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Missed Connections, Rediscovered Friends

By Karen Ray / July 20, 1993

JEFF rolled up his pant legs, filled his shirt pocket with pens, and strapped his calculator to his belt. I draped myself in a dark garbage bag, with a bent coat hanger for antennae.

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Jeff, the Geek. Karen, the Cockroach.

It was 9:30 p.m. We were too tired for work, too awake for sleep. The pressure of work and school combined with the close quarters of married-student housing had finally sent us over the edge. Surely John and Yvonne would understand.

They did. The four of us took pictures, ate bowls of ice cream, and had a good laugh at ourselves before going back to work.

During our two years in Cambridge, Mass., Jeff and I were both neighbors and friends with John and Yvonne. We went to the $1 movies together and shared tactics in the endless battle against the bugs. From them, we learned the cheapest places to eat out, and how to find coupons for more expensive restaurants. One night the after-dinner game was to write down all 50 states as quickly as possible. John won, getting them all in 90 seconds, a feat all the more impressive since he and Yvonne were Canadian.

When Jeff and I predicted our futures - he would run an airline and my books would be on the bestseller list - we always planned that John, an architecture student, would design a house for us.

After we moved to Texas - when Jeff started with an airline and my first novel was published - we stayed in touch with John and Yvonne. Once we even went up to Vancouver for a visit. Like old times, we stayed up late, went out for dim sum, and talked as fast as we could the whole weekend. Yvonne was doing counseling. John had just designed a $4- million chemistry lab. All of us, it seemed, had successfully negotiated the leap to the real world.

A year later, on a final fling before our first baby was born, Jeff and I took a vacation. From New Zealand, we wrote John and Yvonne about the impending good news.

Our card was returned by the post office. "No forwarding address." We never heard a word. For six years.

"Friend" is a word that should exist only in the present tense. But in these times of geographic and economic mobility, many people lose old friends and make new ones almost as a matter of course. Some friendships seem to come with a natural life span, and the later distancing is natural and painless. But when a friendship has strong emotional underpinnings, the separation is keenly felt and mourned.

In the case of John and Yvonne, Jeff and I wondered a great deal. Our Cambridge years have taken on a fine luster that we like to take out and polish. Since John and Yvonne were an important part of that time, we often speculated about them. Surely we could track them down. John was an architect, after all, with professional affiliations. They couldn't be hard to find.

But we never did try. Maybe they had a reason for losing touch.

It's logical for students to befriend one another. Softball players fall in with other softball players, and young mothers with other young mothers. But if one softball player takes up badminton, or one young mother resumes a career or moves two states away, does that mean the friendship ends?

The easy answer is "of course not," but the truth is that the relationship will shift, and some survive better than others.