Old Friends

It’s been old friend week here at the Scalzi Compound, as pals of mine have renewed their acquaintance with me after separations and silences ranging from several months to the better part of an entire decade. I don’t know why this week has occasioned such a repatriation of friendly affection; perhaps last week was National Google Your Old High School Pal Week and I just didn’t get the memo.

There’s something exciting about catching up with someone you used to know so long ago that there’s a good possibility that the person they are today hardly resembles the person you knew back then. I myself am an enthusiastic exhumer of long-lost friendships; I will occasionally call up someone from elementary school just to see how they are. That’s always fun because, of course, they have no freakin’ clue who I am talking down the line to them — I like to think I retain many youthful qualities at age 33 years 11 months, but the vocal timbre of a second grader is not one of those qualities. And if you think I’m kidding about occasionally ringing up, say, my best friend from the second grade, here he is:

Kyle Brodie, now a Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Justice out there in Los Angeles. He prosecuted the guy who killed Ennis Cosby, so watch your step in the City of the Angels. He also plays drums, rather better than I do (he was a professional musician at one point in a band called Nothing Painted Blue. He wore his hair longer then). I call him up roughly every five years or so, just to check in. He’s usually very polite, although I do wonder if he thinks I’m a little insane. The answer is: Well, of course. What other sort of person randomly calls up his best friend from second grade? Fortunately it’s a harmless sort of insane, which is good, because Kyle has the prerogative to get all Ashcroft on my ass. And no one wants that.

The many-years-later-reconnection often has a small tinge of guilt to it, because generally speaking there’s usually no good reason that you stopped talking to the people who were once so close to you. In each of the cases where an old friend reconnected, there hadn’t been a falling out or even a lessening of affection; it’s just that whole “life” thing getting the best of you. You would think that, given the ceaseless exhortations of the phone companies to get on the damn horn and prop up their failing long-distance businesses already, more of us would keep in better touch. But we don’t.

Fact is, from the ages of 18 to 35, it’s just damned hard to keep track of people here in the US — we move all over the place. The phone numbers and e-mail addresses I have for people are typically ones from two phones and four e-mail addresses ago. One of the primary reasons I got the Scalzi.com domain was simply so I would never have to change my damned e-mail again. Then there are the other usual excuses of work and family and new friends and just not wanting to call because the prison only allows you to call collect, and it’s not like you wouldn’t have enough to explain about your circumstances already without trying to slip that one by. So many excuses, but so very few of them any good.

The secret, I’ve found, is simple: Assume that the friendship has survived. These people are your friends, after all. If you’re calling, they’ll be glad you’re calling. If you get the call (or the e-mail, or whatever), you should be glad to hear from them. Do the obligatory “So this is what I’ve been doing over the last decade or so” to get them caught up on the story so far and then just reinsert them back into the calculus of your life. Your friends are your friends, and friendship is always contemporary.

I love that these old friends of mine are coming back into my life, especially because it coincides with a time when I seem to be making quality new friends as well. A new friend who I sincerely hope I will one day have the honor to call an old friend wrote recently: “I want to discover beauty and strangeness and kinship in new friends.” Rediscovering all of these things in old friends is just as sweet. It’s truly a good life when you have both.

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