I was very lucky to be my friend's +1. Not only was my flight paid for, but so was my every whim for one weekend in Paris. It was wintertime. My friend wore a faux fur coat on that trip. The collar came up, making her look classic and sexy in a Weimar kind of way, although the collar was also made of long strands of fake fur, strands that were fuzzy and wild, strands that often got stuck in her lipstick. When this happened she spoke in a lisped German accent, letting the strands stay stuck, and we giggled.
One day we got lost. I can't remember now if we had a map. I don't think we did. She relied on me to speak French so we could find our way in Paris. In fact, I had started to learn French the year we met, that year I was 12 and she'd befriended me partially out of pity.
This year I sent a Christmas card to my friend, to the address she's been living at for more than ten years. The card came back to me marked ADDRESS UNKNOWN. It came back in January, at around the same time another friendship of mine was bombing, at the same time my relationship couldn't keep its grip. I tried to call my friend after her Christmas card came back, but the number I had was no good. I sent her an e-mail after that, but it went unreplied.
Once, when we were 16 or 17, we'd been out on a typical weekend night -- maybe a football game, maybe a party on a parcel of land where kids smoked pot from a four-foot bong. I was with some other kids in the backseat of a station wagon. We'd just dropped my friend off at her house, and when the car pulled away, I saw my friend crying under her porch light. I was the only one who saw.
I'm trying to remember now how we found our way back to our hotel, that weekend in Paris. There was the panic that sets in as night descends. No, I don't believe we did have a map. The words wouldn't come out of my mouth right, and the panic had made it impossible for us to remember that in France some people actually speak English. How did we back away from panic's ledge?
I still have the returned Christmas card on my desk now. And I am trying now to articulate the pain of the returned card, our separation made manifest, just like I am trying to articulate the pain I felt when I saw my friend crying under the porch light. It is something like trying to articulate a child's cry, the sound a whale makes, a howl. The very word "lost" might work, but only if you, like me, hear a ripping sound in your mind's music as you sound out that final "t" following the "oss" sound. [Lost.]
We kept walking, that's what we did. In Paris we just kept walking through Paris. We remembered we were in Paris, after all. It didn't matter if night fell. When night fell, yellow streetlights came on, I remember them being yellow. When night fell, the metro stations' bulbs lit up, looking prettier than they do in postcards.
There is a difference between loss and lost -- living through it vs. having experienced it -- that ever important ripping -- the final "t".
This is not to say that I am content to have lost my friend. But perhaps it's possible that my life is made more articulate, put into relief somehow, now that my friend is lost to me. I don't know. No, I am not content to think of my friend crying under the porch light. The image of her there will occasionally enter my mind for as long as I have a memory, and the image will forever remind me that I failed to see what was happening in my friend's heart, that I failed at being her friend. But I must accept this image of her crying beneath the porch light, for I cannot stop memory any more than I can stop children from crying, wolves from howling, or the numb density of a whale's sound.