Relationships

The Incredible Luck of Having One True Friend

People come into our lives and then leave for lots of reasons, but a true friend is rare and forever

Mom always said, "If you have one true friend in life, consider yourself lucky." I didn't get it. I was young and collected friends as easily as some people accumulate refrigerator magnets.

I had my high school friends. My college pals. Work buddies. My artsy bohemian friends. My moneyed professionals. (Always good to have a doctor or lawyer on speed dial.) People I met backpacking in Europe and South America. And boys. Always boys! Men came later. The notion that my vast circle of friends would someday shrink down to one person was as unthinkable to me as it would be now to any self-respecting teenager who's got over 1,000 Twitter followers.

Officially, Jane had never been my "bestie." That distinction went to a piece of work I befriended during a fire drill in 10th grade named Suzie. In college, I was still best buds with Suzie. Jane was on the fringe of my crowd, but she was the first to marry, which gave her special status. She met her husband Nicky, an Al Pacino look-alike, when they were 19. Too young to get their parents' blessings, they secretly ran off and got married while continuing to live in their respective families' homes until graduation. Everyone was sleeping around or living with someone, but Jane was married.

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A few years later, Jane had the distinction of being the first in our crowd to get divorced. It hardly caused a ripple. She had no children and was in her mid-twenties, an age where most of us were still trying to figure out our next move. Art school or Wall Street? A secure teaching position or an ashram in Nepal? It was at that tenuous juncture that our friendship deepened.

I had just bailed out of a rocky relationship and dead-end job in Boston, retreating to my parent's suburban Philadelphia home. Jane was in the same leaky boat. She had just left Nicky and her frenetic Manhattan lifestyle to return to the deadly calm of her family's antique-filled split-level. We both craved excitement. We found it in each another.

Nothing cements friendship like shared misbehavior. We didn't rob banks, steal cars or dance naked on bar tops. Nothing we did was illegal, per se. Strictly consenting adults. But I'm pretty sure we broke several commandments, a couple of hearts and perhaps there was a moving violation or two. (Still not sure what the state of New Jersey has to say about sex while driving through toll booths.)

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Our bond continued even as we matured out of our "Thelma & Louise" phase and went our separate ways. Jane got a masters degree, a business suit and a job. I found a gig in the fashion industry in New York. Around this time, I began to see hairline fissures in my friendships that would eventually develop into major earthquakes.

Sometimes, it was because my friends married people I found intolerable: drunks, drug addicts, Amway salesmen. Or because they changed in ways I couldn't fathom. The singer/songwriter who became the realtor of the month. (Goodbye, Suzie!) The MIT physicist who joined a cult in New Mexico and was waiting for the mothership.

For the next 20 years, Jane and I rarely lived in the same city. Our lives had little in common. Admittedly, I was resistant to settling down, constantly moving from coast to coast. Jane was more stable. My furniture was Ikea, always just an impulse away from a yard sale. Hers was Ethan Allen. And, yet, Jane was always available on the other end of a long distance call to applaud my successes and soothe my fears. So when she announced she was getting married again, this time to a female psychologist, I was thrilled for her. As the Pope said, "Who am I to judge?"

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Now that we are in our sixties, Jane and I have moved beyond friendship. We've become family. We toast one another's birthdays. We attend shivas. We express our gratitude at Thanksgiving. Recently, Jane gave me her mom's sumptuous black mink jacket.

"She'd want you to have it," she said.

I never had a mink. I never wanted one. This mink is different. It doesn't just make me feel warm in freezing weather. It makes me feel loved.

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