Sunday, January 24, 2016

Old Friends

I met an old friend yesterday. He had been living in a little corner of my mind for the past twenty years, because that’s when we abruptly lost touch. He suddenly fell off the face of my world, for no apparent reason, and I often wondered what had happened to him.

When I first saw him at the grocery store, I thought ‘hey, that guy looks so much like Jeremy, it could be his twin brother,’ and I continued shopping. But the Madeleine from 20 years ago took over and approached this old, balding stranger: ‘Are you Jeremy?’, she said boldly.

I expected a polite 'no, sorry', but a familiar smile spread across this stranger's face and he leaned over to give me a big hug, I wasn't prepared for the real Jeremy. The Jeremy in my head kept competing with this look-alike. Maybe I was talking to a body-double, an alien who had taken over his body, like in the movie 'the body snatchers'.

But of course it was Jeremy. He hadn't recognized me either, me and my grey hair, my wrinkles, my glasses. Twenty years gives you enough time to undergo a complete makeover. For free. Enough time to morph into a completely different person.

Trying to cram twenty years of one's life into one conversation in the middle of a busy shopping isle is pretty challenging. But what's worse is running the risk of finding out that there isn't really that much to tell.

Has it really been twenty years? How old is Karen now? 25? My goodness, how old does that make us? (giggle, giggle) Yes, she has a 6 months old little boy. And Grace? Oh, she has two children, 6 and 9.

As we talk, I can tell that Jeremy has fallen on hard times. He doesn't look good, not just old, but down and out. And as the conversation progresses, he confirms this. He is unemployed, barely surviving on social security. Depends on Karen for rent. Looked for work in the software industry, here and on the West Coast, but age was a factor, even after he chopped 20 years off of his resume. I now realize that Jeremy, young or old, hasn't changed.

Bad luck is written in bold letters across his forehead. Married to a rich bitch who fought him tooth and nail for custody of his young daughter, Karen, when the marriage went sour.

A brilliant mind that patented several inventions that ended up in the dustbin of failed enterprises. Sacrificed a career to be available to Karen as a dedicated father, an antidote to a semi-psychotic mother. Yes, all these memories flash through my mind, as we talk.

I want to pour my heart out to him, tell him of all the good memories that are stored in that little room he rents in my head. I want to hold his hand and travel back in time to the days when we went apple picking with our 6 year old daughters. The picnics, the walks in the forest, the dinners, the sleepovers…

Jeremy was part of the period in my life when I had to stay put. That's what people do, when they have young children; they put their own lives on hold, allowing the next generation to get a stable foothold as they try out their wings. Jeremy, who was primed as a 'caretaker', because his brother is schizophrenic, knew the importance of marching in place. The importance of giving your children room to find their potential.

Was it Jeremy that I met at the grocery store, or was it the Madeleine of 20 years ago? Maybe this is what is meant by 'traveling back in time' and meeting another version of yourself.

Part of me wishes I hadn't met this new old Jeremy. He might feel the same way about me, as he sits in his little apartment in Beverly. Maybe memories are best left where they belong, in the past and in the recesses of our minds, where they can be approached with care, like the bomb specialist in Hurt Locker, so that all that explosive material doesn't fly in your face at once.

Still, there was no way I was going to let this new old Jeremy slip away again, for the next twenty years. Before we said good-bye I took his phone number. Just in case…. leave comment here