Blown Far on the Wind

October 3, 2008

I have a high school friend named Jim. I haven’t seen him in nearly four decades. In fact, none of our other friends have seen him in years. This protracted absence gives Jim a leg up on the rest of us: he’s frozen in our minds as he was back then, young and good-natured and athletic.

People have a way of drifting off after high school and college, not by design, but more like dandelion seeds on a puff of wind. We end up where we do, looking forward and not back. At least until the weight of so many passing years reverses everything, and we try to put the flower back together.

Scattered as we are, word usually arrives about everyone’s whereabouts. For as long as I can remember, I pictured Jim living near the Atlantic in North Florida, only a few hours north of where we went to school. Whenever he came to mind, he was in that familiar landscape: flat lands of pine and palmetto and sand dunes and condos and ocean surf. Never once did I consider that maybe the image was wrong.

As our forty-year high school reunion approached last month in Winter Park, I vowed to find Jim, hoping to entice him to join us. It became a quest, driven part by a yearning to reconnect and the challenge of finding a long-lost friend with no known address, no known phone number.

And I found him, but only because a Google search turned up a Facebook page displaying a young man’s photo, a young man who looked remarkably like Jim. It was his son. But I nearly closed the page because he lived in Southern California. That’s where Jim has been for twenty years.

We’ve reconnected via email and promised, not idly, to meet at some point. He’s shared his whereabouts with all our classmates.

Voyeur that I am, I mapped his address. For reasons still unclear, I can’t stop thinking about where he’s lived all these years. Maybe it’s the radically different geographic context than I’d imagined. More than once I’ve clicked to a satellite view and zoomed in on his street, high on an arid ridge, at the edge of suburbia, desert to the east, rugged and desolate forest to the west. Too far from the other ocean to hear waves pounding.

Jim wrote, “As the saying goes, I once was lost but now I’m found.”