Thirty years ago this month, I said good-bye to a friend for the last time.
It was short and far from meaningful. It was finals week, and I caught her at very stressful moment. I left campus a few days later, and she spent the following semester abroad. I didn’t have her address or number in London, but in truth I probably wouldn’t have written or called. I figured we’d catch up when she got back.
We never did.
My friend Karen was one of the 35 Syracuse University students who died in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
College is very communal and a socially multi-faceted experience. I had friends from my dorm floor. I had friends from class. I had friends from the student newspaper. I had friends who were friends of friends. A lot of those people could more accurately be classified as “acquaintances,” but when you’re away from home and everything familiar, you’ll lower your guard and bump up an “acquaintance” to “friend” to make things more social. Where it goes from there depends on the person and how friendly they want to be.
Well, Karen was friendly with everyone, and her absence was profoundly felt.
For all the structures that attempt to make grieving so communal, it always feels so personal. I felt guilty for missing her. I wasn’t her boyfriend. I wasn’t family. I wasn’t in her social circle. I was just some guy from the dorm who talked her ear off every Saturday morning when she worked the information desk. The day before she died I hadn’t spoken to her in seven months. After Dec. 21, 1988, I could never speak to her again.
Over the years, I have made and lost touch with many friends and acquaintances, some of whom presently live in Suffield. Thanks to social media, I can keep tabs on them, even some of the bumped-up friends from college. I see their families, vacations and cherished moments.
I imagine had there been no Pan Am Flight 103 that I probably would’ve been Facebook friends with Karen. She’d be 50 and posting photos of her kids in graduation gowns. I picture her marrying her college sweetheart and proudly posting his artwork. Maybe we’d trade birthday greetings and “like” each other’s photos of our kids.
But, 30 years later since we last spoke, I just have a few photographs and some wonderful memories. In them, she is forever friendly. She is forever honest. She is forever young. And, she is forever waiting for us to catch up.