“I’m in Asheville for four days,” Atom texted. “Is that close?”
Close enough, I thought.
What’s a few hours on the road, a hastily constructed itinerary and a last-minute, cheap motel room for a lifelong friend?
Atom was best man at my wedding. He and his wife lived with us after Hurricane Katrina. He was there the day my son was born at Touro Hospital; we both stared at the kid in silent amazement.
Before that, Atom was my running partner throughout my twenties. We were bartenders in New Orleans, which seemed like a very important job at the time — and, it should be said, still does, even though our days of spending long hours in bars is far behind us.
We were both young, both single (more or less), both making enough cash to do pretty much whatever we wanted, which at the time really wasn’t very much. We lived hard and fast, like princes in the city; we knew everybody; we have no regrets.
In the ensuing 25 years, we’ve both gotten married and started families. Atom went back to New Orleans a few months after Katrina — people born and raised in that city can rarely find happiness anywhere else. Life has knocked us both around pretty good, and our lives are so different now than they were then.
We see each other maybe every year. We interact a little on Facebook. We text. It is, of course, not the same.
My hope is that everyone knows the comfort and power that comes with seeing an old friend, the way we recognize each other through the years and fall so easily into that familiar cadence, how it feels like time travel, in a way.
But I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to have friendships that endure decades. Atom and I have seen each other grow from green young men into middle-aged fathers, mortgage-holders, lawnmower jockeys.
We don’t hang out in bars anymore. We spent a couple days driving the Blue Ridge Parkway; we ate a steak dinner; we sat on a park bench in downtown Asheville; we filled in the blanks and shored up the foundation.
That’s all it takes.
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