Archived Opinion

An old friend comes for what I hope is a short visit

A good friend of old came to stay last week. A great respecter of proper etiquette, she provided ample warning of her pending arrival, noting that she planned on getting in midweek and staying for the foreseeable future.

That bold presumption of welcome might seem strange unless I explain how close and intertwined we are as friends. This is someone that I truly can refuse nothing. We go a long way back — there are decades of intimate times and shared memories. This is a friend who has helped mark the passages of my life; we are so close as to be virtually one.

I don’t mean to imply that she’s overstayed her welcome, though between you and me I do keep dropping hints that perhaps it is time to call this visit to an end — there are things I want, even need, to do. A guest, no matter how inconspicuous in habits and unassuming in manners, still requires attention and care.

But I admit that she really isn’t a bad houseguest, as houseguests go. She is amazingly patient regarding the three cats, for example. I know they must keep her up some nights, with their chasing and romping and determination to curl up on top of any available lap, particularly a lap as ample as hers. She is a big woman, huge even. Despite her looming presence she takes up surprisingly little room in the tiny cabin that, these days, I call home. Her baggage, however, is something else again.

She’d emphasized that I wasn’t to go to ANY SPECIAL TROUBLE in an email I’d received about her impending visit (she likes a little drama, not too much but just enough to spice up situations, hence the capital letters). The futon downstairs would be FINE for her, and she’d SHOP FOR HERSELF and perhaps even COOK ME DINNERS in the evenings on those nights I didn’t have meetings. It would be FUN, she wrote, a lot of REALLY GOOD FUN to sit around and chat and reminisce.

She knows my ways of old, and asked if I believed still that chicken potpies are the proper diet of the gourmand. If so, she’d make some for me from scratch. She’d roll out the dough, use free-range chicken and organic vegetables, and generally do them up right. Perhaps, she wrote, they’d rival those I’d eaten with such relish years ago in Pennsylvania Dutch country, land of the greatest potpies on earth. Not many people, only this true friend in fact, know these sorts of details about me; or care to know them, for that matter. Who else would remember I’m a fool for chicken potpies made by the Amish in Lancaster County, Penn.?  

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I could tell that she really wanted our visit to be special and unforgettable.

Reluctantly, I wrote back to let my friend know that I’d sworn off meat. Chicken potpies, unfortunately, were taboo to my dinner plate for now. I made sure to emphasize how generous her offer truly was, particularly the whole chicken-potpie-from-scratch-bit. But I suggested that this might not be such a good time to visit. I was really busy, I wrote, what with work and exercise and reading and trying to write beyond what was strictly required for the newspaper. I finally felt that there was some space in my life to get stuff done, those things that she knew I’d dreamt my entire adult life about doing: running trail races, hiking and camping, writing fiction, playing music again.

But she wouldn’t be deterred. She was absolutely, irrevocably determined that we spend some quality time together, one-on-one, catching up on all those good times we’d had and creating some new memories together. It had been too long, she wrote, for friends such as us to be parted.

I was to expect her. It was simply no good to argue. And she indeed arrived, with an immense amount of luggage, piles and piles of it. There was so much baggage I couldn’t conceive of where we’d store it in the cabin. There were perhaps six bags and two or three trunks. The bags and trunks seemed really heavy when I helped carry them in through the door.

“What in the world did you bring?” I asked her a bit nervously. “Oh,” she replied airily, “nothing you’ve not seen me in before. Though there are a couple of new things that I believe you’ll enjoy.”

I felt her presence in my life immediately. Even during those times without her at work, or while attending dinner parties or other social events that had been prescheduled before her arrival, I could, as of old, feel my good friend right there with me.

Perhaps, I thought, this is how twins feel. That even when apart, they are never really separate — it has been a familiar feeling, at times even slightly seductive, to once again experience such a truly intimate relationship. I haven’t experienced deep understanding like this in quite some time.

As I write this, my good friend remains in my cabin, with her bags and trunks stacked high. There is just enough room for me to walk and find my own space apart from her. Although the paths are narrow and hard to navigate, I’ve dealt with piles of her luggage before. I know that there are ways through the baggage. Perseverance counts in situations like these, a bit of grit and get-up-and-go, some faith, hope and confidence.

My friend, I’m happy to report, recently put nametags on her luggage, the only trouble being that she has always gone by so many different names: Melancholia, Gloom, Despair, Woe, and others. Now I know why she carries so much baggage.

At least, though, this leads me to believe that she might intend to take them up and depart sometime soon.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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