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Postcards From Home: Playing the Catch Up Game

by JR Riel Jun 4, 2010
Adam cares deeply for the people in his life. Zach fights desperately to maintain his individuality. Jayleen examines every word for underlying meaning, and I oscillate between the desire to be in touch with them all, while never quite knowing how to bridge the gap of months or even years passing without contact.

The four of us formed a tight-knit group fresh out of high school. We traveled together, laughed and cried together, spent sleepless nights arguing over everything from politics to the personal. Time passes, though, and our personal goals came more into focus. As we each lived our lives accordingly, bit by bit, our daily experience diverged, but Adam’s approaching nuptials brings with it the spark of reconnection, an opportunity to bring our group together once more.

Adam reaches me from Florida to tell me he’s engaged. He’s already found Jayleen and Zach to tell them the good news, but it’s taken quite a few back and forth calls before he was finally able to catch me.

It’s a relief to know that down below, we are both the same. It makes me miss him even more.

“What’s up?”

“How’ve you been?”

”Oh, the weather? It’s sunny. It’s always pretty sunny here. So, what’s it like there?”

I tailor my opening words for show, as if to say my life is fine without betraying my strong desire to know who you are again. It’s a way to test the waters and read the response.

Would it be too presumptuous to burst through layers of ice with blunt honesty? Is it too much to dive immediately into the dark waters beneath and say “I have no idea who you are, or who you’ve become, because I haven’t been around to know.”

What if that first rough crack isn’t hard enough to break through the surface? Will I be left standing precariously, ice pick in hand, at the edge of freezing waters, waiting for the certain click of the phone, the final note of an awkward conversation.

No, it’s better to start off with the polite opening, light and easy, designed specifically to chip away the icy surface at a gradual pace.

After a few minutes of the light stuff, it’s time to go deeper, “So how are you really? What have you really been up to?” With those words, the tempo alters from light and falsely familiar to slippery but not quite so hazardous.

Now, It’s Time To Dip My Toe In

Is it still possible to see the world the way you do? Have we slipped too far away from each other. I listen, trying to place myself in front of you as a real, tangible part of your life, but I can’t help feel I’m no more than a voice on the phone. To ease my discomfort, I talk about myself for a while. It takes a moment before you notice I’ve gone in a different direction. Do you follow? Will you you move yourself a thousand miles to stand in my life? Can you?

“Not much going on right now, “ I tell him. “Just trying to stay busy, I guess. It being the slow season and all, you know.”

“Um, no, I don’t know. What do you mean?”

“Oh, Spring is slow season for tourists here. Most people just come to Hawaii in the winter.”

“Must be nice to live on the beach. What do you do for fun?”

“I’m on a pretty remote island. We usually go to another one to hang out. We’re headed to Oahu next weekend.”


“To Oahu.”

“Oh, okay. Who’s we?”

Things have changed. No longer can we take for granted a general understanding of the details of our lives, but at least the ice has been broken. He wants to know more, as do I. We might as well jump feet first now, cannonball into numbing waters.

I expect a blast of shock after the splash, but the water is more temperate than I imagined. Instead of unbearable cold and distance, our conversation takes us past the outer layers of circumstance and down to the person we each know. It’s a relief to know that down below, we are both the same. It makes me miss him even more.

“By the way, he adds, “I need the measurements for your tux as soon as possible.”

“Oh yeah,” I answer apologetically. “Sorry I haven’t called you back.”

“No worries. I’m used to it already.” As always, he tries his best to sound calm and contemplative.

“Will you send me Zach’s number?” Adam asks. “I told him about the wedding, but I can’t remember if I sent him an invitation.”

By the sound of it, I think Adam’s driving somewhere as we talk. I hear her voice in the background. Adam, still trying to be thoughtful and deliberate, pauses to listen. “Oh, yeah, that’s right, I need to mail you one, too.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” I say. “I’m used to it already.” I can almost hear him smile on the other end of the line.

After a moment, he speaks up.“I don’t think Zach will be able to make it.” Adam somewhat manages to mask the disappointment in his voice.

I’m not surprised and shake my head, green-eyed at Zach’s ability to remove himself from obligations so casually without ever having to pay for it emotionally. “Zach is just way too free to pin down,” I say. “I doubt that will ever change.”

“Probably not?” Adam says, thoughtfully. “But that’s what makes him Zach, right?”

“But Jayleen will be there,” I say. “In spite of all her bouncing around.”

Jayleen. She does her best to stay grounded, tries on personalities like jackets as she melts from solo backpacker to business woman to hipster sharing an apartment in New York City. It will be good to see her, too, after so long, whatever outer layer she’ll be wearing.

After a pause, I speak up, “So, I guess we’ll see each other in Florida.”

“Yep, see you in three weeks.” This is the point when words are finished, and silence creeps in. I can’t believe he’s getting married so soon.

As I hang up, I know there is so much more to tell, but it’s too much for one call. “Bye.”

Then the click. The final note of a meaningful conversation.

Adam cares deeply for the people in his life. Zach fights desperately to maintain his individuality, and Jayleen examines every word for underlying meaning. Me? I will always want to be in touch with them, to know their lives and loves and be there when it’s important, but I’m afraid I will never perfect the catch up dance.

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