Tribe

Aïda Rogers

Posted 5/30/24 (Updated 6/5/24)

By Aïda Rogers

When you think about it, friendship is a mysterious thing. I’ve been pondering it ever since a group of mine gathered for five days of nonstop togetherness after 34 years apart. We had all seen or spoken with each other individually and there had been an overnighter here and there, a shared vacation of two couples, but for the original five of us, from the days when we were single and scraping by, it hadn’t happened.

Then when it did, you couldn’t pry us apart.

What is it about a group of people who just happened to meet through work and stay together, though separately, for decades? Anyone listening to the chatter would have said, “Movies. They share a serious love of movies.” But really, only three of us can remember lines of dialogue, specific scenes, names of directors and producers.

“Profession,” someone else might have said. “They all worked in media.” True. But two of us have retired and the other three have detoured from that path. Deadlines don’t mean what they used to.

Provided

“History,” another could have observed. “They had a singular experience and that drew them together.” Also true, and yet: All five of us weren’t on each of those three trips to Quebec. Can a place, or travel, really turn strangers into friends?

Allen brought photos of us from that work trip in 1990. Was that us looking so young, so doughy, so unformed? Coming our way was the avalanche of life: marriages, divorces, children, layoffs, moves, the loss of parents and siblings, a heart attack, and for one of us, the shocking death of an adored wife in a tragic accident. Allen and I drove 200-some miles to be with Mark when Susan’s life, over at age 40, was celebrated.

Our recent reunion was a celebration too, and it could be summed up in one word: talk. We talked from seven in the morning to way past midnight, mostly on a porch under ceiling fans

in a circle of mismatched chairs. We talked through 12 meals and four happy hours, went through countless pots of coffee and more than a few summer cocktails. We talked on walks through cemeteries and parks and yacked our way through beautiful neighborhoods we never saw, so great was our need not to catch up so much as to be together. Sometimes we were serious, but mostly we weren’t. We solved no problems. We rarely reminisced. We listened to birds and tried to figure out what they were. If we repeated ourselves, nobody cared.

“Can you believe we’re not sick of being together?” Steve asked on Day 4. “Maybe we should marry each other.”

A joke, but maybe we already have married each other, in the way that we can. Does it really matter that three of us are in different parts of South Carolina and one is in Michigan, the other in Iowa? Is friendship time and place-dependent?

Of course not. As Greg put it, “Good friends make a life.”

The photos we remembered to take prove the passage of years. Greg’s hair has gone white and some of Allen’s has gone missing. That doughy, unformed look is gone. But boy, do we look happy.

It’s senseless to wonder how people come together and why they don’t let each other go. Friendship just is. What a gift.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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