The people you meet.

As much as I sometimes hate Facebook, I do think it can be illuminating. Yesterday was the second of December, and when I saw the date, I thought, What’s today? I know there’s something on this date…

It’s the birthday of someone I used to call a friend. This girl had grown up in the same neighborhood as me, and while our home environments weren’t the same, we did both witness some types of abuse–and when I say “some types,” it’s because I don’t like to talk about some things. My friend, on the other hand, was never particularly reserved on the topic of her terrible “father.” Now that we no longer speak, and only now that I have realized that what I grew up with was not normal, I wonder if she ever even knew what I was dealing with. Sometimes people become so obsessed with their own suffering that they end up venting about it to someone who is also suffering in a tremendous way, but handling it more gracefully. I don’t mean to emphasize my suffering at all, but I know this is true because it happened to me.

When I was on the ship, I found out I’d be going TAD, Navy speak for, “working in another shop for a while.” Some of my friends already knew the man I’d be working with in the other shop. They told me he was a really cool guy, but they felt so bad for him because he had a toddler son who had been born with a heart defect. I told myself I had better not gripe and complain and get wicked pissed about Navy BS with this guy. The truth is, however, that in a year or so working with that man–someone I highly respect, and still keep in touch with on Facebook–of course I did gripe and complain and get wicked pissed about Navy BS.

I don’t think it’s really right to even anonymously write on a public forum about the things this man told me about his life. But I can say that many things he told me shocked me and still weigh on my heart–and not a thing did he say seeking pity or feeling sorry for himself. The wrong things that happened to him are not lost on him, but he does his best, enjoys life and family and friends, and gives thanks. He never talked about his problems with the sick sort of pride that sometimes people do, as though they think they’re better than you for having been victimized or screwed over somehow. That is one man I’m glad I met.

Back to my friend whose birthday was yesterday. We met in middle school because we rode the same bus, but we were not friends. We didn’t like each other, but we did get teased by the same boys. To be honest, I can’t remember how we really became friends, but we did, especially in high school. The two of us would often sit on the bus together. Almost every lunch period, she and I and another friend or sometimes more, would sit outside and eat. Three of us would sometimes go out on “photography days,” and just find some secluded or abandoned spot to shoot. We’d go to a stream or a large cemetery or a botanical garden. We had some really great times that I truly miss.

Both of us had been in a program to graduate high school in three years, but both of us decided only weeks before graduation that we wanted to stay in school for the fourth year after all. We had to appeal to the school board or something like that, but stay we did; and it was during that year that we grew apart. There’s no need to detail it. We were both teenaged girls, and we both did and said stupid things, and had generally shitty attitudes. Both of us. I went away to the Navy, and I don’t know what she did for a while… I just remembered that even though she was a great student, she delayed going to college. I had a bad feeling that she would quickly end up a young single mom with no car and no time for an education, just like a lot of girls in our old neighborhood.

Anyway, she didn’t end up that way. We eventually reconnected, and she graduated college. Now she works, is married, has a bunch of cats, and lives in Canada. Sounds like a good turn out to me. We met the one time I went back to Florida on leave, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. Her then boyfriend was there, who I didn’t know at all. A mutual acquaintance was there… who… I have had good times with, but find to be unappealingly dramatic (at least back then). I also was smoking cigarettes at the time, and when I look back on it, I can’t imagine the three of them wanted to be in the car with my stench, although nobody said anything. (I didn’t realize at the time that cigarettes stink. I grew up with people who smoked inside, and people told me it stank, but to me, it was normal. I began to smoke, and it was nothing to me. Only when I quit smoking did I begin to find the odor as disgusting as most people do.)

Over the years, we exchanged some cards and photos, talked online a few times, and planned to see each other again, whenever work made it reasonable for one of us (or one couple of us) to be in the other one’s area.

But it all disintegrated over time, and on Facebook. We never said, “Goodbye.” We never said, “Buzz off.” We never said anything. She unfriended me I don’t know when, and I only realized it because one day I think there was something in the news I expected her to post about, but I didn’t see any post. I was a little sad because I still remember the fun we had, and you don’t meet someone with a lot of the same passions as you everyday. But I was also okay with it. I had considered unfriending her myself, but it had seemed petty, and I didn’t want to burn a bridge or act hastily. Facebook makes it so easy to throw a friendship in the trash, it seems like.

It’s sad to lose a friend, but it happens. Sometimes people or circumstances change. I’ve seen friends who were in love with people before, and weeks or months or years later, couldn’t see anything in that person to love. I can still see a lot to love in my old friend, but I can see some things that very much annoyed me that I do not miss. Maybe she feels that way about me. Maybe she just thinks I’m 100% asshole. Maybe she hasn’t thought a moment about me since she clicked, “Unfriend.”

The people you meet. That’s what the second of December was about. Friendship, I guess. And Facebook aside, because it really isn’t the same as “real life,” though it is certainly real, I wonder how things are going for the woman, in terms of friends. She lives in a foreign country now, and as long as I was in touch with her, she never mentioned a Canadian friend. I know she has many friends in Florida and probably elsewhere, but… I also know from experience and observation how those long-distance relationships go. Even when you vow to stay the best of friends, keep in touch via telephone or letters or email, and promise to see each other as often as possible…

How do I describe it? Life happens. Even when you speak with someone everyday–someone back home, when you’re living overseas–they’re not telling you everything. You’re not telling them everything. You’re not seeing the same programs on television, being appealed to by the same advertizements on the street, or even seeing the same fashion trends in magazines. Distance doesn’t just kill relationships. I’m not saying that. My husband and I have had to spend months thousands of miles apart, and it has worked so far. My best friend and I only see each other every few years, and there have been a couple of times where we went months without saying much to each other. I don’t know if a lot of people realize it when they leave town and make all the promises of loyalty, but even when and if you do see your old friend or loved one again, even if you spoke with them everyday you were away, it won’t be the same. It might not be like meeting a stranger–but sometimes it is.

So how is she doing? I don’t know. Will she come to understand some of the things I’ve seen and been through? Granted, she’s a civilian artist, while I was a Sailor and sometimes just a civilian traveler. I don’t know. Part of the reason I think of it is that here I am in San Diego. I used to have many friends here, some I thought I’d have forever. Most are gone. Some are very different. I am very different. Some are very busy. I am very busy. Time and chemistry are also necessary to make new friends, and maybe luck… The story is the same in my home city in Florida. Who would I return to? My mother, yes, but even she is completely different: taking medications, married to my stepfather, raising a little boy, living in a house I’ve only spent about three weeks of my entire life in. I don’t have a great sense of “home” there, and I most of my friends are gone.

You can’t hold onto people. At least I can’t. Maybe if I didn’t travel. Maybe if I didn’t join the Navy. Maybe if I hadn’t left home. But in this world, even if I hadn’t left, I’d probably have been left behind. My best friend, for instance, she’s no longer where we grew up. She lives in Tennessee, of all places. Even when you know you can’t maintain a friendship because of practical reasons if nothing else, it is still sad when they end. Still, you never know what the people you meet will teach you. You never know how long it will last. You never know they’re a rabid Republican until you add them on Facebook (joking). You never know where you’ll be next year, let alone them.

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