Friday, January 4, 2013

When Your Friends Become Your Family

Every once in a while, I steal a peak at my nephew's Facebook page.  He's in his early twenties, and the online life he's leading is WAY different than mine.  For one thing, he's got far more friends.  They write almost exclusively about what appear to be inside jokes.  In other words, they're speaking a language I don't quite understand.  I wonder, as I browse his page, how many of these 1,000 + individuals are his "actual" friends.  The reason I wonder this is because I remember, so fondly, my own friendships from that time in my life.  It's a bit of a cliche to say it, but when you're in your 20's, your family -- the one you grew up with -- recedes into the background, while a select group of friends comes to the fore.  In essence, these folks become your family.

I was lucky enough to have a few special groups of friends.  In college, we lived first in dormitories, then in a collection of thin-walled, over-priced apartments off campus.  There was talk at one time of trying to rent an entire house together, a proposition that excited and intrigued me.  Doonesbury was one of my favorite comic strips at the time, and I liked the idea of having a "Walden" where my friends and I could regenerate in a kind of self-selected, co-ed fraternity.

For whatever reason, our commune never came to be, but it didn't matter much:  Just because we lived in separate places didn't make that group any less of a family.  In fact, I'm still in close contact with many of my college friends today.

And I did get to live my commune fantasy eventually, if only briefly, when I lived in a place I've written about before -- the Cava de San Miguel apartment in Madrid, Spain.  Those friendships, with an international flair now (Spaniards, Italians, Americans, Germans and Dutch came together in that place), were part of what made that spectacular flat so special.  Granted, the relationship that brought me there was falling apart, and I was carrying around some pretty heavy grief at that time in my life, but I still enjoyed the sense of community in that sprawling old Madrid apartment.  I'll never live anywhere like it again.

Fast forward a few years, and I am a young man waking up from a failed marriage, in need of a place to lick his wounds.  Other friends, in similar moments of their lives, have found a summer house in a place with the rather magical name of Big Indian, New York.  The drafty farm house provided a lovely sanctuary for all of us, and we had some wonderful times that summer of 1993.  The experience in the house in the Catskills was the closest I've come to a commune and to the Doonesbury Walden experience, complete with my own "puddle" (actually a little bend in the Esopus River, that provided a perfect soaking tub) in which I could luxuriate on hot days, thinking about nothing more than how much I was enjoying the time with my friends.

Of course, as with all things, I look at my two young sons and wonder what sorts of communal experiences they will have when they're older.  Jackson is the social butterfly.  In a way, his entire life has been one big commune; the moment he walks in the door, anywhere he goes, it seems, the hellos start coming.  Diego might be less likely to want to share his space with others.

Who knows, though?  Like me, he may find himself one day surrounded by a small group of friends who, for that brief moment, become his family.  I could see myself visiting him -- in my sixties now -- smiling, and wondering, as I listen to their code-like banter, just what the hell my son and his friends are talking about.

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