I have not seen Kristian for close to 20 years. Until today, that is. Back in Ontario for a month-long visit, he recently sent a group email to as many old friends as he could find and presto, a reunion was born.
Today, a handful of us gathered at Cobourg's Victoria Beach, our towels and children and memories in tow.
Kristian was one of my best friends throughout high school, living as we were in a tiny village - a hamlet, really - in Middle Of Nowhere, Ontario. Though we attended different high schools, we rode the same yellow bus and despaired of life in the boonies. We shared teenaged angst, confidences, pilfered beer, stolen cigarettes, romances-gone-bust, gas money and most importantly, friends.
His shock of red hair on a lanky frame made Kristian easy to spot in a crowd, on a soccer field or hiding behind the tallest tree in my parents' yard, as he, Jen and Rob waited for me to sneak out, long after dark. Throughout long, hot summers we would scramble into the night, tripping over ourselves and each other as we made our way to the park, just because. There we would play, like the children we were, swinging, sliding, laughing and chatting until the sky lightened or we grew weary of our games.
Memories like this assailed me as I drove to the beach this afternoon. I had forgotten those nights and all the days in between that made up our teenaged years. Today, remembering, I smiled, pleased that I'd had such a good friend in Kristian.
When high school ended, we drifted amicably apart - I went off to university and Kristian headed west, seeking his future. He landed in Alberta, where he has been ever since, building a life. He is a husband now. And a father of two. A contented, settled and confident man.
Today, I watched as Kristian dealt gently with his tired little boy - patiently coaxing him to sleep under the shade of a beach umbrella. Was touched, though not surprised, to find that he is an engaged and attentive father. The oldest of three boys, he was the same way with his brothers way back when, though he doesn't remember it the way I do.
"Did you always want to be a dad?" I asked, because suddenly, I couldn't recall. Kristian considered for a moment and then smiled at his wife, Ann.
"I don't know.Yeah, I suppose. I just didn't know for sure, until Ann."
We spoke for a long while about where our lives have taken us, how differently things have turned out, compared to our dreams of long ago.
"What the heck did we know, anyway?" Kristian laughed, remembering. "We knew nothing!"
Indeed, we knew very little but that was part of the magic. We were children then, simply pretending.
20 years later, we watched each other's children frolic on the sand and splash through the cool lake water - their own kind of magic. Dreams we didn't know we had, come true.
Around us, chatted other friends from our separate and shared lives. All of us asking each other, "Are you still in touch with So-and-So?" and "Whatever happened to Whatshername?" Slowly but surely, with lots of laughter, we filled in the bigger gaps left by time and distance.
Sarah and Becky, Kristian's prom date and once-upon-a-time-crush, respectively, have been in my life since grade school. Our stories are woven together in strange and beautiful ways and even though we communicate mostly through Facebook these days, I believe that we will always be connected. At least, I hope so.
Nikki and Katie went to high school with Kristian and while neither was part of my circle, I was on the fringe of both of theirs. Katie, as warm and friendly as her younger self, is in touch with practically everybody, it seems. And what she didn't know, still vibrant and funny Nikki did. T'was a delightful way to catch-up on the goings-on around town.
Sitting with them all, I realized that this is the real gift of small-town life: that there will always be people who knew you before you knew you. That old friends are the best keepers of childhood dreams and that it feels good to spend time in the past, especially if you spent it with good people.
And I did. Then....and now.
Thanks to Kristian, Sarah, Becky, Nikki and Katie for the gifts of time - past and present - and of friendship - then, now and in the future.
Let's not let another 20 years go by between visits, OK?
And you? Who do you miss?