Last week I visited a woman I had not seen or even spoken to in 47 years. You might wonder why I would seek Betsey out after a lifetime of no contact. Until a few months ago, I had no idea where she lived, or even IF she lived. I didn’t know who she had become. Then one day I saw her name on Facebook and learned she lived in Philadelphia, a city I had been visiting nearly every year since 1997 because my husband’s family lived there. I sent a friend request, she accepted, and we exchanged basic information. We made plans to meet the next time I was in Philadelphia. Neither of us had any idea if we would still be friends.
Betsey and I met when I was 11 years old, in the second half of my sixth grade year, and my family moved from Oregon to Kansas City so my father could start a new job. She was the first friend I made in my new school. She, too, had just moved to Kansas City, but her family had come from the other side of the country in New Jersey. We spent those painful pubescent years together. I spent the night at her house. She spent the night at mine. We went trick-or-treating. We listened to Sonny and Cher. We tried to play the guitar and write songs. We dressed alike. We were in a play together. We whispered about our crushes, and worried together whether we were pretty enough. She got a boyfriend. I met some other girls when we got to high school. We started drifting apart. Then she moved away, and I grew up without her.
As the time for our visit approached, Betsey wrote that she’d been remembering things. She’d read about a scientific study that suggested that the brains of children in middle school are like sponges, absorbing and retaining information and experiences more thoroughly than at any other time of development. I had noticed something like that too. I had recently started studying Spanish for the first time since 7th grade and was astounded by how much I remembered. Betsey told me she could picture my parents and siblings clearly, and had vivid memories of my house. I agreed. The mental pictures and emotions of that time and our relationship were rising to the surface. I started to get excited, too.
When Betsey came to her door at my knock, we fell into each other’s arms, calling out to each other across nearly a half a century. Within seconds, we were talking and laughing and telling our stories. There was no awkwardness, no reticence to share. She was, in my 62-year-old eyes, exactly, remarkably, the same. She was my friend, as she aways had been.
How is that possible? We have lived on opposite sides of the country all these years. She had a daughter. I had one son and raised two more. She is highly educated; a professor of art at a university and a gifted painter. I never made it through college, and my path took me in the direction of journalism. But we found that even though we were lost to each other all that time, we still speak the same language. Our attitudes about life and love and work and art and beauty and humor are still in synch, just as they were when we were 12 years old. When I was at her house she asked me, what would we do if we lived near each other? Well that’s easy, I said. We’d be friends.