The Friends Who Got Away

Where did J. go? For a while there he was such a treasured part of my life, someone I thought about frequently, someone I yearned to see, someone whose dinner company I relished, someone whose emails made me smile. I can’t remember how we met — a mutual acquaintance, I think — but after we did, I never traveled to his city without contacting him in advance and making plans to see him. And he regularly checked in on me.

Until he stopped. Was that five years ago? More? And did he stop or did I? I’m not sure. I just know that I was busy, he was busy, my travel decreased and one day I suddenly realized that we’d lost touch with each other. I also felt strangely timid about reaching out: If he wanted to hear from me, wouldn’t I have heard more recently from him? Or was he thinking the exact same thing?

I wondered and wondered. Then some pressing obligation or competing anxiety tugged my attention elsewhere. Then more time went by. And here J. and I are — or, rather, aren’t. We’re onetime confidantes who never had a falling out, never said a proper goodbye, simply evaporated from each other’s lives like dew from a blade of grass.

I’m haunted by how many times, and with how many friends, that has happened. By how the bustle of our lives and the bustle in our heads take people away from us, though we never intended to let them go. By how unintentional, unavoidable and subtly but stubbornly sad that is.

There are friends in our pasts who are there for obvious reasons. We disappointed or hurt them. They disappointed or hurt us. The relationship wasn’t healthy or ceased to be happy, and while that was unfortunate and perhaps painful, it was also clear. It demanded a change. Those friends don’t exit our thoughts, but they also don’t hover there like question marks. We understand what happened, even if we mourn it.

But there are at least as many friends in our pasts for no specific reason, and the older I grow, the more that nags at me.

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