November 03, 2006

Who Remembers You?

Sick people, dead people, and funerals seem to be the theme lately. I can’t help but have the melodic quote running through my head frequently throughout the day: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Yikes.

Death brings out the best and worst in people, but most interestingly of all, it brings people out of the woodwork. My parents received a note of condolence a couple of weeks after my brother died, handmade from a recycled religious greeting card. It informed them that a Mass would be offered up in memory of my brother. The sender also wrote a short paragraph describing a memory she had of my brother. Before closing the note she wrote, “Meredith, where are you?” It was from my best friend in grade school.

I was touched that she sent my parents a card, and even more touched that she was interested in my whereabouts. I’ve thought of her many times throughout the years, wondering what became of her. When my parents gave me the condolence card I felt compelled to write her a letter.

I was surprised to discover (from the return address label) that she had married; I figured her to be the type to become a cloistered nun. We attended Catholic grade school together, but went our separate ways when we entered public school in seventh grade. I don’t remember spending time with her throughout middle school and high school, nor do I remember even seeing her around. For all I know, she could have gone to a completely different high school than I did.

We were doomed to be nerds from the start. However, as we grew we chose different paths. I’m sure Jean would be horrified to learn of the life I lived as a young adult, smoking, drinking, and dirty dancing at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I engaged in premarital sex on more than one occasion. And yes, I even used swear words. While my lifestyle has toned down a bit, I can safely say that it is probably still a bit more brazen than Jean’s has ever been.

She responded to the letter I sent her, hand-written on notepaper of a religious nature. She told me of her mother recently becoming ill. She also told me of her marriage and how they adopted a nine-year-old child, whom she home-schooled. Her child is seventeen now, and “is seeing a young man.” The daughter can spend time with her “young man” in the presence of family members. Such different lives we have, yet I feel a desire to continue contact with Jean. I’m a little afraid she would disapprove of what I’ve been and what I’ve become, despite the drearily average lifestyle of my middle age. (Except I still swear on a daily basis.)

Why am I drawn to communication with a person with whom I have very little in common? Why do I feel that pursuing a renewed relationship with Jean will provide me with some kind of comfort?

I’ll write another letter, just for fun. I don’t need to ask the psychological and metaphysical questions right now. Such a funny little person Jean was back in grade school. She was peculiar to me back then too. But she was my friend. And without old childhood friends, our memories would be so lonely.

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