When I was young, I had penpals. Some of them were cabinmates from sleepaway camp; we’d pledge our undying friendship during the last campfire, and we’d swear to write each other until the following summer brought us together again. I was penpal with a distant cousin who lived in California; we shared the same name and were the same age, and when we finally met each other in person, it was like we had always been friends. We exchanged letters for years after that; I told her things I couldn’t tell my neighbourhood friends. I wrote another cousin several times a month; we went through our teenage angst together and wrote about first cars and boyfriends and parties that got out of hand. I went through piles of stamps monogrammed stationary, given to me by my grandmother every year. Grandma got letters from me too. I loved writing letters and I loved receiving letters, and any chance I got I would pull out that scented notepaper with my name and address across the top.
I don’t write letters anymore. My monogrammed stationary has been replaced by an avatar picture and a cover photo. My penpals are the women in my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and my blog roll. We bloggers like to tell everybody everything, and we chat not about first cars and boyfriends and parties, but about our families and our celebrity crushes and our wine consumption. We talk about makeup and exercise and recipes, we talk about movies and books. Some I have met once or twice, some I have never met. Some become the kind of friends who lift you up when you’re down, who you can always count on for friendship and counselling. If we were thirteen, we would cut our fingers and become blood sisters, and then we would write letters until the next time we could be together.
I’ve been lucky enough to make connections – real connections – with women in every province in the country, and I’ve often dreamed of road-tripping across Canada, visiting those I know from Vancouver Island to PEI, from Southern Ontario to Flin Flon, Manitoba.
I was telling my husband about my dream of road-tripping, not only across Canada, but in the United States as well. When the boys fly the nest, I told him, we could drive all over the States and visit all my “penpals” who are scattered across the country. We’d visit Eryn in Washington State, Maggie in Oregon, and Mary and Terry in California. We’d see Sharon in Cincinnati and pop in to see Mike and Sandy in Michigan and Gretchen in Colorado. We’d see Kate and Leah in New Hampshire, Karen in Massachusetts and Cherie in Maine. We’d eat fresh vegetables at Trish’s farm in upstate New York, and go to Pennsylvania where we’d visit with Sarah and Sherri. In Maryland we’d see Steph and her family. We’d see the Washington monuments with Kimberly and have a coffee with Cara, hopefully when the cherry blossoms were in bloom. We’d spend ages at Liv’s in Georgia, exhausting her Southern hospitality and sipping bourbon, and we’d talk all the live long day about everything. We could see the goats and chickens at Stephanie’s in Alabama. We’d spend some time visiting my husband’s friends in Texas, but while we were there we would definitely make the time to go and see Alison.
But then, you see, Alison died this week.
Alison was one of my first friends on Twitter. She was a frequent commenter on this blog, and she wrote a blog herself, which I always enjoyed. She was a lovely, kind person who never had a bad thing to say about anyone. She was encouraging, she was positive, she loved talking about trends from our teen years, and she looked beautiful in bright colours. But she’s gone now, and I wish I had the chance to tell her that I valued our friendship. I wish, instead of talking about eye cream and tangerine tops, I had told her that she mattered to me, that she was a good friend, that I admired her.
I don’t think I ever did. So she will never know that her passing has left a gap in my life, and that I will miss her dearly.
After I turned forty, I realized that I needed to make more effort with people. We are all busy, we are all tired, we all have crazy schedules and hectic days. But as I told one of my dearest friends, if I can’t make time for one coffee a month with the girls in the neighbourhood, I need to re-examine my life. In six months I won’t remember what deadline I was working towards, but I will remember missing a friend’s birthday lunch. And just as I have strived to make more effort with the people I have the opportunity to see often, I am striving to make more effort to let the people I don’t get to see know what they mean to me.
When Alison passed, I was having drinks and laughs with my colleagues and friends in Toronto. I had spent the week prior to that busy, busy, busy. So busy I didn’t notice that I hadn’t heard from her in a few days.
Always make the time.
I care about you.
You are valued and you matter.
You will not be forgotten.