Friendship remained as two roads diverged

March 05, 2000|By Susan Reimer

Bev introduced me as a friend of 30 years, flattering me. When we met, I was a student in college and she was a young administrator. I became her charge, her patient, her child, her responsibility, her cross to bear, her acolyte, perhaps. Friend was something I aspired to be.

It was her retirement party, although she never used that term. More like a "work-life course correction" party. I know she longs to garden at her weekend home in the Shenandoah Mountains, but it is doubtful that she will go from hard-charging lawyer-lobbyist to full stop. She may work differently, but probably not much less.

Bev taught me so much, I said when it was my turn to lift a glass to her. How to make soup, how to be a journalist, how to garden, how to be a feminist, how to weave, how to be a hostess, casual and gracious. She bought me my first pottery. She fed me when I was broke and steeled me with courage when I broke down. She was a mentor to me before there was such a concept.

I thought I would weep and so I concluded with a joke. "Life carried us in different directions. Bev got a golden parachute, and I got two kids."

I sat down, and my hands trembled. I was feeling disoriented. Driving in the labyrinth of Washington, D.C., had unnerved me. The hole in my pantyhose had defeated me. The ringing of my cell phone had rattled me, and the argument between my children that I was forced to mediate long-distance reminded me that I was not where I was supposed to be. I was dislocated, out of my context, out of the familiar.

As it was for the traveler in Robert Frost's poem, "two roads diverged in the yellow wood" of Ohio University 30 years ago. "Both were worn about the same, but both lay in leaves no step had trodden black." Neither of us could see much beyond the bend.

Bev went on to be part of the early surge of women into law school and I, among the first big crop of women journalists. Pioneers of a sort, she would make her mark in business and politics and I would make it up as I went along in the emerging field of working motherhood.

I helped her move from her Capitol Hill rowhouse to a grand home in Northwest Washington as she prospered, and she was the first to visit me when my first child was born. But as our roads diverged, we were less and less within hailing distance of each other and years passed with only Christmas cards.

Bev has two dogs and has hired a dog-walker. I have two kids, and my baby-sitter has morphed into my children's chauffeur. Bev makes as many airplane trips as I do trips to the grocery store. She has a weekend home in the country. I retreat to the community pool. She and her husband work so hard that they admit to hardly seeing each other. Mine and I have adjusted our shifts to better cover the kids, and we intersect when we sleep. These days, Bev and I might share only a wish to be where we are not, to be with whom we are not.

I do not regret the road I took and I am certain Bev does not regret her choice. But on the night when we celebrated that choice and her success, I was back again at Ohio University, in her cozy office, my hands cupped around a mug of tea. Her fingers would flutter gracefully in front of her as she talked me down out of my latest tree. She was so wise, so patient, so generous. All these years later, I think I am still that needy young woman.

Our roads diverged in the wood. And that, not the one each chose, has made all the difference.

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