An old friend came to visit this fall.
Tim and I worked together at the daily newspaper in Flagstaff way back. He was one of those colleagues who made life in the newsroom bearable. He was dedicated to the newspaper and its readers, but never let that high-pressure work environment stop him from having fun.
But then his marriage went south. He moved to Phoenix and then finally back home to upstate New York, where he had grown up.
That was 12 years ago. The last time I saw him was early in the morning before work, and the twins, then 6, came along to see Tim’s new baby. After a brief visit, I left to drop off the girls at school and get myself back to the now not-quite-as-enjoyable newsroom, while Tim and his unraveling family headed east. It was one of those forced, last-chance goodbyes; the kind you feel obliged to make even if the goodbye generates as much awkwardness as closure.
Other than a couple of phone conversations, and more recently, the occasional post on one another’s Facebook page, we went on living our lives separated by a continent.
Tim eventually divorced and remarried, but when I heard from him he was going through a marital crisis that could lead to divorce No. 2. He was on a cross-country road trip to help sort out what he intended to do with his life.
We ended up spending five days together, most of it in the car traveling to see the twins play soccer in their senior season at Glacier High School. That afforded me a fine opportunity to show Tim around Montana, which he previously knew only through telecasts of University of Montana football games. Tim’s no sportsman but he seemed genuinely impressed as we crossed the Yellowstone River on I-90 and I explained that Livingston is to fly fishers what Mecca is to Muslims. Later, as we drove through Seeley Lake, I told him things were about to get pretty dicey. The Swan delivered, as we counted more than 50 whitetail by the time we reached Bigfork. Fortunately, the deer all stayed on the side of the road.
I wish that big griz that has been hanging around Condon had made an appearance that night. I saw the old bear on another late-night run through the Swan. He was hanging out along side the road as I passed.
From the moment I heard from Tim I knew that we’d hit it off as if that morning in Flagstaff was last week, not last century. Not all friendships are like that. There have been many friends in my life, people with whom I’ve shared intense bonds, but who have since passed into memory. If I was to reunite with some of those old friends I might be hard pressed to make the conversation last five minutes. But Tim and I never ran out of things to say.
Tim hung around the house for a few days, then one afternoon while I was at work he sent me a text. He was in Jackson Hole and he wouldn’t be back. He was headed for the coast.
That’s how you say goodbye.
Tim’s visit was a reminder of the journey through life’s milestones, a journey we share with family and friends. It’s just the nature of things that along the way some of those friends go away. I passed another milestone recently, this time with the twins on the soccer pitch celebrating senior day. As we stood on the field while other families were announced, one of the girls whispered to me, “This is sad.”
I looked around at the faces of girls and their parents with whom I’ve shared so many afternoons. Some, when we walk away from the fields after the final match, I’ll probably never see again. Others may remain as occasional contacts (that’s the genius of Facebook). With fewer still, I may form the kind of lasting bond that I share with Tim, a friend for life even if I never see him again.
Sad? That’s right, kiddo. But if life doesn’t sometimes make you weep you’re not doing it right.
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