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Twilight Friends

Twenty years ago, I attended my friend Carol’s wedding. The day, magical, right down to the cake made of pastel cupcakes. The bride and groom were in their late seventies. Carol had been single for decades, so finding David was the last thing she expected. They remain married to this day, holding hands in their annual Christmas card picture.

My daughter met Annie last November, at an out-of-state college she knew she’d be transferring from at the end of the year. Annie became the lifeline that helped her to survive a difficult time. They laughed and danced. They went to the gym and on road trips together. And they had sleepovers when the weight of life became too heavy to lift alone. She swears they will be in one another’s weddings.

There’s something sparkly about people who enter our lives in the fourth quarter. Perhaps, like a beautiful sunset or a shooting star, they shine extra brightly because we know they won’t be proximate for long. Or maybe, they remind us to take risks. We chose to invest, even with the understanding that time was limited. And it paid off.

I spent last weekend in Palm Springs with a fourth quarter friend, Alexa. We met first semester of our senior year at Berkeley, in a Poli Sci class. Over the years, we've often recalled the day we met.

Alexa and her friend, John, were sitting towards the back of a large lecture hall – the type where you enter at the bottom, by the lectern, and walk up to the seats. Out of nowhere, John shouted “Wendy!” And when Alexa noted who he was addressing, she saw a girl with crazy hair, a short skirt, an Elvis Costello t-shirt, and cowboy boots.

“How do you know her?” she asked. The question was appropriate. John wore Brooks Brothers and spent summers by a country club pool, making the two of us an unlikely combo. He explained that we had met through a mutual friend. Before she knew it, I was sitting next to them.

Over the course of the semester, Alexa and I met in coffee shops to study together. (John joined occasionally but he proved less committed to a good grade than the two of us.) Increasingly, the conversations became less about geo-political structures and more about our lives.

Honestly, we were unlikely friends. As seniors, we’d be headed our separate ways in short time. Alexa already had a big social circle and a serious boyfriend. And I had a perennial trust problem, which meant that I didn’t allow many people to get close.

And yet, against these odds, a deep friendship formed.

Alexa got married the following year. I was a reader in her wedding. And several years later, she was a bridesmaid in mine. She flew to Seattle when my mom died, and I’ve visited her and her family in the Bay Area many times over the years. In the desert this last week, we congratulated one another on recent triumphs and offered comfort for current trials.

Forming new friendships in midlife feels fraught to me. As I look around, it appears that people already have their people. Why would they want to add a new one? Also, I’m not clear where I’ll live in the years ahead. My husband and I have started to talk about life as empty nesters. Sometimes the conversation focuses on staying put in Seattle. Other times, we envision moving to some fantastic resort town. Given such uncertainty, putting my trust-wary self out there is scary.

I could allow the Cons column on my “New Friends” list to win.

Or I can remember David and Annie and Alexa. And how magical, twilight bonds change everything.


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