It is hard to watch the people we love drift away on other currents.
Today I mailed two packages. One to Maine. One to California. Both to people with whom I have navigated significant stretches of my life. Both who have now paddled far from me.
A week ago I sat atop a rock in the middle of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Next to me was my college friend Kat. It had been six years since we last saw each other (since she evacuated me, my husband, and my dog from a flooded portion of the Appalachian Trail).
We sat overlooking the lake on a gorgeous day, the last of the thunderstorms having past. 200 yards away my children played pirates on “kid rock” with my husband, their laughter and splashing echoing over the distance.
“I tell people you were my first friend at Carleton.”
Kat and I were floormates on 4th Burton. My memories of her are crowded with discovery. She introduced me to knitting, IKEA, and Tofu. She taught me that sushi and salad dressing were something that could be made (not just purchased). We spent countless hours in her room (on her blue IKEA bedspread) watching Dirty Dancing, making ill-fitting hats, and having discussions on such topics as why MY parents wouldn’t let me watch movies with sex scenes while HER parents refused to let her watch movies with violence.
See, while Kat and I shared a few notable traits (the most significant of which was that we were remarkable well adjusted only children) everything else in our childhood could not have been more different.
I grew up in the heartland of America, attending church three times a week, going to potlucks and family reunions. Watching “Full House” and eating casseroles that featured Velveeta.
She grew up in Vermont and at one point lived in a teepee while her parents finished their log cabin. Her father was a Zen poet. Her mother worked on various farm co-ops. She spoke of one Christmas where her father carved all of her toys out of wood. She cried. He stormed off into the snowy evening, more angry at the corruption of the capitalist construct than ever before.
Her stories, to me, seemed fantastic. Outlandish.
I on the other hand regaled her with stories of Bible Quiz Tournaments and Church camp. Sheep chasing and crawdad catching. These turned out to be equally bizarre to her.
On paper, we should not have liked each other as much as we did. There were no guarantees that the gravity which drew us to Carleton, to each other, would outlast the four years we resided there. She was an East Coast girl, I was a Midwestern girl.
And yet, we retained our hold on the other.
It is simultaneously invigorating and exhausting to be part of communities made up of individuals that at once have so much freedom and privilege to choose their path but, who for this same reason, can be just as easily separated from one another.
Stretched over distances, time zones, and continents. Former roommates in Montana and Massachusetts. Colleagues and friends in England and Nepal. Care packages and Christmas cards sent across the world. Intimacies and updates facilitated by Facebook and FaceTime.
Few people who I grew up with in Missouri drifted so far away from home. The fabric of their relationships has not had to stretch to such great lengths. They remain snug within their lives. Cozy. Smothered. Perhaps both.
As Kat and I spoke of our lives, comparing rural politics and urban uprisings, we looked out over the lake, to Kid Rock where my husband was warming the kids and feeding them wild blueberries.
“Mommy Snuggle!” my son called out over the distance.
I turned to Kat, “It’s perfect. I can observe my children at a distance, but they have no access to me.”
“Maybe we should call this ‘Parent Island,’” she joked.
“I’m too far away, Kip!” reaching my arms out to him in demonstration.
I looked at Kat with a bemused shrug, stripped off my outer layer, gave it to her to transport in her Kayak, jumped in to the cold water, and swam to Kid Rock.
That night we ate Hobo Dinner and S’Mores. Marveled at the blue moon and mournful Loon song. Kat woke early the next morning to paddle out. I woke with her, helped break down her tent, gave her a hug, and watched her paddle off.
It is easy in these moments to wish for a closer community. Friends who don’t move so far or so often. Fewer long goodbyes.
But if Kat and I were not prone to wander, not ourselves open to long walks in new directions, we would never have found each other in Northfield, Minnesota. Never have smelled the Malt-o-meal (and Turkey feed) on the air. Never have traded clothing and cultural norms.
Never learned to love a different variety of American girl.
Sound carries across the water. We may have to wait a minute (and they may be soggy upon arrival) but even friends at a distance paddle back when they hear our call.