Just passing through

Divorce and work and age have taken a toll on the friendships in my life, and the children I used to watch grow are not children anymore.

Published April 8, 1999 7:00PM (EDT)

I saw Fiona yesterday. She must be 6 or 7 by now -- tall,
pale, soft-cheeked, with the same shoulder-length black hair and red lips
that made her
such a perfect Snow White on Halloween several years ago. That Halloween is
the last time I'd seen her until yesterday, when I looked up at the library
and saw her standing there, smiling, missing a front tooth and a completely
different girl than she used to be.

Once I thought Fiona would be a part of my everyday life. I knew
her as an
idea, as a hope, a wish, before she was conceived, because her mother, Karen,
was my best friend. Karen and I had one of those romantically entangled
friendships women sometimes have, the kind where you talk on the telephone
almost every day, tell each other the daily details -- the broken washing
machine, the fight with the husband, the struggles with work. We didn't say
hello, because we knew each other's voices so well; the phone would ring and
I'd pick it up and she would start talking, as though we'd only been
interrupted for a few seconds.

By the time Fiona was born, a subtle distance had grown between us. We
changed, each of us, our lives, and week by week, month by month, strain and
tension appeared. There came a difficult conversation in which it became
clear we were no longer friends -- we were, in fact, strangers. And then there
came a time when I realized I didn't know where Karen was living, didn't know
her telephone number and would probably never call her again. And I grieved
for the friendship, for Karen -- and for little Snow White, when I realized we
would not go trick-or-treating together after all.

So many children passing through, passing by, growing and going, waving
hello, saying goodbye. Children, grown, gone.

Years ago, I cared for Louise's kids, Addie and Dallas, and she
cared for
mine, and we talked every day. We lived near each other in a student housing
complex, carried our laundry together in red wagons, shopped at the co-op,
pushed the kids in the swing. But we shifted lives; I moved, they moved, and
then she and her husband divorced and we lost touch. She sent me a Christmas letter this
year from the opposite coast. We haven't seen each other in a dozen years,
and it was full of news of grown-up Addie in college and grown-up Dallas at his
job, and I knew that if they walked past me on the street, I wouldn't
recognize their faces.

More recently, I thought it was grace and good luck that our new
became our good friends. But what really happened is that they became the
people with whom we tried to be good friends for a long time before it became
clear to everyone this wasn't going to work. Still, I was kneeling by the
bed when their daughter, Sophie, was born. But after Sophie was born, there
was a divorce. A move. Things changed, and I haven't seen Sophie for a long
time, and when I did, she was someone I had never known.

A few years ago, a young woman knocked on my door. She looked vaguely
familiar, petite and punkish in a thin undershirt, her nose pierced, her hair
bright red. "Hi!" she said, smiling. "It's Lorena."

Lorena. She never liked me. Her stepmother, Judy, and I were best
for several years. We lived on the same block and saw each other almost every
day. Judy and Lorena didn't get along; Judy never wanted to be a mother,
didn't know how to make it work. Lorena saw me on the enemy's side, snapped
and stung at me, and after the divorce and the sudden, devastating end of my
friendship with Judy, I never saw Lo again. Until that day when she stood on
my porch, smiling. We talked awkwardly, about where people had gone and what
she was doing, and finally we said goodbye and she walked away, and only
later did I realize I didn't know where she was going or if I'd ever see
her again.

And now, I chat on the telephone with the young sons of my friends
-- silly Ben and opinionated Thomas and smart Nathan, all of whom I've
known for years now. I'm just a person in their lives, just a friend
passing by, talking at
them, eating dinner with them, saying hi. But they're more than that to
me -- and not enough, not as much as I want. I fear they will pass by and

My brother has a new son; I have a nephew, James, a big boy,
already rolling
over. They live hundreds of miles away. I plot how to enter James' life, how
to appear as a visitor in this boy's world and be the welcomed auntie, a
face he knows and wants to see. I make plans involving toys, candy,
surprises. But I make plans that require me to be leading a very different
life than the one I lead now, and I know that perhaps none of it will come

My friend Scott, a suddenly single father when he least expected to
be a
father at all, brings Ezra with him everywhere he goes. He has no choice.
When I see Scott, I see Ezra, and shy Ezra, bit by bit, has turned 2 this
month and smiles at me when he sees me now. When he comes to our house, he
knows there will be a wind-up duck on a bicycle waiting for him, and a lava
lamp, and he comes ready: "Duck!" and "bubbles!" were two of his first words.
I plot about Ezra the way I plot about my nephew -- planning ahead, painfully
aware of time, change, what might come.

And I know others think of my children this way. Nancy knew I was
with my now-grown son the same moment I knew -- she did the test. She has seen
him as regularly as she can for 21 years. She is like his aunt, his
eccentric, nosy aunt who quizzes him about everything from music to sex and
gives him her old televisions and a lot of advice. She has always been in his
life, and I don't think it occurs to him -- the way it has certainly occurred
to Nancy -- that this may not always be true. Our best-laid plans, our finest
hopes, our most cherished expectations, give way to what comes next. And what
comes next, with children, is that they are not children anymore.

So many friends passing through, passing by. We revolve around
each other
like heavenly bodies, masses of various sizes in orbit, and each pass changes
our own motion. And each of our changes changes the motion of the bodies
around us. We orbit near and far, elliptical and round, fast and slow, large
and small, and there is no predicting all the permutations of change at work.
Friends arrive, appear, enter my life; friends change, I change, we pass away;
divorce and work and age take a toll; children arrive, appear, enter and go.
Sometimes I imagine I stand alone in the center and all this spinning goes on
around me, and I wave at the parade of faces with tears in my eyes. But
that's not true. I'm spinning, too, just one of many revolving bodies; I'm
passing through, too, speeding up and slowing down and never knowing where the
next turn will take me. By the time I pass this way again, these little
planet bodies, these babies and toddlers and upright little ones, will be

By Sallie Tisdale

Sallie Tisdale's most recent book is "Women of the Way: Discovering 2500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom" (Harper San Francisco, 2006). She contributes to magazines such as Harper's, Tricycle, and Antioch Review.

MORE FROM Sallie Tisdale

Related Topics ------------------------------------------