What We Remember

A friend I met when I was 12 is now in critical condition in the ICU.

A friendship that started in middle school covers a lot of history. Successes and set-backs, bad boyfriends and good husbands, the exciting and the mundane. And all the messy, contradictory and unimportant bits in between that aren’t milestones or “life events.”

She is an attorney with a mind for details and a memory like a steel trap. I’m more of a sieve. I know this fact about myself  so if something feels important I always write it down so I don’t forget. Everything else I can ask her.

A question like “What was the name of the club where we saw …?” will get me the club, the date we were there, who opened and who we were with. It’s a great skill and probably made me more lazy about remembering the details over the years.

I stand by her bed in the ICU and talk to her about this and that because the nurses say she hears even when she doesn’t respond. I monologue about getting my daughter ready to leave for college, what I’m working on, how the garden is doing this year, and running into a mutual acquaintance at a coffee shop.

I tell her if her nurse that day is attractive (most have been male), how the parking is free when you are visiting the ICU, and how she is a VIP with 24 hour service like a fine hotel.

What I don’t tell her is how important she is to me. I don’t tell her how devastating her illness actually is or how ridiculously slim her chance for recovery.  I don’t say I love you. That would surely signal to her that the end is near and it’s not my job to do that.

When she passes, whenever that may be, I will no longer have that one friend “who knew me when.” No one else will ever again so precisely understand the ways in which who and what we both are now is grounded in what we were then.

The past shapes the present but what we decide to focus on in our memories is a choice. It’s hard for most folks to focus on the good memories because we’re  wired to learn from mistakes in order to survive. So we easily dredge up the slight, the hurtful comment, the embarrassment, or the questionable choice.

So while I ruminate on the choices and chance that got us to this place today, I am also remembering the raucous, reckless fun and the countless ways we supported each other through the years.

It strikes me that how we remember is part of what’s driving the turmoil around Charlottesville and the removal of confederate monuments across the country. A line from George Orwell’s 1984 keeps running through my head  – “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls that past.”

Of course I have a lot to say on that topic. But not now.

Now is for remembering how lucky I am to still have my childhood friend.

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