Friend of My Youth Group
I hadn’t seen Ari for seven years but I remembered him well. Actually I remembered him in nostalgic and probably inaccurate detail. I remembered us on a youth group tour of Israel, sitting on lawn chairs outside the hostel in Jerusalem. I remembered that Ari was optimistic, athletic, with dark curly hair. On long bus rides we fell asleep listening to Coldplay (very alternative and cool) on his iPod. This was a simpler time: we shared one electronic device between the two of us—one set of headphones. We had only 300 songs to last us through our leisure-trek through the desert.
For seven years Ari and I exchanged occasional emails. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. We had passed the point where it was comfortable to travel for the purpose of seeing each other. But circumstances lined up and seven years after we’d parted at Newark Airport, I was on my way to see him. I was not headed to Israel, where I had fantasized our reunion would take place, but to gray, rainy Seattle. At seventeen I had gone to sleep missing Ari and tearfully listening to Coldplay. At 24 there were other men to mourn and other sources of reminiscing. But I still felt that this Seattle visit was of cosmic importance.
Ari, who was shorter than I remembered, came to meet me in the lobby of his building like this was no big deal. He showed me his small, impeccably neat, one-bedroom apartment. I had not remembered him being so neat or having all his clothing folded so perfectly and the shampoo bottles in the bathroom lined up so accurately in height order. I noticed a copy of Alice Munro’s “Friend of my Youth” sitting on the coffee table, which I hoped was coincidental. I was somehow surprised to find that our romantic chemistry was gone.
It felt awkward so we went for a drink at a bar down the street. Discussing the old days and getting a whiskey felt like acting out a scene from a Saul Bellow novel I once read about an aging Chicago native in Belarus who happens upon his childhood friend. It felt silly to reminisce about seven years prior.
There were a lot of do-you-remember questions like “Do you remember sitting on the balcony at the hostel in Jerusalem?” or “Do you remember the Russian kid, Vladimir, who didn’t integrate with the Skokie kids so well?” or “Do you remember when we had to do that reenactment of the Palmach missions on the beach near Haifa? And you were on the European refugee team and I was a British officer?”