While on vacation I read a relatively new novel Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, a second effort by the author of the bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. The author is an artist and designer who also has an interest in historic preservation, antiquing and rescuing abandoned and abused animals.
All these interests show up in her book, a meandering, sometimes engaging, sometimes slow-going story about Teddi Overman and her Kentucky farm family. Instead of going to college, young Teddi ran away from home, went to Charleston, SC, and took a job with an antiques dealer. She eventually opens her own shop, falls in love with a wealthy lawyer, and comes to uneasy terms with the family she left behind.
I would recommend the book, if you like this kind of story, but what intrigued me about it was the character of Teddi's younger brother Josh, a nature lover who one night disappears into the forest never to be seen again. Throughout the rest of the book Teddi is forever trying to understand why he left, and accept the fact that he may be dead even while periodically finding evidence that he could still be alive.
That question is never resolved absolutely. But it made me think of the people I have lost in my own life. Not the way Josh was lost, for that's the especially agonizing situation of a runaway child. But for all of us there are those who leave our lives prematurely. There are a few who died -- my older brother lost a battle with cancer; a friend's older brother was killed in Vietnam; the most beautiful girl in our high school class failed to show up at our 10th reunion -- she died of cancer before she was 30.
We don't know if Josh died. We only know that he turned his back on home and family to follow some other dream. And it made me think more not of people who died, but of people who rejected our relationship in favor of other friends, other interests. There was my high-school girlfriend who abruptly broke up with me after Christmas vacation of freshman year in college. It was sudden; it was unexpected; and it took a long time to get over.
I had several high school and college friends who drifted away over time as our paths diverged. That's to be expected. But some friendships are broken off. I tried to stay in touch with one of my best high school friends -- he never went far from home, but he clearly wanted to get away from me. He made excuses, wouldn't return calls, until I finally got the hint.
The issue is not so much rejection (although that's part of it); but the sense that a relationship is torn apart, and somehow left unfulfilled. A broken promise. I developed a close friendship with a young man at the company where I spent most of my career. We had great fun shooting the breeze in each other's office; we had lunch together all the time; we had dinner at each other's houses with our wives. But then he got divorced. He started hanging out with another crowd. We no longer ate lunch together. We just exchanged awkward pleasantries as we passed in the hallways, until eventually he left the company for another job.
I saw him again on two occasions. Once on an airplane. We changed seats so we could sit together and catch up on each other's careers and families. The second time was at a social occasion. Again, we talked and joked around, just like old times. But we never reconnected.
We know we lose friends and lovers as we go through life. It's the ones who leave us abruptly, who leave us too soon, who haunt us forever.