I’ve been staring at this page for over 30 minutes trying to think of a way to start the topic, but I find myself unable to do so. For some unknown reason, I can’t articulate what’s on my mind. It’s not that I don’t know what to say, because I do. It’s more like, I don’t know where to start or how. And that statement right there probably captures exactly what happened last night during a conversation with an old friend. I feel uneasy to even use the word “old” to refer to him. Something in me feels in denial. Have we been far off this long to refer to each other as ‘old friends’? Well, I found the answer last night during two conversations. One was his initiative, the other, mine.
I attended my friend Alpine’s commissioning last night at the national office of Campus Crusade, and the event was a formal one. I knew for certain that I was going to see him there but I didn’t think much about it. After all, there’s nothing to be nervous or uneasy about because we’re friends. True, we haven’t seen each other in over four years, and have since then lost communication. We do text from time to time (and I’d like to think these are feeble attempts to re-establish connection), but by communication I mean to say an open, honest, intentional getting to know between friends and being involved in their lives. It used to be that way for a time but since 2006, it’s been reduced to casual texts or simple prayer requests —and that’s far from my idea of what good communication is.
Unaware that he was going to approach me at any time, I went about my business, talked with friends, had dinner. Halfway through dinner time, he approached me. In his usual perky self, he said hi and expressed surprise at my being there and then asked how I was. (I saw some friends exchange teasing looks at the two of us but I was used to it. After all, they know the story).
Conversation starters are always tricky because if you’re not careful, you might show more emotion than you’d like to show, like nerves or excitement. But I was composed. I said hi back, said I was there as Alpine’s guest, and to cut any awkward moment that may arise in the course of the conversation, I introduced him to another friend who was under Alp’s discipleship chain. Now while all this was happening, I was seated on my chair. Feeling that I was a bit distant, I stood up to level myself with him and then he just said, “no, please, have your dinner first. Let’s just resume the talk later after the event.” (okay, that was verbatim).
Then he went back to his table and I went back to mine. After the event, more catching up was done with some friends and acquaintances I have not seen in a long time. BJ arrived 20 minutes before the closing, so we went around and mingled with friends. We made our way towards the stage to have our pictures taken with Alpine. I didn’t notice then that he was also close by because I was busy enjoying the pictorials.
Minutes later, we found ourselves engaged in another conversation, this time with BJ around. He thanked BJ for coming and asked a little about what he’s doing now. Admittedly, he and BJ aren’t that close, so there was not much to talk about and the answers were just one-liners. When everything has been asked and answered between two not-so-close people, then came the inevitable silence, the kind that begs for something drastic to happen to take us out from such an awkward conversation. It was like a *croo croo* moment. Usually, he’s good at this because he’s a warm, friendly person who can always break the ice at any time. But this was different. There was just more silence covered only by a few shy smiles from the three of us and the next few words he uttered gave us the cue that the conversation had just hit its most awkward point. Usually, that’s also my personal cue to make a joke to lighten up the moment but I didn’t proceed for fear it might make things more awkward.
So with that, we said our byes and left.
You know, I haven’t been in this situation for a long time. I haven’t found myself in a situation where I’m engaged in a conversation that I used to know so well, a conversation that used to be brimming with so much life, and now, it was like gasping for air and screaming take me out!
The lull in the conversation was so evident that even the smiles made the discomfort of the situation more poignant. I guess he also noticed that and attempted another try with a better ending by saying thank you one more time, but the whole thing just seemed forced.
Those awkward silences were enough to drive the point home. You know you’re already far from a friend when you meet after a long time and there’s not much to say anymore save for the usual pleasantries. We’re already strangers to each other. And that’s sad because it wasn’t always this way. I used to be able to share myself with him without inhibitions or reservations and I’d like to think he was that way, too. And there were hardly any awkward situations like these in the past because the communication lines were constant and open, and so regardless of how often we saw each other, there was always something to talk about.
But I guess four years is a really long time and we missed out on a lot. I am a little sad. The person I considered one of my closest guy friends is all but gone. I’m sure he’s still the same person, but it’s all different now between us. Reflecting on this only made me even more nostalgic.
So how do friends pick up from where they left off? Well, I found out that sometimes, they don’t. They start over again.
I just don’t know if that’s the case with us.