There’s a line from the movie “Stand By Me,” a line written by Stephen King, which says “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was 12 years old.”
I have thought about that line a lot recently. It seems more true than ever.
Like most of you, I’ve made many friends as an adult. They are, in my eyes, wonderful people. Great senses of humor. Admirable. Compassionate.
But I realize this: I have never wrestled them in the basement. I have never locked their arms and rolled down a grassy hill. I have never grasped them from behind on a bicycle seat, or lain on top of them on a sled. I have never really touched them, except to shake hands or pat their backs. I am restrained. I am polite. I am an adult. I keep my distance.
I think that has something to do with why the friends we make in our grown-up years are never as close as the ones we make as kids. The things we share are cerebral. We talk. We joke. But we don’t play tag or buddy-up in a swimming pool. We don’t sneak into the fridge and scoop frosting with our fingers.
We are connected as adults, but not intertwined. It’s the difference between the insides of an organized closet and the insides of a high school locker. The first is put together. The second is, by nature, all over itself.
We were all over ourselves as kids.
And then we grew up. Something is lacking
How many times have you heard this sentence? “Whenever I see (fill in name), even if we haven’t seen each other in years, it’s like we haven’t missed a beat, we just pick up where we left off.”
Childhood friends, right?
Isn’t it strange? If you add up the total years you spend as a child, taking away your baby years, it’s what? Fourteen? Fifteen? Most of us have been “adults” at least twice as long as that, some of us even 40 or 50 years. We can drive from place to place. We can fly, we can use the phone freely, we can fax, we can telegram — all these means of communication we never had as children.
And yet, something is lacking in our adult friends, as great as they are, that certain closeness with the chums of our youth.
I have an idea what it is. For one thing, with adult friends, you talk about money, cars, careers, who’s making what; you talk about what a good deal you got on this or that. We never talked about deals when we were kids. What kind of deals? Someone got his Popsicle cheaper than we did?
Also, adults come in pairs. There are often wives to go with the husbands, and husbands to go with the wives. You can like one and not like the other, but chances are that friendship won’t last.
And of course, there’s the time factor. Most adult friends have jobs and families. So plans must be made. Fun must be scheduled. The friendship is compartmentalized to evenings and weekends.
But that’s still not the biggest reason. Seeing ourselves
The biggest reason is this: As children, we didn’t know it all. Experiences were new. Emotions were fresh. And we discovered them with our friends.
We learned to fear the teacher with our friends right beside us. We learned the thrill of snowfall with our friends right beside is. Our first boy-girl kiss games, our first concerts, our first time driving the car without Mom or Dad — our friends were right beside us. We can look at them today and burst out laughing, or crying, or just shaking our heads at the simplest thing.
Because when we see them, we see ourselves.
We see ourselves in simpler times, when we didn’t have a mortgage, a boss, or a plane to catch. We like the image. We want to cherish it. So we cherish them.
It’s funny. Growing up, my childhood gathering place was the curb near my house. In the heat of a restless summer afternoon, in the cool sunset of an after school evening, my friends and I would sit on that curb, talking about the future.
And now that I’m older, doing all those things we talked about, you know what I miss the most?
That’s what I see when I see my old friends. I am embraced by memory. I am home. This week is Thanksgiving, a chance for many of us to reconnect with old pals. And for those who do, the conversations will be more emotional, the laughter will be more rubust.
Stephen King wrote a follow-up sentence to that quote I mentioned, the one that reads “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was 12 years old.” The sentence is this: “Jesus, does anyone?”
I know the answer. The answer is no.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Fab Five,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Borders in Ann Arbor.