time we meet.

We promised ourselves that we would make this a new ritual, that we would try to meet every year or two and spend some quality time, catching up.

Better late than never, this weekend, it was good to know that we could still pick up as though we had only seen each other a week ago.

I said that I was in New York to see friends. Plural. Stuart wasn't the only friend I planned to meet.

Shortly after I became active in social media, I began interacting with someone in a writer's discussion group on LinkedIn. We shared similar interests, so we connected. Later, as I started using Twitter, this LinkedIn connection was one of the first people, outside of family, friends, and local services that I followed.

We didn't communicate with each other a lot, at first. We would occasionally respond to each others' tweets. Sometimes, these tweets would be about The Smiths or some other musical reference. Other times, they would be humourous or pseudo-philosophical tweets.

When I first connected with Miriam, she lived in Boston. When my family and I escaped Cape Cod in 2011 from Hurricane Irene and took refuge in Boston, I was tempted to contact Miriam and see if she wanted to meet up, but I didn't. I was shy. I felt we really didn't know each other well enough, and that she probably wouldn't have been interested in meeting me and my family.

For all she knew at the time, I could have been an axe-wielding murderer: the family could have been just a front. And for all I knew, she could have been one: her blog posts could have been a similar cover.

It wasn't until Miriam was looking for work that we started communicating more often. She had visited Canada in the past and wanted to return, and to possibly find a job here. At the time, I knew of a company in Ottawa that was looking for a writer, and I forwarded her résumé to a close contact.

Sadly, nothing came of it. The company hired internally. But the friendship between Miriam and me grew. We discovered that more of our interests overlapped: food, wine, beer, travel. Miriam took up running; I got more serious about cycling.

When Miriam moved to New York, I told her that a friend of mine (Stuart) and I had been planning to meet in the city sometime in the near future, and that it would be good if she had the time to meet as well. Miriam also talked of coming to visit in Ottawa. Both of our plans kept getting pushed back, due to various constraints, but we vowed that eventually, it was going to happen. We were going to meet.

When Stuart and I finally made it to New York this weekend, Stu agreed that it wouldn't be a guy-only get-together, that we would make room for one of my oldest friends to meet with one of my newest friends.

The three of us spent the first evening together: Stu and Miriam, getting to know one another; Miriam and me, coming to the realization that we were actually seeing one another, that this wasn't a virtual conversation.

Whenever Stuart and I get together, we pick up where we left off. Our conversations are easy-going and we know each other so well that we know we can say anything. Stuart is like a brother to me. I love him like he's family.

When Miriam and I met face-to-face, it felt as though it wasn't our first time meeting. I felt like I had only seen her the other day. But something was different: the friendship that we had developed over the past couple of years seemed validated in the first few minutes of being together. There was no awkwardness at meeting someone for the first time. For me, I wasn't shy like I usually am when meeting someone new. It was a comfortable "first" encounter.

I feel that if we lived in the same city, Miriam and I would become as best of friends as Stuart and I had enjoyed when we lived in the same neighbourhood in high school.

When Miriam and I said goodbye on Sunday, I felt a wave of sadness in knowing that it may be some time before I see her again. It was much the way I felt when I said goodbye to Stuart when we parted ways in Syracuse, on our way to our own cities.

I feel very fortunate for this past weekend. I had the privilege of spending some wonderful time with one of my oldest, dearest friends. I also had the privilege of spending some wonderful time with one of my newest, dearest friends.

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. — Dr. Seuss

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