I had tremendous friendships growing up-powerful bonds so deep that my friends felt like an extension of my family. The early years often felt like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, and no matter what form the discoveries, experiments, physical and emotional growth and turmoil took, we did it together. Our shared history cemented us, and we naively believed it could last for ever never acknowledging the gray hair, wrinkles, and change to come. You can’t predict when or how, and you can never be prepared for the affects, but as life unfolds and forces choices, change ensues. People get pulled apart. Cemented bonds begin to crumble. New adventures begin with different people. One day the mirror reflects those gray hairs and wrinkles, and when you turn to laugh about it with those you once loved best, some are missing, and others seem like imposters standing in place of friends you used to know.
It wasn’t like flipping a switch. Friendships rarely begin or end in an instant. Startling changes normally ignite a desperate rush toward the familiar, like grasping for a life preserver. The most insidious changes happened slowly, over time. So, when did my childhood friendships began to unravel? My best guess is college: the curious combination of drastic change combined with subtle transition. Four years of physical separation from the people who had been a part of everyday was also four years of new and exciting challenges and experiences. Four years away from the usual safeguards doubled as a vast ocean of possibility. College was packaged so brilliantly, I dove in gladly and ignored the ring buoy tethered to the dock in case of emergency. Four years of college showed me that I could go it alone and I released my grip on the supports I’d previously held so tightly. I was strong, powerful, and independent. I didn’t notice how far the tide was carrying me away from my old life.
After college, I reconnected with childhood friends and stood witness as they married strangers. None of us stopped to think about what was lost because the gains seemed greater. The circle was expanding, wasn’t it? No one recognized marriage as a defining threshold. My friend became the spouse of someone else and no longer shared daily adventures with me. When the children arrived, the couple became a family. A new cycle began and replaced all that came before. But I never crossed the threshold of marriage, and without traditional means to restart the cycle, I was abandoned in a sea once filled with laughter.
I see my old friends sometimes, but the tides have carried us far apart. As I wave and smile, I barely recognize them and hear only the combined murmur of their family voice. I realize they remember me as I was and cannot see who I am now. At first, my individuality reflects harshly in the bright light of middle age, but when my eyes adjust, I see that the discoveries, experiments, and growth shared shoulder to shoulder with childhood friends was meant to be a launching pad. Like “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, the key is to pick the path that will extend the story. With no spouse and no kids, my story is wide open. Though my friends disappeared down long corridors without me, my adventure is ongoing. Which door will I walk through next? And who/what will be waiting on the other side?