My dear friend, Amy, is 20 years younger than me, making her just a few years older than my oldest daughter. From the perspective of age, her mom and I should instead be friends since we’re the same age. But by some quirk of fate, Amy and I met, quickly bonded over shared uncertainties of teaching first year seminar as adjuncts, and became fast friends.
Actually, we’d met about eight years earlier when she was a nontraditional (i.e. “older”) student serving as a tutor in the writing center. In part because of her age, we chose her to work with a graduate student. We had only two or three conversations and then she disappeared from my screen.
Our paths crossed again about 1 1/2 years ago when we sat next to each other in a meeting to discuss the course we were about to teach. I’d chosen as my student mentor as sophomore who was the one she’d thought of asking. For a minute, I thought there was going to be a fight but no…it was just the first of many shared thoughts we’d have over the next year.
I quickly learned that she was my comrade-in-arms, so to speak, in the biweekly faculty meetings of those teaching FYS. We were the “outsiders” because we weren’t fulltime faculty and therefore, had a shared sense of not really counting in the scheme of discussions. Instead, we ate our lunch, listened, offered a few cursory thoughts, and under the table pinched each other to keep from laughing. It was like 9th grade when you’re the newcomer to student senate and you know you’re only tolerated because the administration requires all grades to be represented.
But we took our teaching seriously and we shared pointers with each other. Having recently taught high school English, she was much more familiar with the foibles of first year students. She knew how to talk to them and with them, so I took my cue from her. That helped me develop a better relationship with students who — for the most part — were there because society expected them to earn a degree.
Later, when she began teaching students in my department, the tables were turned, and she sought my advice in dealing with the altogether different mindset of adult students. Because I was closer to many of them — agewise — and because I’d worked with them for more than 10 years, I was the one explaining how to understand their thought processes.
Then last spring, my health took a nose dive and I found myself housebound. Bored, depressed, missing the everyday conversations with coworkers, I was ecstatic when someone came to visit. The day Amy called must have been a particularly bad one because I remember crying on the phone. She announced that she was on her way over but that I should not try to “make nice” and be cheery. If I wanted to just sit, that’s what we’d do. She asked what I wanted. I couldn’t think of a thing, but the next thing I knew there she was in the doorway holding a freshly baked apple pie. Her explanation was that “this is what my family does when someone is down”.
It was that word “family” that hit me. That — despite our having been friends only a few short months — she thought enough of me to treat me like she would a family member.
In the weeks that followed, she checked in frequently and when I returned to work, we began meeting for coffee, then lunch. When my daughter got married in September, she and another friend took charge of the food, arranging flowers, and doing the dishes. Not even our lack of a dishwasher sent her running.
These days we talk regularky by phone, text, e-mail, Facebook, and rarely does a whole week go by that we don’t communicate in some way. However, this week was remarkably long — but equally short — and by Friday I was exhausted and ready to be home for more than two hours. Late yesterday afternoon, I had a brief regretful thought that we’d missed our weekly lunch and hadn’t talked in nearly a week.
So when my phone rang this morning and I saw her name pop up, my first thought was uh-oh. I’d failed the cardinal rule of being a friend — don’t let that much time go by without checking in. As it turned out, she’d had an equally strange week and — like me — had suddenly realized we’d not connected.
We talked, or more correctly, we both whined because we know we can and the other person will listen. Once we finished whining, we laughed awhile over some shared joke, then scheduled lunch for the coming week. She went back to entertaining her three-year-old daughter and I went back to entertaining my three-year-old dog. In many ways, our lives are similar — in many, they’re not. But that’s okay. It’s the shared pieces that glue together our friendship.