Today marks the first time I have started to write a post with tears streaming down my face, but there they are littering my office desk at 6:00 o’clock in the morning – and this time I know exactly why they’re there. It’s never easy to think, let alone talk, about our shortcomings, our mistakes, our regrets, particularly when you’re intent on being honest with yourself about them, which I am, at last, this morning. I suppose knowing that I’m a very different (more attentive and empathetic, less judgmental) person today and that, because I am, the events of 20+ years ago are unlikely to repeat themselves, makes this very public “confession” a little easier, but not much, because this regret involves a dear friend, who has long since passed away (too young), and a missed opportunity to be there when she needed me most. Those regrets, in my mind, are the toughest ones to live with.
We first met as law clerks in the summer of my second year of law school. At the time, both of us were vying for what likely would be fewer permanent positions than there were clerks, a fact that necessarily meant we were “competitors” on some level, but it never felt that way. Instead, there was an almost immediate connection between us, a sense that we were meant to be friends and it didn’t take long for that friendship to take root, even though we were very different people. She was a fun-loving, outgoing, free spirit and, yours truly, was ultra-conservative, introverted, idealistic, “most all parts business” and “very few parts fun”. I suppose, in some respects, I was “curiously different” from the rest of our rather hard-partying clerkship class, which may have served, paradoxically, to fuel our friendship. I never asked her about that, though I often wish I would have.
By summer’s end, we had both earned a position with the firm and we returned from our respective law schools after graduation and were reunited as young associates the following Spring. True to form, I took the first part of the summer “off” and went into “hiding” for months in a small guest house cramming for and “stressing” out about the Bar exam. She, on the other hand, worked full time at the firm and may have put in an hour or two of study in the evenings and on weekends. She passed literally on the number. I did a little better. Through it all and for the next 6 ½ years our friendship grew. Both of us began having children, which, in her case, meant juggling the demands of an increasingly active trial practice and motherhood. Her first marriage fell apart (and her second one wasn’t doing much better). And then one day, my wife and I decided to leave Miami and move to Dallas.
Several weeks later, she “conspired” with her new firm and biggest client to arrange a trip to Dallas. She called a day or two before, making it sound as if she would simply be in town to take another of the hundreds of depositions she was taking all over the country by that time. Her career had taken off. “I’m really busy,” I remember telling her, “scrambling to get acclimated to the demands of my new firm, life in a new city, etc., but I could probably squeeze in a dinner.” And so, even though l would only later learn that she needed much more from our friendship that trip than I was “prepared to realize” at the time, we met at a local restaurant for a few hours and talked – mostly, regrettably, only about the busyness of our lives. And then, with our customary hug and a simple kiss, we were off – back to the treadmills that had become our lives.
The following morning, our receptionist told me that there was a letter waiting for me that a young woman had dropped off early that morning. It read, in part, as follows:
We must find a way to spend more than 2 hours together every 12 months. Although I’m happy that I was able to see you yesterday, I really need more time alone with you to talk, to reflect on our “life choices” over the past few years – to project what our futures may have in store for us. Somehow, I doubt that opportunity will arise. I will be sure to return to Dallas when the next trial is set. Maybe we can spend some time together then? I would like that . . .
When I was at the old firm last week, I was seized with so much nostalgia that I knew I must see you immediately. I can’t explain it, but during the deposition I was attending there, I felt that I had been taken back to 1982, to our crazy summer clerkship, to the beginning of our friendship. That’s how real my sense of your spirit being there with me was. Your spirit walks the halls of those offices. I know, because I felt it.
Do you have any idea how deeply I value our friendship? I think not. You are so exacting – I won’t say judgmental, although I could – in your measure of how things should be, how true friends should behave, that I often feel utterly inadequate. I am so very imperfect, but you must not doubt that from my place of imperfection, you hold a very special place in my heart and always will. The fact that I may be terrible about exhibiting my emotions and concern for you does not detract from the depth of my feelings (as I feel them). Just know that.
I’m feeling pulled in countless directions . . . by so many others and my often overwhelming sense of responsibility . . . that I’ve lost my sense of “me” – and I’ve lost my time for friends. I apologize for my neglect and I want to reconcile with you. I will write and call you soon. Please do me a favor and try and act a little less apathetic about things! I won’t ask for a true emotional reaction when I call – you can fake it – okay?!? In the meantime, my wisdom from being older is – go for it in Dallas. You can always doubt your decisions later if you want to . . .
. . . And doubt/regret them I still do, 25 years after our dinner, 9 years after her death. Not the decision to move to Dallas, of course. Rather, my “decision” to set aside so little time that evening, when a friend, a dear friend, desperately needed so much more – someone to pay attention, to set aside their “own stuff” for more than a few hours and be fully present, someone to listen, to provide comfort and reassurance, someone to care. I had every opportunity to be that friend. She flew half way across the country to provide me with that opportunity – and I just can’t for the life of me believe I missed it or seem to forgive myself for it. But I have learned from it. I promise.