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When Friendships Flourish -- and Fail

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Friendship has been on my mind a lot lately.

My daughter is at an age when she's transitioning through friends. A long-time friendship has fallen by the wayside this summer, while an old one that lay dormant has been renewed. I'm sure new friends will be made as classes begin in September.

It's the circle of life for teenagers. I suppose it is for adults, too.

Earlier this summer, I blogged about what I would do on a staycation year (although we did sneak a couple of days in New York City, which were filled with moments of perfection I can hardly describe), and one of the items on my list was to catch up with friends I haven't seen in a couple of years when they came home to visit family.

It is ironic I am the one who stayed closest to home. I am the one who yearned to dance on foreign shores, sending correspondence of my outlandish adventures home to jealous friends, yet I am the one who followed the path of least resistance and didn't stray far from the familiar neighbourhoods of my youth.

I am very fortunate. Many of the friends I have today I have had since childhood. Some of us met in Kindergarten (or before). Others joined in along the way in elementary school and high school. I'm also happy to say there are a number of folks I met in university I still call my friends, even if our primary connection is on Facebook.

I also have a few really great new friends I have met through work, travel and parenting, and each has broadened my social network (real and virtual) exponentially. I have also met a few women I thought would become long-time friends who entered my life for a very short time and left behind a trail of destruction. I give no thought to them anymore. I have learned the lessons they entered my life to teach me and moved on.

But it's the thoughts of my old friends which have lingered.

We met for dinner, as we usually do, at the place where we usually do. We're a disparate group: One is widowed, a couple are divorced, a couple never married, and one lives a lifestyle none of the rest of us would ever dare. Most of us have children, a couple do not. When we meet, we talk about everyday things. We reminisce about the years when our lives were so intricately connected it was as though one girl was an umbilical cord to the next. We toast the girls who couldn't join us and those who will never join us again. We promise we won't go so long between visits, but we know some won't make it the following year.

This year, we were fortunate enough to see each other twice, and it was during this second visit that one said something that has stayed with me ever since.

"It's great to have new friends that you make as an adult, but the ones you make in childhood really are the best."

I've pondered that a lot these past few weeks.

My friend's point was that these are the people who know your beginnings and have a real connection to your roots. They know your parents; say hi to them in the supermarket when they see them. They knew your Grade 8 crush, were the ones in the darkened basement playing Spin the Bottle and Supertramp records with, carried you home when you had too much to drink and cursed the rat who broke your heart. The world you share is one of sleepovers and studying, of hijinks and hostility, and yet, you've come full-circle as friends.

When you are together, how easily you slide back into the role you played two and three decades ago. The bookworm. The athlete. The gossip. The one who played with fire and the one who was too afraid to get close enough to even feel the warmth of its glow.

These are the people, my friend said, who know the real you.

But I am not so sure.

Am I the person I was in Grade 5 or 7 or 9 or on the day I graduated from high school? Certainly there are ghosts of the girl in there. The love of reading and writing. The desire to know everything about everyone and know it (and tell it) first (I got that out of my system by being a reporter, though). But I would have to say no. The girl who came home from university at Thanksgiving in 1986 was vastly different than the girl who had moved there just six weeks before. The woman who put her daughter on a plane for her first solo trip across three provinces as summer 2013 winds to an end is a far cry from the woman who gave birth to that girl 15 years ago. And I will be different again in five or 10 years' time. So will we all.

Yet it's true to say that their influence on my life is as great as my family's, as the men I loved and lost, as the co-workers over many jobs and many years and as the people who are part of my social circle today.

It's tough watching your child struggle with a friendship that spins away from them like the bottle spun away from the boy you so desperately wanted to kiss in that dark basement years ago. And hard to explain that the things that brought them together in the first place may bring them together again. Or may not. Friendships are formed in neighbourhoods and schoolyards. They are rooted in experiences and flourish when there is a willingness to accept the differences that make us all individuals.

You can't explain that to a teenager, though. Only experience can give you that knowledge and only time will tell.