The rarity of friendship, the complexity of friendships as they metamorphose through time — this is the drama Wallace Stegner builds word by word, scene by scene. It has an internal tension wrought by memory, the what-ifs and the if-onlys that devour us when we fall prey to the past and future. We bear witness as friends…
~~ Terry Tempest Williams, on Stegner’s CROSSING TO SAFETY
I finally took everyone’s advice and read Gail Caldwell’s beautiful memoir, LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, the story of her friendship with Caroline Knapp. The reading was both a pleasure and a relief. I’d barely begun when I realized why I’ve put it off for so long.
A few years ago I parted ways with a friend. We were the kind of friends who showed up unannounced in each other’s living rooms; the kind of friends who spoke everyday and trusted each other with our children and our husbands and our dogs and our sins and our most humiliating vulnerabilities; the kind of friends who knew how the other arranged and organized her kitchen drawers. When I read the first few pages of the Caldwell book, there we were in her words. (last line of Chapter 1): I reached out for her and said, “But you’re coming back, right?” She smiled but shook her head; her face was a well of sadness. (opening line of Chapter 2): Everything really started with the dogs.
One of the last memories I have is of spending the night at her house before leaving town. My dogs slept over, too. I had a bloody nose; I had a horrible cold; I’d lost my voice; I was never coming back.
I remember trying, at the time, to explain the devastation of this loss to my husband, to my kids, to other friends, but in the end every effort fell flat. What was there to say? I couldn’t even write about it. Still can’t. I’ve found much of what I wished I could say in Caldwell’s book. And in Stegner’s.
From CROSSING TO SAFETY: I didn’t know myself well, and still don’t. But I did know, and know now, the few people I have loved and trusted. My feeling for them is one part of me that I have never quarreled with.