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GRACE NOTES

Oh, to chat for hours with old friends again

"In my 20s, before cellphones, I spent hours on the phone with friends."
"In my 20s, before cellphones, I spent hours on the phone with friends."Owen Franken/Getty Images

I messaged my friend Catherine in West Virginia last week to ask if she was free to Zoom Saturday night.

Of course she was. Everybody’s free on Saturday night.

In my 20s, before cellphones, I spent hours on the phone with friends. We didn’t schedule our conversations. We just called. We’d catch up on news, report on relationship dramas or work dilemmas. There was something foundational about those heart-to-hearts as we witnessed each other slip and slide through adulthood. We helped each other find traction. We were the pillars of each other’s becoming. We understood each other, we did not judge, we abided and supported.

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Then we grew up. Marriage, family, and careers sucked us away from each other.

But now everyone is home. We’re available. Catherine, whom I’ve known since college, immediately confirmed our Saturday night chat. She and her husband got to meet my boyfriend. We talked about Quakerism, social justice, and what we’re watching on Netflix.

My oldest friends make me laugh the hardest. Susan, my roommate when I moved to Boston right out of college, is now a middle school science teacher in Virginia. Her favorite biological system, she’ll tell you, is the digestive system. Usually months go by and she and I see each other only on Facebook. But I knew she’d be available when I phoned in March; her school was closed for weeks before distance learning kicked in. I didn’t even text first.

We’ve since spoken two or three times a week. We take walks together over the phone. She tells me the challenges of the virtual classroom. I share my creative aspirations.

I met Madeleine in a writing group in Jamaica Plain in my 20s. We drove across the country twice together, blasting Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt and singing our lungs out. I helped her move to Oregon 20 years ago in her stuffed-to-the-roof VW Rabbit. In quarantine, we have been exchanging lengthy, rambling video messages.

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It was, as they say, as if no time had passed. Early on, Madeleine and I would start our messages “Corona diary, day 4” or “day 5.” Susan and I would examine the sheer strangeness and unrelenting monotony of life in quarantine. Everything had abruptly changed. We needed something solid to cling to, and old friends are solid.

Lately, as we’ve acclimated to life at home, we marvel about the schism in American society, wonder about safety ahead, and dissect how people navigate the public sphere. But we’re just as likely to discuss work, family, and relationships, or to collapse in gales of laughter.

There’s comfort in these newly reopened lines of communication. I fret that when life resumes, when the calendar fills up again, that they’ll fall away. No doubt they will. But for now, in such an uncertain time, they are sustenance.


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.