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Why I Hold On Tight to Old Friends

One of the biggest arguments I ever had with my father was over a corned-beef sandwich.

I had just graduated from college and was living at my parents’ house in Queens while working in New York City. One evening, my mom picked me up from the train station, and I asked her what she’d made for dinner. I wasn’t thrilled with what she said, and so I asked her to stop at the deli so I could grab a corned-beef sandwich. 

When I got home, my dad greeted me. He started asking a million questions about my day, but before I could answer, he noticed the sandwich.

“Why do you have a sandwich? Mom made dinner,” he said.

“Wasn’t in the mood for chicken,” I said.

All I wanted was to change my clothes, eat my sandwich, and watch 90210. But my dad and I wound up in a screaming match over that sandwich. I called my friend Elena to come pick me up, grabbed some clothes, and ran out when I heard her honk, leaving the sandwich behind. I spent the rest of the evening with Elena and our friend Debbie at the 24-hour diner, eating fries with gravy and complaining about how infuriating our parents were.

It’s the kind of story you had to be there to fully understand. And Debbie and Elena were.

The three of us met in middle school and grew up together. We went to the same school, attended the same parties, and spent many weekends staying up way too late talking. When we left each other for college, we cried. Our friendships continued, but we saw each other less often and long-distance rates kept us from even speaking much. When we graduated from college, our lives took similar but different paths. We attended each other’s weddings, but calls and visits remained sporadic. Still, there was closeness among the three of us that didn’t dissipate.

That’s why, five years ago, when my dad was diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer, I reached out to them.


It’s inconsequential stuff that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived it. But it’s the stuff that explains me: whom I was then and how I became whom I am today.


I am fortunate to have made many good friends throughout my adult life. We’ve spent a lot of time together at school functions, barbecues, and soccer games. And when my Dad went into the hospital, those friends sprung into action. They offered me support and love. When I had to be out of town, they drove my kids to their activities, cooked meals for my family, and listened to me cry.

But they didn’t know Steve, my dad. Debbie and Elena did. They knew the embarrassing loud red Monte Carlo car he drove us to parties in. They’d seen him in his ridiculously low-hanging dungarees tending to his precious tomatoes. They knew all about the corned-beef sandwich.

It’s inconsequential stuff that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived it. But it’s the stuff that explains me: whom I was then and how I became whom I am today.

They wanted updates on his health, so we began speaking more often. On days I was sad, Debbie and Elena made me laugh with stories about things my dad did when we were kids. They helped me forgive myself for the arguments that he and I had over the years, because they knew how much we loved each other. They gave me hope when the doctors had none. They reminded me that he had beaten cancer before, when we were in our 20s, and he could again. They lived through that time with me then, and they were living through it with me again. 

Two surprising things happened in the last five years. First, thanks to terrific medical care, an experimental drug treatment, and an inner strength against all odds, my dad is still going strong. He’s playing golf, planting tomatoes, and wearing those same ridiculous dungarees. Second, I rediscovered my childhood friends. They are a mirror of my past. Not only did they know my dad, they knew me. They remember whom I was before I became a wife, a mom, and a full-fledged adult — and they allow me to remember myself in a way I had forgotten. I am sure I do the same for them.

Looking back at our shared history helps us deal with the present and feel less alone as we face the future. When the three of us commiserate about our current struggles with our adult children, we remind each other that we, too, drove our parents crazy when we were our children’s age. I know my oldest friends are there to support me, give me advice, make me laugh, and pick me up for a plate of fries at the diner whenever I need them. And that’s irreplaceable.

Photo: Beatrix Boros

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