“The moon is slowly drifting away from us.”
I am at my desk reading this in “Interesting Facts,” an e-mail that pops up in my news feed every morning. I’m a sucker for interesting facts. I copy and paste the best of them into my notes because as interesting as a fact may be (100 lightning strikes hit the Earth’s surface every second!), I forget it minutes after I’ve sworn I’ll remember it forever.
Alaska has the most volcanoes of any US state.
New Jersey has the most malls per square mile.
Rats exposed to music bop their heads. leading scientists to believe that they — rats, not scientists — may have a sense of rhythm.
All human beings are 99.9 percent identical genetically.
The average cumulus cloud weighs 1.1 million pounds.
How can you not love these random pieces of information?
But today’s fact — that the moon is slowly drifting away from us — is different. It feels more disturbing than interesting, and less like fact than metaphor. It feels like a warning, too. “Pay attention,” it demands. What else is drifting away?”
I go back to reading about the moon and its ongoing retreat in search of reasons why it is inching away. But “orbital rotation” and “protoplanet” and “gravitational pull” are all lost on me. “Drifting away” are the words that have hooked me. Drifting away has its own gravitational pull.
My high school friend Maureen drifted away. She was my constant companion when we were 14 and 15. My father drove us to school every morning. We took the bus and train into Boston on Saturdays to shop at Filene’s basement or to sneak into a movie theater on Tremont Street. On Sundays, we went to Mass together at St. Bernadette in Randolph. I was a witness at her wedding. I am her daughter Barbara’s godmother.
What happened that I hardly saw her the whole rest of her life? She came to my house a few times when her children were small. I went to her 25th wedding anniversary party, to a cookout at her house in Marshfield, and to her funeral.
But I did not go to any of her family celebrations nor did she come to mine. I didn’t attend her second wedding. I’m not sure I knew she remarried until she’d been remarried for years.
We were thick as thieves once. And then we drifted apart.
I played racquetball for most of my 30s with a girl named Trish. We weren’t exactly girls but we referred to each other that way. Trish and I would have lunch together. She came to my house. I went to hers. We weren’t best friends. But we were friends.
When did I lose track of her? When I stopped playing racquetball? When the club closed? Whatever happened to all those people I saw twice a week for more than 10 years? Let’s keep in touch, we said. But didn’t.
And then there’s Julia. I saw her almost every day 25 years ago. She was my mother-in-law’s young, widowed next-door neighbor. She and her son, Jeffrey, who was a toddler, visited my mother-in-law regularly. Julia invited her over for dinner some nights. When my mother-in-law had her legs amputated, Julia wheeled her over for dinner. She kept a baby monitor in her house so that if my mother-in-law fell, Julia would hear. When she married again and had her second child, she named her Megan in honor of my mother-in-law Margaret,
Julia lives only 2 miles from me. You would think we’d be in touch. But we aren’t. We see each other at town events, and every year on Jan. 5, the day my mother-in-law died, we text or talk. But that’s pretty much it. We promise to get together. But we don’t.
There’s an old saying about people coming into your life for a season or a reason. And it’s a nice thought. But maybe the reason friends come and go is this:
My mother-in-law was Julia’s and my moon. She was the gravitational pull that drew us, not toward each other but to her. And when she ceased to be, that force ceased to be, too.
Maureen’s and my moon was high school. Trish’s and my moon was racquetball. Clubs. Groups. Church. Raising children together. Community, shared experience. The things we do side by side pull us close and for a while we become close. But when we leave the community or when the club no longer exists? When the moon recedes?
“It’s easy to take the moon for granted, even on a clear night when it can light up the sky,” I read.
Friends light up the sky, too. So why don’t we notice the dimming of the light? Why don’t we notice until they are gone, friends who, like the moon, silently drift away?
Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.