Alice and I met in 1995 while teaching at an all boys high school in New Orleans--where there is still enough history (and Catholicity) for this detail to be meaningful. I would like to say we were instant friends but we weren't. First of all, she was a rational math person and I was cut from the more bizarre literary-loving cloth. Second, I wasn't sure I liked her after she had declared at lunch in the faculty lounge that she had a million guy friends but no female ones (and I, for the record, only had real female friends: the guys always ended up declaring their undying devotion which got in the way of the friendship). I took her remark to mean that she felt safest immersed in male attention and that another woman only made her feel competitive, but her issue was one of trust--a hurdle we bridged after weathering some major personal conflicts together. (Alice and I were no girlie-girls and neither of us could tolerate gossip so we got along famously.)
I stared at the ceiling, considering the things about New Orleans that I loved and missed—the eateries of a hundred nationalities on any downtown block, the olive salad dripping off of a freshly baked muffaletta, the myriad of daiquiri shops (offering twelve flavorful options). It was all about the heat, the smells, the colors, live music, arts & entertainment as well as the ancient trolley system which ran through famous mansion-lined streets full of irreplaceable architecture. And I do love all of these things (and I hope to enjoy most of them while visiting this go round) but seeing my friend and being back in the embrace of her hospitality made me realize that the aspect I missed most about New Orleans was the sense of belonging I felt when I lived there, a sense that I was special and our relationship, unique. There was a quality to those friendships that sustained and made the richness of living deeper—a genuine and welcoming spirit that I have not experienced since, and Alice was a critical spoke in that magnificently social wheel. I don't know why it is, only that it is true: too often, new friends are like new shoes. They are pretty and they are shiny, but they pinch your feet and you cannot walk far in them.
Some eras of life just feel golden, like you had the perfect job, at the perfect time, and you shared it with the right people. Unfortunately, you cannot always identify those times until they are gone (and the Ghost Town settles in and you feel the paltriness of life in comparison). Our boys were four when I moved away and the children have grown up (and moved out, as is the case with Alice’s oldest). It is a nasty fact of life that Alice and I live too far apart to see each other often, and the water of years apart has disabled some of that closeness. I know there is no cure for melancholia, no going back, but here I am, showing up for what's next, eager to catch up and reconnect. Looking forward to this next chapter of cherished memories with the friend who defined friendship for me and introduced me to its warm world.