Living Out Loud: : When Circumstances Change

Friendships

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Larry Gross



A couple months ago I flew up to Ann Arbor and visited my friend, Kathy. She's been living there for awhile now and it's been too long since we've had the opportunity to really catch up with one another. The four days we spent together will be one of the highlights of my summer.

When I stop to think about it, she's my oldest friend now. We met 11 years ago at my brother's funeral. They were best friends and although I sometimes think Kathy likes me because I remind her of my brother, I'll take that. It's a friendship I treasure.

I often say true friends you can count on one hand — and Kathy's one of them. It sometimes amazes and frustrates me how friends go away when circumstances change.

When CityBeat was located over on Seventh and Vine, I became friends with two social workers who worked in the same building.

We would get together once a month, have dinner, maybe go out somewhere and just hang out. I thought we were solid.

When our paper moved over to Race Street, I tried to keep up the friendship, but suddenly they dropped out of sight. What's that about? Out of sight, out of mind?

Patty was a coworker and we were close some years ago. When I returned from Seattle after my brother's funeral, I was honest with her and told her he had died of AIDS.

Suddenly, Patty started going out to lunch with other people. When I would meet her in the hallway and try to give a friendly "What's up?" she wouldn't respond. I finally put two and two together: She didn't want any part of somebody who knows what the word AIDS really means.

Back some years ago, when I discovered I was diabetic, I had a great friend, and I'll call him Dave in this story. We used to work together, would sometimes go up to Chicago to see the Reds play the Cubs and during his divorce, I was the guy he leaned on. That was fine — we were best friends.

When I told Dave about my condition one evening over the phone, he suddenly had to get off. To make a long story short, I never heard from him again — repeated phone calls have gone unanswered. To this day I still feel hurt by this. Did he think he would catch diabetes from me?

Of course, these people, as it turns out, weren't true friends, not like Jan. When I was having foot problems because of the diabetes and couldn't walk, she's the one who didn't go away when the going got tough. She got my groceries, brought me books to read and we spent hours talking when I could do little else.

Did I ever thank her for this? I think so. I try not to take friendships for granted. I think Jan knows that, if she ever needs me for anything, I'm gonna be there.

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on old friends who have left my life. I realize time moves on and things change — and if truth be known, I've had to let a few friendships go myself. But I think, to my credit, I've been straightforward with these people. I always explain my reasons for changes; I try really hard not to simply walk away.

The few true friends that I have, I take very seriously. I don't always like change, and sometimes I worry when I know it's going to happen.

Over my five years here at CityBeat, I have made two very important friends: Greg, the news editor and Sara, the office manager. I feel extremely close to both of them, feel like I can tell them anything; and I think they feel the same about me. We're such good friends.

But again time marches on. Sooner or later I might decide it's time for me to leave the paper or Greg will move on or Sara will, and circumstances will change to where we won't see one another every day. It's going to happen sooner or later, that's for sure. Will we remain friends? Will we remain close? I want to think so, I want to know so. But it doesn't always work out that way. If it doesn't, I'll be sad.

Again, I take friendships very seriously, but maybe you shouldn't tell my Ann Arbor friend that. Sometimes when I go too long between e-mails or letters, I'll get some mail asking if I've dropped off the face of the earth. When she goes too long without contacting me, I'll send Kathy an e-mail stating she has turned into me. That always gets a quick response.

Circumstances have changed for Kathy and me over the years but we still hang in there, committed to the friendship. Come to think of it, I owe her a letter that's a bit overdue. I'd better get to it.

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