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  • It used to seem bizarre to me that a single incident could obliterate years of friendship. But a single incident can also solidify a friendship. Some moments that I thought were minor blips, weren't.

    Jeff had fallen for a girl in his graduate program. She was smart, assertive, sassy. Things seemed to be going well when she had a change of heart. No arguments, no issues, she just didn't want to see him anymore. I listened as he retraced all the steps and missteps, and dozens of possible scenarios and outcomes.

    All talked out, he fell silent. We'd been quiet for several minutes when suddenly Jeff gave me a look so forlorn and helpless, I didn't know what to do except feel helpless too.

    Finally he said, "I appreciate you putting up with me. Everyone else I've talked to is sick of hearing about it."

    I replied, "Jeff, I know you'd do the same for me, because in fact you already did." Twelve months earlier I was having relationship troubles. Now he was going through a similar situation, it didn't enter my mind that I would do anything else.

    Jeff didn't mention Alan, but I assumed Alan was sick of hearing about Jeff's recent breakup.

    Alan was Jeff's roommate in grad school. The three of us used to hang out all the time. We'd go cycling or play squash, eat dinner, then watch TV. We'd take road trips and see bands play. Even so, the two of them were quite different. Jeff and I tended to talk about global warming, oil consumption, and the national debt. Alan and I talked about college basketball, girls, and whatever activities we were into at the time, like rock climbing or rowing.

    The previous year when I couldn't stop obsessing about problems with my girlfriend, Alan said, "Dude, she's a downer. She's a manipulative bitch. Forget about her." I was incensed. I yelled at him to get the hell out and leave me alone. I still hung out with Alan after that incident, but it wasn't the same.

    Later, I moved to California and fell out of touch with both of them. But within a couple years, Jeff gave me a call. He was getting married. I flew to Atlanta. He and his wife visited San Francisco too.

    Now they have two kids, one's still a toddler. We talk on the phone every few months. Once in a while, we wonder about Alan's whereabouts nowadays.

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