Parents Talk Back

Parents Talk Back: Lessons learned during reunion with childhood pal

March 3, 2014 

The minute I got bumped from my return flight, the thought crossed my mind that fate may be conspiring to grant a wish.

I had told my husband, when he drove me to the airport for this trip with my sisters, that this would be the year that I would actively try to visit a few dear friends I hadn’t seen in decades – my best friends from childhood and high school.

So many friendships are born of convenience, of our proximity to the people in our neighborhoods, schools, churches and workplaces. And even in this highly connected digital age, when people move away, the nature of those friendships change.

You can’t just show up at the doorstep with good or bad news or when you’re simply bored. When most of your travel is done to visit families and for work, a trip to visit an old friend, not prompted by a major life event, can be impossible to work into the schedule.

I met Kauser 30 years ago during our weekend religious instruction at the mosque. At first, we appeared to have nothing in common: She was born in Pakistan and came to America when she was 5. I had been born here. She was the youngest in her family, a social butterfly and wild child. I was the eldest, nerdy and pretty hopelessly square. We didn’t attend the same school or travel in similar social circles.

But we both loved to laugh, and brought out a side of each other that most didn’t see.

With her, I talked about boys, not books. We spent hours on the phone through those turbulent middle school years. We spent weekends together at the mosque in Houston.

She moved to Dallas right before we started high school. Even though I wouldn’t see her as often, she was the sort of person who made an effort to keep in touch. She wrote notes and sent cards long before Facebook reminders nudged us to post birthday greetings on virtual walls.

Twice a year, on her birthday and mine, we would set aside a good part of the evening to catch up on the phone. She came to my wedding, and I was a part of hers a decade ago.

That was the last time we actually saw one another, despite my frequent trips to see my family in Houston. The stars never quite aligned for us to be in the same city at the same time.

And then, last weekend, Southwest Airlines oversold my return flight to St. Louis. I volunteered for another flight that would take me through Dallas, but then that flight was delayed more than an hour, leaving me just minutes to make the connection to St. Louis.

When I saw the delay, I wondered if the wish I had spoken two days earlier to my husband had mysteriously been heard.

I texted Kauser and told her I was flying through Dallas and might miss my connection.

“If I end up staying overnight, please come see me,” I wrote. She asked for my travel information and said she would keep an eye on the flights.

En route to Dallas, I asked the flight attendant what my chances were of making my connection. She assured me the crew would wait since it was the last flight out that night and my previous flight had been delayed.

“We waited half an hour for a passenger yesterday,” she said.

As we got closer to landing, I turned my phone on and saw a message that had been sent minutes earlier: “I’m here. I just need to find you.”

I smiled and shook my head. Why did she drive half an hour out to the airport on a chance?

“Where are you?” I wrote back. “I’m still in the air. We haven’t even landed.”

“Girl, you better turn that phone off before I tell the pilot!”

Kauser said she was waiting down by the baggage claim, and I kept texting her updates: “We’ve landed, but I’m still on the plane.”

“It’s boarding,” she wrote back about my connecting flight. She told me I was landing at Gate 7 and needed to race to Gate 3 to make the connection.

I sort of rushed to Gate 3. The ticker above the gate didn’t say St. Louis.

“Haha! It already departed!!!” my friend texted.

The gate agent apologized and booked me on a flight for the next morning.

I walked down to the baggage claim, stopping to reapply some lip gloss and fix my hair.

We hugged each other tightly when we met. There is a joy in being able to physically hold a person you have known and loved for such a long time.

“The airline gave me a voucher for a hotel,” I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me.

“And what exactly do you want to do with that?”

She drove me to her house and made me eat a late dinner. So much in our lives had changed in the past decade, but the ease of our conversation was the same.

While I was eating, she brought out a cheap porcelain figurine I had given her in 1987, the year we turned 13, the year she moved. On the bottom, I had scrawled in pencil: “Remember: You may look ‘picture perfect’ on the outside, but it’s on the inside what counts. Love ya lots.”

In the course of the next 27 years, I figured out what counted.

Some friendships last a season.

Others are meant for a lifetime.

Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.

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