The loss of friends keeps me up at night. The thought of those people once close to me and now no longer in my life stitches me when I wake. I roll around restlessly, thinking of whatever incident or series of failures and miscommunications led to the breaks. The long intertwining of lives and experiences suddenly severed leaves a wound that never really heals.
Just the other day, I called my friend Ivo in Koblenz, Germany. Many years had passed since we last talked to each other. At first, he didn’t return my calls. I didn’t think anything of it. People are busy, I thought. Ivo has a business that takes much of his time and attention. But he didn’t return further calls. I E-mailed him many times and heard nothing. I wound up sending letters to his house, thinking, well, at least, I would have tried everything.
As the years progressed, I tried now and then to reach of Ivo. A friendship spanning thirty-three years is hard to let go. He and I met in Trier in early 1996. I was a lonely kid who had only a couple of acquaintances. I had moved to Germany the previous September to try my hand at grape growing and winemaking. The general manager of a famous winery in Trier brought me on as a paid intern. The vigorous work outside suited me. I began to pal around with two of the other interns, Carmel was from Britain and Wolfgang’s family owned a small vineyard and winery a few villages over from Trier.
But Wolfgang, Carmel, and a woman who had befriended us in the harvest, Monika, had lives to live. They had friends and social lives. On the other hand, I had nothing but work, particularly through the week. I lived in a small sleeping-room under the attic at a school. Evenings, I spent a few hours touring the inner city and out toward the suburbs. On weekends, I walked farther and longer. The streets of Trier became more familiar to me than where I lived in Kansas City. I came to know the countryside and the outlying villages. On weekends, I found a person can cover a lot of ground and see a lot of things in eight or nine hours on foot. Sometimes, I spent as many as twelve hours underway.
But I was still alone. Outside of walking, there was only so much reading, writing, and napping a I could do. In in a fourteen- to sixteen-hour Saturday, fully half remained before and after my long walks. I spent a lot of time looking out over my neighborhood from my room, and many hours gazing out over the city from the window across the hallway.
I don’t mind being lonesome—and the melancholy contemplation that comes with it. I treasure solitude and can be alone, away from the world for long periods of time. But there were points in Trier when I was downright lonely. The tedium of having to keep myself company became too much to bear.
One night, I went out in the city to get a currywurst from an imbiss I liked. My German was still rudimentary at the time, and I asked a friendly man in line what an item on the menu was, as I was in the mood to try something new. He invited me over to his table and began to speak to me in English. We had a lively conversation in German and English. He introduced himself as Ivo Rauch.
From that point, things developed quickly. Ivo introduced me to his friends, invited me to his house, and met me in the city after work for dinner at the food stands where we could afford the eats. Over the next years, we experienced much together. He was from Koblenz and was an apprentice at a stained-glass restoration firm. He had been to college and had his degree in art history. He lived in a house he shared with two other apprentices he worked with, Udo and Martin, and two theologians at the university, Stephan and Michael.
These men became my first friends in my Germany odyssey. They gave me a key to their house. We ate together and spent evenings watching the news and movies. Weekends, when the boys went back to their childhood homes, I had run of the place. Udo went home less often and he and I explored the countryside on his motorcycle.
Over the years, we have frequently talked about that magical year in Trier. We were all young and had wonder in our eyes. The period formed the people we would become. I have maintained relationships with Martin, Ivo, Udo, and Stephan. In the three decades hence, I have been back to Germany many times to visit. They have come to the states and have stayed with me. They showed me their towns and I showed them mine. We are closer now than we were when we are Trier. It’s as if the passage of time has ripened these relationships and made them more precious.
This is why the lack of communication from Ivo so upset me after a few years. He has been so influential and I have learned so much from him that the thought of his loss bothered me day and night.
Martin, Udo, Stephan, and I kept in contact during the time Ivo did not. I wondered if there was something I’d done the last time I was in Germany in 2014 that offended Ivo. I dread not knowing and, even more, feared I would never find out. I hesitated asking Martin, Ivo’s closest friend, what was going on, knowing he would not want to be put in the middle of some problem Ivo had with me.
But I was left in an open-ended situation, a state of not knowing. A few weeks ago, I decided I’d try to get ahold of Ivo again. I’m planning to go to Germany to visit my elderly parent figures Josef and Marlies in May. I couldn’t bear not being able to see Ivo while I was there.
Last week, I called his cell phone, which gave me that message that he wasn’t available but he would be notified of my call. I didn’t hear back. On Monday, I called again and he picked up.
The reunion was joyous. He was glad I called again and had kept after him through the years. The sound of my voice, he said, was glorious and warmed his heart. Then, he explained. He had gone through some serious problems that started just after I’d been to Germany last time. These concerned his wife, who died in 2011. He thought he had dealt with the grief and loss but they came back to haunt him. He isolated himself from friends and family. He even neglected to call or talk to Martin. He found himself not being able to work. Then, coming out of that, he worked all the time, sometimes 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
A long period of healing began about a year and a half ago. When I called on Monday, he decided that he would try to make up time lost between us. We conversed for over an hour, catching up and exploring the more personal aspects of his last few years. He invited me to come see him and stay over when I go to Germany in May. After our time on the telephone, he sat down to his computer and sent a brilliant note and pictures of him and his new partner, Elena.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to talk to my friend again, to share our difficulties and joys. I put down the phone and felt a great deal of relief. I hadn’t done anything to alienate my friend. He still loved me and can’t wait to see me. I have rarely felt such contentment.
That night, I went to sleep thinking of my friend. I was sorry about his troubles but was glad he was healing. I no longer felt a hole in my spirit. The essence of friendship is loyalty. I stand with my friends in good times and bad. When they disappear for a while, I have to understand and then revel in their return. Our visit in Koblenz will be a good one. We will walk. We will talk. Thirty-three years have passed between us. Certainly, we have one more day.