Sometimes we lose touch with people -- not mere aquaintances, but people who really mattered at pivotal points in our lives. People who changed us, made us who we are now.
My friend Catherine is such a person. We met in college -- our junior or senior year, I'm not sure. We worked together in the crummy little campus TV station and became fast friends. We partied together, shared secrets that will go to our graves and made big plans for who we would become after graduation.
But nothing strengthened the bond between us like The Trip To Europe. From the moment Catherine asked me to go with her to backpack around Europe and I gave her a serious yes, that was it. We were in this together and we were going to make it happen, no matter what.
And we did. From September to November 1978, we visited almost every country in Western Europe. By Eurailpass and sometimes hitchhiking. Staying in youth hostels, cheap pensions or, once, sleeping out. It was a profoundly life-changing experience.
We came home, found jobs, got married. She went to Oklahoma and I ended up in Michigan. Still, we made time to see each other, taking no-spouses vacations. She is the reason I've been to San Francisco and strolled down Castro Street. She is the reason I canoed down the Arkansas River and spent a sleepless night in a tent, listening to the chorus of tree frogs.
But then the babies came -- first her Angelea and then my Amy. My last picture of Catherine is from spring 1988. Amy's dad is holding her 6-month-old self and Catherine is holding a very reluctant Angelea.
Life happened and we grew apart. Her husband quit his job to build their house. I think the last time I spoke to her was the awful phone call in 1995 when I told her I was leaving my marriage. I guess I figured she hated me for that (she was my matron of honor), so I was afraid to try calling her old phone number in the years that followed.
Then, this past Christmas Eve, an astonishing present appeared in my Hotmail inbox -- an e-mail from Catherine. She had tracked me down, via the Internet White Pages and Google, which led her to this blog.
God bless this sweet, goofy blog.
Her note quickly brought me up-to-date on the years-long gap -- her own divorce, her daughters' endeavors, her job. But her biggest news was her plan for the future -- she was retiring from 28 years in social work for the State of Oklahoma. To join the Peace Corps. In Albania.
Amid the craziness of her preparations to leave the country for two years, we haven't been able to connect. Until today. The thin thread of a cell phone connection erased the expanse of years and miles between us. Catherine, sitting in her car at a Nowata, Oklahoma, gas station, and I, sitting at my kitchen table in Royal Oak, Michigan, chatted away as if we had been meeting for years to talk over coffee.
Tomorrow morning, she gets on a plane for Philadelphia. And by St. Patrick's Day my sweet Irish girlfriend will be off to a strange new country.
She'll have a cell phone and a brand-new laptop. So, if she can find an Internet cafe, maybe I'll get a few e-mails. Or a transAtlantic cell phone call.
Then, when she comes home, we'll play a few rounds of golf. And write a book together about our adventures. Because, like life-long friendships, the story never really ends.