My friend Yvonne visited us this week. This morning I realized that I’ve known Yvonne for twenty years, which is longer than I’ve known almost anyone else.
Yvonne and I have never lived in the same city. We didn’t become friends in the classical way but through a circuitous route that involved old boyfriends and shared apartments and her sister Lori and a green pickup truck.
But somehow in the twenty years since we first met back in Peterborough in the mid-1980s, when we were both in our early 20s, we’ve stayed friends. She has moved across the country several times, from Saskatoon to Halifax and back to Saskatoon. And again. As I moved from Peterborough to Texas to Montreal to Peterborough to Charlottetown.
I’ve seen her through 4 boyfriends; she’s seen me through 4 or 5 girlfriends (depending on how you count). I’ve met her parents, went to her wedding, washed the windows in her apartment off Quinpool Road.
She used to drive a Plymouth Horizon. I used to drive a Datsun 510. Now we both drive VW Jettas, although hers is more of a classic than mine.
Through all this I’ve become good friends with Yvonne’s husband Bob too (who would’ve thought I’d ever meet someone more sarcastic than me!) And her daughter. And her next daughter. And the daughter after that.
And Yvonne has become good friends with Catherine. And with Oliver. She’s met my brother Mike, and spent Thanksgiving one year with my brother Steve.
We once drove from Peterborough to Burritt’s Rapids together to visit her old boyfriend. I ended up sleeping in a room that hadn’t been repainted since 1975, with orange walls and a big purple stripe running around it. In the morning Yvonne headed east to Nova Scotia with my friend Stephen, and I headed west.
In the early 1990s we rendezvoused at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. They I went to Calgary with my girlfriend to meet her parents on the way back east we staying in Yvonne’s apartment; by the time we got there she had left again, off to teach at a summer camp.
My first memory of Yvonne is being at a party in Peterborough at the home of people neither of us knew very well. Yvonne was there with her boyfriend, and I was there alone. The three of us hid out in the front hall and I think I laughed harder that night with the two of them than before or since.
When we’re 21 we take all our friends for granted. We think we’re going to have hundreds of friends over the course of our lives, and we think friendship comes easy.
And of course I’ve met many people since I met Yvonne, and I’ll meet many more. But I’ve come to realize that good friends are rare, and the there’s something special about knowing someone for so long: having a rich shared history, a collection of reference points, the ability to pick up conversations where they left off three years ago — that’s a special, valuable thing.
Three years ago Bob and Yvonne moved back to Saskatoon, and we’d fallen out of touch. They had another daughter in there somewhere and news reached us. But it seemed like maybe we’d fallen out of touch.
But this week they swung over to the Island as part of a week-long visit to Halifax. Last night their family tumbled into our house, and we had dinner and our kids played together and we talked about the old times and suddenly our friendship was snatched back from the brink and renewed again.
I feel very lucky.