I see a Freitag bag on the back of a scraggly teenager in TriBeCa, and I’m reminded of my Kiwi friend Owen, whom I’ve seen exactly once since he moved back to New Zealand from Chicago, a few weeks before I made my own exit. His old silver Ikea wall clock hangs in my dorm-room-like bedroom, incapable of keeping time despite new batteries, but I don’t take it down; it was a running joke that it never kept time in his Chicago apartment, either. And now it’s been two years, a bit less, since I’ve seen him, when he stopped in NYC on his way to Chicago and we met up in Koreatown for sushi before he went off to see a Broadway show. I miss him, but he’s probably one of those people who come into our lives for brief intervals and change us in almost imperceptible ways–he’s the one who got me back into live music and vinyl and listening to indie radio–and then leave, sometimes quietly and other times with beer-filled parties at local pubs. Maybe they’re friends or lovers or somewhere in between (or someone you wanted to be more but never quite got the nerve or the chance), but once they’re gone, they’re gone.
And it’s not just those people who move continents away. I have a friend in Chicago I love deeply, or perhaps I loved him deeply. Platonically, I mean. We talked daily, multiple times. But a series of decisions on his part left me dumbfounded and ashamed for him and the only way I could think to express my disappointment, the deep disagreement with his choices, was to stop texting him every day, as was our pattern. I thought he’d know why; our last exchange was one in which I said I was starting to cry about the topic in a staff meeting and couldn’t deal with it. That was months ago; I haven’t heard from him since. And I wish I could say it doesn’t hurt, but it does. I don’t think my opinion on people’s life choices is definitive, by any means, but he and I were close enough that I thought what I had to say would at least matter. Or that he’d care that I were hurting. Or maybe that he’d at least miss the daily contact we had. But I’ve had to gradually let go of the idea of that friendship and replace it with the idea that he’s doing what he needs to do, even if it means doing things I (and a lot of other people) think are mistakes. Lord knows hundreds of people gave me that leeway in my life.
Meanwhile, in a city of millions it’s amazing how easy it is to forge friendships with the least likely of people. Pete, a 51-year-old bond trader, who grew up on Staten Island and likes to take me to all the little unknown places to eat in the Village and to jazz clubs while he gripes about his job and his day. But I love it. He’s a quintessential New Yorker, even if he doesn’t know it, and some of our best conversations are on the rooftop of his Murray Hill apartment building. And Laura, a fellow Texan 12 years my junior, who came over on Saturday to take a nap on my couch, after which we explored Chinatown together: dim sum, the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, TeaRific; and then we went to Riis Park for a beach day yesterday with a group of girlfriends. Then there’s Ben, an attorney from Philly who loves when my son is in town so we can all hang out in parks playing guitar or chess or just shooting the breeze. Not to mention the chess players in Union Square who’ve become part of my extended street family, the people behind counters of delis and bodegas and diners I know on a first-name basis, and all the people in my neighborhood I nod hellos to every morning on my way to work. For a city with such a reputation for being brusque and impersonal, it sure is easy to feel like you belong… given an iota of effort.
Since moving to New York–when I felt I’d never meet anyone I didn’t already know before moving here (about 15 people, half of whom I’d dated)–I’ve been so blessed to foster friendships with an amazingly large number of people, some of whom I’ve gone on weekend trips with, others who join me on trivia nights, and still others whom I consider along the best of my friends. And all this in the course of 28 months. Somehow this makes up for all the lost friendships. Not entirely, but somewhat. Nothing can replace the things we’ve lost (I’ve learned that with Jack), but each new chapter allows me to feel grateful for what I’ve had and feel a new appreciation for what’s to come. Change is scary, but so is everything worth pursuing. And let’s not forget that nothing is ever accomplished without at least a little risk… and a little bit of loss.