It was one of the first days of winter in Northern California and the scent of wood burning fireplaces filled the chilly afternoon air. I had moved back not long before, and the sight of the tall redwood trees was like a mini reunion.
The woodsy fragrances trickled into my friend’s bedroom, where we sat together cross-legged and barefoot on her warm, gray carpeted floor. I’d taken her up on her offer to borrow a book or two. Her books, lightly worn and stacked on clean, white wooden shelves, each had an intimate history with her—they felt to me, like part of her family
She and I met years earlier when I lived there for a short time. We became friends instantly. We had too much in common not to have found each other. Aside from the superficial stuff, we bonded over our similar childhoods: parents’ divorces, remarriages, and people leaving.
But mostly, we loved in the exact same manner—when we loved, we loved our people hard.
I tucked the books she graciously lent me—Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts—into my brown leather messenger bag. I hugged her tight for sharing them and for being my friend in a place that felt far away.
I returned Shantaram without reading it, but Beautiful Boy shook everything up for me. My heart ached for its author and I couldn’t turn a page without praying for him and his teenage son. While reading about his son’s addiction to crystal meth, I worried for my own sons, one of them right on the cusp of adolescence. I wondered how they would fare in this, at times, disturbing and unforgiving world.
I found myself driving through Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, and the Tenderloin, all the places Sheff had searched for his son. I never told her about the detours I took, but she knew the story had me twisted. She discouraged me from reading his son’s follow-up book, and instead suggested other more uplifting stories to read. But, I couldn’t resist.
Several months and several books later, I was in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There was a middle aged man there with me, his eyes a deep and distinct green. For a moment, I thought I was back at home and he was an old friend. I yelled, “Hi” to him and waved my arms wildly. We walked to meet each other, and when closer, I realized we didn’t know each other. I apologized, and my face turned a light shade of pink.
I was by the produce when he found me to say he is often mistaken for a friend. He told me he gave lectures in the area about a book he wrote: Beautiful Boy. I put my hand on my heart and tears filled my eyes. He did the same. We stood there for a moment with our hands on our hearts. I mustered out a few words. He said a few in return, and then we put our hands back to our hearts and we walked on.
I called my friend as soon as I was in the car. She agreed that meeting Scheff was a sign from above. No one else I told reacted like she had. Even to this day, no one has understood the depth of that encounter for me. Maybe it was because of our similar past, or an unspoken understanding we had.
Whatever it may have been, it makes it even more peculiar that we don’t speak any longer.
I went through a difficult period, culminating with the death of my mother. And darkness—that was the one thing she didn’t do well. No fault of her own, but I couldn’t lean on her then. It’s possible that I was giving her a way out, or maybe her lightheartedness felt rather insensitive then. It didn’t help matters that I hadn’t been spared from her awful commentary. I’m sure her words came from a place of hurt, but they burned.
Still, when I reached back out, after I found the faith to shift, she couldn’t engage.
Beautiful friendships are like children. They grow and they change, and at times they turn into something we hadn’t planned or wanted for them. But we love them, nonetheless.
Sometimes, all we can do is put our hands on our hearts and hold on to the love we carry within ourselves. We honor the love we knew, and the love we will always have for them.