Lifelong friends can’t be replaced

People may change neighborhoods and jobs, even careers, more often today than in years past, but some friendships are strong enough to survive the transitions. There are people you think you’ll have with you your whole life, even if they no longer attend your school, live next door or work in the same office.
   Maybe it’s someone you met in junior high. It could be an old roommate or a buddy who used to go bar-hopping with you.
   For me, that friend has always been a childhood playmate named Daniel.
   Our mothers have been best friends since we were babies. We are about the same age and so we always played together while they visited.
   We built robots out of Legos. We spent hours pretending to be Luke and Leia from “Star Wars.” We alternately tortured our younger siblings and allowed them to join in our games. We competed to see who would learn all the state capitals first.
   Daniel’s family moved when we were in grade school but we still saw each other fairly often.    His parents divorced and we grew a little further apart. Later, my parents divorced and soon we were teen-agers with the usual distractions. Still, Daniel and I enjoyed hanging out together at the holidays. And he always put in an appearance around my birthday.
   As college students and recent graduates, we hardly saw each other at all. But I knew Dan was out there going through the same phases I was. Our moms kept us posted about what the other one was doing.
   That all came to an abrupt end a year ago when Dan took his own life.
   I’ve spent many hours during the last year trying to understand why he did what he did. I’d like to make sense of it somehow. But I don’t think I ever will.
   All I know is that Dan won’t be there for the next phase, or the one after that. And on and on. He won’t dance with me at my wedding. Our children won’t play together like we did years ago. We won’t ever have another discussion about careers and politics and music.
   Instead, there will be a gaping hole in my life. It’s too late to make another childhood friend. There will never be anyone else my age I’ve known forever.
   Last weekend, Dan’s friends and relatives got together to share their favorite stories about him. As we went around the room, many people recalled wild times at college football games and in bars. There were trips to Mexico and bachelor party adventures.
   But I couldn’t help thinking of a time when the hardest substance we were allowed to have was carob and our favorite way to travel was by bike.
   Dan’s sister, Sarah, shared with the group a note he wrote to her when she graduated high school a few years ago. The card had Pablo Picasso’s “Joy of Living” on the front.
   Inside, Dan wrote:
   “I saw this card and I just loved it and when I saw it was called the ‘Joy of Living’ I knew it was right. I studied it for a while and saw some things that were really important and meaningful to me.
   “I guess what I wanted to tell you about what it meant to me is that it was important for you to know that there is joy in living life and that sometimes it takes drastic measures in events to remind you that joy exists.
   “And I know that every artist knows that and they try to express that sometimes. You have some hard times ahead of you and many times you will think that life is just pain. But let me tell you that as much pain as there is there is joy as well and you will find that, too. Take care of yourself and enjoy life.”
   It’s hard to understand why Dan couldn’t follow his own advice. And it’s harder still to find words about friendship, loss or suicide that haven’t been said.
   So I’ll settle for this: Take a minute this weekend to call someone you haven’t spoken with in a while. Tell an old friend how much you value his presence in your life. And if you feel as though life’s not worth living, please reach out to someone who can show you where to find the joy.

Rachel Dickler is Weekend editor at The Daily Star.

This column was published Feb. 18, 2000


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