My friend Fran died 10 years ago on Valentine’s day. As I say this to mutual friends we all sigh. “Has it really been that long?” we wonder.
We met when I started a new job in the counseling center of the university where she was EAP coordinator. Our friendship developed over the next year or two and we were friends through all the ups and downs of mid-life: Her divorce and then new love and remarriage; my career searching, grad school, new job; parents’ deaths, kids’ struggles and successes, and finally, for Fran, in her early fifties, a brief and painful journey through cancer.
Fran and I shared a love of books, writing, and music. We sang together in a community chorus, bravely ventured to weekend vocal music workshops that pushed us each out of our musical comfort zones, took part in a multi session workshop on vocal improvisation. The riskier musical adventures were usually spurred on by Fran and with a loud gulp of apprehension, I’d say, Yes, sure, let’s sign up for that and then be glad I’d done so.
We also shared a love of being in water and would meet up with each other late in the afternoon on summer days to swim in a nearby pond. We’d meet on the grassy shore, drop towels on the ground and slip out of sandals, sit on the retaining wall and lower ourselves into the cold water. All along we talked (“gabbed” as Fran said) about what we’d been up to since we last met—Fran at work in the EAP office and at home with family, me with the summer off, saying I’d use the time to write but more likely gardening and reading, going for walks, chatting with the neighbors.
Conversation would pause as we plunged into the cold water and set out with our strong crawl strokes, bodies slicing through the cold. I would soon switch to the breast stroke and Fran would flip onto her back. “The top two inches are warm,” she’d say. We’d move at a leisurely pace for a while, a stately breast stroke, then rolling onto backs to scull along, then side stroke—these all allowed us to keep the conversation going—about everything and nothing, good friends, connecting as friends do, sharing the dailiness of our lives, keeping the bond strong.
Soon one of us, often me, would tire of swimming with head out of water, and we’d take off again with the crawl stroke, covering distance, warming up, reveling in the pull of shoulder muscles, the strength of our legs.
Then another pause at the halfway point. Both shores looked very far away and I’d feel a frisson of anxiety, aware of how deep the water was. But I knew Fran was there just as I was there for her and the distance and depth were no longer daunting.
We’d swim at a leisurely pace for awhile, not talking now, pulling closer to the opposite shore. Warm sun. Swallows and dragon flies darting around us. Kids’ voices sounding from the approaching shore and soon I realized I could touch ground. We’d wade in close to shore and sit submerged for a few minutes before one of us, usually Fran, set out again as we made our way back to the other shore.