Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Drifting apart

The loss of old friendships is tough. Sometimes it happens because of a particular event, a dispute or disagreement that is too big to overcome. More often, I think, it's because of a drifting away, the fact that lives that used to be interwined became merely parallel and then, eventually, diverged even more. That doesn't make the loss of the friend any less painful, though.

I'm talking here about my friend P., who I've known since we were 15. For years, he was practically my brother; there were outings in high school -- like taking the train into New York to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at MOMA, or driving to Philly to go to the zoo -- that my parents wouldn't let me attend unless he was going, too. He was -- and is -- the kind of guy who is friends with everyone, from the biggest, slowest jocks to the prettiest popular girls to the offbeat drama geeks (count me in the latter camp).

Our group of friends stayed unusually close through college and the first few years afterward, driving long distances to attend one another's keg parties (and, really, what truer sign of friendship is there?) and spending hours on the phone, catching up on breakups and new jobs, gossip and new albums. P and I even had an ill-fated few days of romance, in which I realized that kissing him was exactly like kissing my brother, and that was no good. We recovered from that, though, and he was in our wedding, proudly dubbed the "bridesdude."

But ever since I moved to Maine, he and I have begun to drift apart. Other than a year in the upper Midwest, P. has spent his entire life in Jersey. His family is tightknit, and he has a younger brother with some difficulties that cause P. to feel quite responsible for him. (In fact, the two recently bought their parents' house -- a few doors down from our high school -- and are living there together.) When P. goes on vacation, he tends to do so with his brother, or, if alone, to see family on the West Coast. He has come to Maine exactly once, and that was seven or eight years ago. So our visits have slowed down. I see him when I'm home, and we talk on the phone a couple times a year at best.

So of course he was invited to the party my parents threw last month when Ess and I were in NJ. My mom didn't hear from him until the night before the event, when he called to say that he could, in fact, be there. (He'd emailed a note of congratulations when we announced Ess' birth, but otherwise I hadn't heard from him.) The day of the party dawned. We were hanging out in the backyard with the first of the guests when the phone rang. It was P., who said his day hadn't gone as he'd expected and that he was going to be unable to get away from repairs on the house to come to the party.

Mind you, he lives about three miles from my parents' house. And he has known my family forever; he could've come covered in mud and been welcome. And just as he was telling me that hanging drywall (or whatever) was more important than coming to see me, in walked my friends R and R, who had driven from Washington, DC to attend the party.

So I was mad. Really mad. P. called a day later to see if he could stop by, but we were at my grandparents' house. And when we got home it was time to celebrate my birthday, and I just didn't feel like talking to him. And did I say I was mad?

Fast forward a few weeks. P. leaves a message on our answering machine apologizing for missing the party. I joke to my parents that it's become impossible to get rid of him -- just when I think he's pissed me off for good, he realizes he's done something wrong and I can't stay mad. A few days later, I get an e-vite to his birthday party, addressed to mc D's-last-name, which is not my name. And I'm irked again.

So yesterday was his birthday. I was out for a walk with Ess and called him on my cell. We talked for about 40 minutes and he never once asked how I'm doing. Didn't inquire about how I like motherhood, or what Ess is like, or whether I've gone back to work. Didn't even think to ask about her health. Instead, it was all about how difficult the house repairs are, and how bummed he is about the recent breakup with his girlfriend.

I'm not entirely cold-hearted. I know he's having a tough time right now. But on top of everything -- particularly his lack of interest in coming up for a long weekend, despite multiple invitations over the last several years, followed by his inability to drive three miles to see us last month -- this preoccupation with himself made me see red. I seethed through the second half of the phone call, and was grateful when I walked back into my driveway and had to end the call to get Ess into the house.

My temptation is to make some big dramatic gesture to formally end this relationship. But that's just the hurt feelings talking. Instead, we will continue to drift apart. He'll probably come over to see Ess when we visit my folks this fall, or we'll stop by his house and see what changes he's made since his parents moved to Florida. He'll stay on my Christmas card list. And I will continue to miss the friend I once had.