We must have tried a dozen times to talk, to connect. Nothing.
We left messages. We left callback times. We left forwarding phone numbers. No luck. (Did this happen before the onslaught of cellphones when people were careful to make careful plans? Doubtful.)
Granted, we were in New Orleans for Jazz Fest when I didn’t know who was on first let alone second or third. I was trying to reach someone I hadn’t spoken to in probably 15 years, someone who - I heard from a friend of a friend - was living, post-Katrina, in the nun’s quarters of a convent at a Catholic university, where she taught.
I had so many things I wanted to ask. What it was like to leave New Orleans after Katrina. What made her return. How did the rest of the world look after seeing what she saw.
We connected on the final day of the festival, live voice to live voice. Call me when you enter the fairgrounds, she said. So I did.
Surrounded by thousands of people and seven tents of music, I reached her but I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried again; got the machine, left a message.
“ I’m standing facing the middle of the stage next to the sound equipment under a tall flag with a yellow and red chicken,” I said.
“I’m looking for Lance,” said a woman a few minutes later, pushing her way through my piece of real estate.
“I’m looking for Bode,” I said.
By then the crowd for Paul Simon had swelled. I was landlocked. It was serious. Sometime later, during a rare lull, we finally connected.
I think she was telling me she wasn’t going to fight the crowd and we weren’t going to see one another. I was disappointed. She was philosophical.
“We’re just going to have to agree to breathe the same air at the same time,” Bode said.
Put that way, I was OK with what was happening.
I’ve repeated that phrase to myself many times in the past week. In this transient life of ours, there are so many people we meet and get to know and start to regard as friends. Then one day, they say they have something to tell us and everything changes. Or does it?
This happened a month ago. A friend I used to work with at the daily newspaper - one of my first acquaintances in town, who also lives a few doors down from my former residence on Tattnall Street - called to say he had news, big news, and to come over to his house for coffee.
Unlike Bode and myself, we see one another more often than once every 10 years, this friend and I. And when we do, it’s a serious exchange of news and gossip, personal health updates, out-of-town friends and family.
We know one another pretty well so it doesn’t take long to get down and dirty. By now we can do it on a dime.
“I know your news,” I said to Richard, tongue firmly in cheek. “You’re pregnant.”
And then I knew. He’s not pregnant. He’s moving. To Atlanta. His job position got eliminated. His new night-time hours sucked. His partner had been working there for years.
“You dog,” I thought. “You can’t be serious.”
I felt the same way when I had just started working at the newspaper as a feature writer and a new friend, Ben, fixed his blue eyes on me and said he was moving to Waynesboro.
That was hard.
But after 43 other people (or some such number, probably more, I’m not joking) up and leave the newsroom - or another part of your life - you grow tough, you develop an outer shell, the same way you do in a place like Key West, where after sharing shift-drinks with people, swapping stories, experiencing long and late nights of working together during busy times, you split at the end of the tourist season and never see one another again.
Why bother making friends if they’re just going to move away?
You could say the same thing about going out and getting a dog after Old Faithful passes on. Still, you weaken and eventually open your house and heart to another creature.
But this time it was different. This was a tried-and-true friend who long ago had passed all the stages of loyalty and steadfastness. He’s smart, solid, a great cook, a reader, a frequent host. Plus, he knows the history.
At the same time, I know he’s not going anywhere, that we’ll always be in touch.
“Frankly, I’m not at all happy about this,” I said to Richard.
That was a month ago. Now I just think, “We’re going to have to agree to breathe the same air at the same time and after that everything will be just fine.”
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