We met in law school. She was young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had a daughter by my first husband, which — thank God — I didn’t. She’s still young enough to be my daughter, although now it’s thirty-one years later and she’s fifty-seven. However, that’s neither here nor there.
She soon also became a friend, probably the best one I ever had, although we always lived in different cities. [She used to drive horrendous distances to come to class.] After law school, we stayed connected by long telephone calls every week or so: two disaffected lawyers at their desks in big law firms, commiserating with each other for part of the afternoon behind closed doors. You keep a pen in the hand that’s not holding the telephone and a yellow legal pad with some writing on it in front of you. If anyone comes in, you look annoyed and shake your head. “Not now. I’m on a conference call.” It always works.
We did have some face time. Occasionally, she came to my place for a weekend, or I made the reverse trip. We did girly things and giggled.
Then I grew older, and worked less, and retired, and moved to another state. She grew older, and worked more, and got a more important job in the legal department of a large corporation, and was promoted to Vice President, and then was transferred to the business side, which she found challenging and exciting, and where she began to make Really Big Money.
Not surprisingly, we couldn’t manage visits or calls anymore. She had no time. But she did used to send an occasional Jacquie Lawson e-card with a tinkly tune and a little message that asked, somewhat plaintively, if I was still her friend. Whatever that meant, after years of near silence.
Finally, I decided to be the adult in this situation. I sent an email.
Hi there —
It occurs to me, more and more frequently, that I haven’t heard from you, even via Jacquie Lawson, for a very long time. Which could mean that you are just an extremely busy and happy businesswoman in your “new” incarnation at work. (Not so new anymore, I guess.) Or it could mean that there is something (s. or pl.) less good in your life, which is not hard for even the Pollyanna side of me to imagine these days, as I have now reached the age where friends and acquaintances are falling by the wayside or being totally swept away.
On the other hand, you are a mere youngster — only a year or so older than I was when I sat for the bar! So those kinds of somethings couldn’t be happening to you. (I hope.)
Don’t just tap back, “Everything’s fine. More later.” Later is later and Now is now, and it has begun to seem more prudent, to me at least, to make the most of Now.
That’s why I am sending this e-mail Now — a Before-Breakfast Now. Surely, with all the state-of-the-art devices at your command, you can manage to get back to me Before-Bed?
That very night, there was an answer:
I can and will get back to you before bed. It is good to hear from you.
The good news is that there is no cataclysmic event in my life that has kept me from getting in touch. The bad news is that my new job (not so new, as you correctly point out) has me existing at a level of stress I haven’t felt since my last year in private practice. I can’t say I hate, or even really dislike, any one aspect of my new role. But I feel totally and on-goingly completely and utterly overwhelmed. To the point — silly, I know — that the thought of getting myself to see you seems like planning a journey to the North Pole. Even though I would very much like to.
Because I couldn’t see my way to confess this to you, I couldn’t bring myself to write.
There, how’s that for “everything’s fine?”
Actually, I can’t blame it all on work. Due to my penchant for saying, “Sure, I’d be happy to do that!” when I should be saying, “Absolutely out of the question!” I am currently serving on the Board of Directors for five different non-profits, where I’m President of the Board for two and promised next in line to be President of a third. And I’m mentoring three women at work. And serving on about half a dozen business committees, several of which I chair, and….well, you get the idea. I’m over-extended times 100, and don’t know how to extricate myself. From almost any of it.
I would like to engage in scream therapy, but am afraid if I start, I won’t be able to stop.
There, I’ve told someone. Honestly, I feel it most unpleasantly at night; I’m sure I’d sound less dire at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
It helps that I’ve confessed my despair to [her husband’s name goes here]. He said — and meant — all the right things. Maybe it is not surprising that his encouragement to retire — or do whatever else would make me happy — has made the whole situation seem more bearable. So I am going to try to muscle through another two and a half years, until I’m sixty, and then take him up on the offer. In the interim, the goal is to drop off most of these Boards as my terms expire, turn down the two new Boards I’ve been asked to join, stop agreeing to mentor anyone new at work, and not apply for any of the jobs that have opened up in the business. In other words, say, “No.” A talent I never mastered.
That’s enough for now, I think. If a Star Trek device existed to beam me down for a visit, I’d come. In the absence of that possibility, when I contemplate visiting you — by car or train — it seems more than I can currently pull off.
Maybe after I get through my first 300-person dinner meeting of the [city name] Economic Club. Did you know how horrified public speaking makes me? So why did I agree to be Club President, with five speakers and an equal number of sponsors to secure, dinners to plan and preside over. Ahhh, just shoot me.
Yes, still your friend.
She sent that over six months ago. I answered in timely fashion. Haven’t heard a word since. Now I ask you: Is that any way to live?
Oh, to be back in the nineteenth century, when people had all the time in the world to write letters — which other people then carefully tied up in ribboned packets, to re-read and re-read till the next letter came! As it surely would.
Or wouldn’t. Wasn’t there consumption and influenza and puerperal fever and drowning at sea? Which the recipient of the letters wouldn’t know about until a last letter came, from someone else, with the news? All right, the nineteenth century wasn’t so great, either. A different kind of “not so great.”
Do I miss her? Of course I do. And I’m sure she misses me, too — when she has time to think about missing anyone. She just doesn’t have time. By the time she plans to have time, I may not have time. I’ll be 85. (As if I need reminding.)
I’ve said this before about no-win situations, but I’ll say it again: It is what it is.
I just wish it weren’t.