For a long time, I thought of my Vermont friends as “my new friends” and my friends from childhood and college as my old friends. Incredibly, we’ve now been in Vermont for too long for that to make any sense at all. People I’ve known and loved for ten years absolutely count as old friends and those are people who make my life better every day. We will all move to the home together sooner or later.
Having said that, when I was down south last week I met up with a couple of old old friends – one I’ve known since I was about two, another I’ve known since fifth or sixth grade. And there really is something about an old old friend that soothes the soul.
When you make a new friend (or at least when I do), you have to go through what I think of as a “dating” period. You’re figuring out whether there’s close friend potential in this new person. Will you be just social friends or parent friends, or will you truly find common ground? And then after you decide that this person can be a real friend, there are still ages that go by while you learn about each other. You lived where before this? You studied what? You married who? It takes a while for a person to become a friend friend.
With your oldest friends, you crossed that line decades ago. They know all your business, all your jokes, and all your stories. (My memory is sometimes hazy so my high school friends may actually know more of my stories than I do.) They know things that you’d never tell anyone, because they were there. A conversation with an oldest friend has your entire life as backdrop. It feels rich, even if you’re just talking about the news of the day. There aren’t any barriers.
My oldest friends are all over the country now. I’m so proud of them, and feel like a part of me is getting to do all the things that they’re doing. This is lucky, since I’ll definitely never live in Los Angeles, for example, or have twin girls. When harder things happen — like sickness or loss — it feels a little bit like we’re sharing some of that as well. For better or for worse, it’s surprising how much you can have in common despite distance and time. And how comforting it is for that to be true.
I’ve always been a little bit jealous of people who still live close to where they grew up or went to college so that their oldest friends are some of their everyday friends. But last week reminded me that you don’t have to see people all the time to maintain those close connections. The bonds exist, and we have decades of proof (so far) that they’ll remain. That is a joy.
P.S. Obviously I am not still in touch with everyone in that picture up there, but I think almost everyone I still know from high school is in it somewhere. I cannot explain what we were doing in front of the lovely East Mecklenburg High School, nor can I explain why I am barefoot, wearing long underwear and a denim jacket with an old prom dress.