The movie “Garden State” was, in my opinion, a rather mediocre movie: not particularly funny or moving, it failed to embrace me as I had been primed to expect.
I did, however, love the conceit at the heart of the film: that a young man could return home, after nine years without a single visit, and be embraced by his old friends as though times had hardly changed.
I have a group of friends from high school that has maintained itself for more than a decade. I count 10 of us, in my central core; various offshoots add several more. I refer to us as “the gang,” which my wife finds hilarious but my friends find matter-of-fact. For us, that feeling at the heart of “Garden State” rings true.
My gang is, at a glance, a pretty random bunch. Our group includes a handful of Jews, one German Catholic, one Filippino and one African-American. We live in five different states, from Boston to Chicago. Three of us still live within jogging distance of our childhood homes; two of us don’t own our own cars. Six of us are married. We count among us a policeman, a pregnant mom-to-be, an Ironman participant, an entrepreneur, four dog owners, five homeowners, two homeowners-to-be, four master’s and two associate’s degrees.
More than once my mother has asked me how I became close with my friend the cop. Simple: gym class, four years in a row, lockers next to each other, thanks to the alphabet. Life should always be that simple. Which is how we tend to view each other, simply, as old friends united by time, regardless of how often we see each other or the ways that we change.
We get together as a full group four times a year, on average. And when we’re together, the transition from past to present is almost seamless. We remain bound by long memories, effortlessly recalling frozen moments of our youth, cracking jokes new and old, enjoying each other’s company without blinking an eye. Even the events are timeless: we’ve gone rafting 7 or 8 times, held half a dozen steak dinners, been to countless pool parties. Each time, we recall “the last time we did this, when—” and forge new memories while celebrating the old ones.
Our comfort is wholly unspoken, because it’s unnecessary. Our friendship, our bonds, are known and assumed. (I am certainly the only one in the gang who would even admit all of this, much less write about it. No doubt one or more of my friends is going to read this and call me a big old sap.) And that’s the way it should be: comfortable, expected, known.
Life moves forward, and very little stays the same. My childhood bedroom is long gone, my best friend from my formative years far removed from my phone book. But I still have my gang. And that makes me a lucky man.