Keeping in Touch

I hastily put the finishing touches to the house, then scrambled to put the finishing touches on me and my hubby. Our friends would be here any moment and I so wanted things to be right. We hadn’t seen them in over 20 years, so the anxiety and expectations were high. It wasn’t that we hadn’t stayed in touch, we had—we emailed several times a week and there was the occasional phone call, but we hadn’t actually seen them since my hubby and I moved out of the state so many years ago.

As I took one last swipe at the kitchen counter, I thought back to one of our regular get-togethers years ago. We’d get together at least once a week and visit. We’d talk for hours about anything and everything. All topics were fair game, even politics and religion. But our favorite topics were science, philosophy, art, literature, and movies. We’d start out at lunch, and usually wouldn’t break up until early the next morning. We’d get so wound up debating and talking and discussing that we just never noticed the time fly by. And the stimulation from the conversations kept us wide awake into the wee hours without the need of caffeine. We’d bop from topic to topic, with barely a break—it was glorious.

The doorbell’s ringing snapped me out of my reverie. They were here. Hugs and how are you’s were exchanged, and we started on a quick tour of the house. When no comments were forthcoming, especially in regards to my husband’s drawings, I put it off to travel weariness. After all, they had just come from the airport, and through several time zones.

Back in the living room, the silence grew even more deafening. I threw out one topic and then another. The responses, when there were any, were short and sounded like quotes that they might have read somewhere rather than their own opinions or thoughts. I asked her about her job—art student joins graphic design company. During our emails back and forth, she had said the job was only to help them out financially, and that as soon as the bills were caught up, she’d go back to her studio and work towards having a show of her own. However, listening to her talk now, I realized that the studio was a dream. She loved her job. She was now some executive something-or-other that rarely did any drawing anymore (no time, she said).

As for him, well, he couldn’t talk about what he was doing—theoretical physicist working at one of the big accelerator labs. Everything was “top secret” all of sudden. Okay, but what about some of the other published theories, like the latest discoveries in the world of cosmology? Surely, he had opinions or comments about those.

A shake of the head and the conversation stalled again. During the silence, I glanced at my husband and he at me, and I knew we were both wondering what had happened to the friends we thought we knew? The friends we had spent hours with discussing everything under the sun and then some? Where had they gone?

Obviously, the emails hid more than they revealed, because all the time we were “communicating” with each other, we had totally lost touch with each other. The emails had given me the illusion of closeness while making it too easy for me to retain that mental model of my friends from 20 years ago. If we had actually been visiting with on another or maybe even speaking to each other on the phone more, I don’t think we would have found it so easy to fool ourselves. I think we would have realized years ago just how far apart we had grown. Instead, we waited 20 years, and by then the gap was a canyon, a canyon too wide to bridge.

The afternoon ended early, much to the relief of all involved, I think. But it did teach me one thing—emails hide more than they reveal, and personal contact is a must if a relationship is going to survive.

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