C.W. Gusewelle

Even the deepest friendship cannot match the bond of kinship

Charles Gusewelle’s daughters
Charles Gusewelle’s daughters

Originally published on April 4, 1996.

They are sisters, also best friends. And in some small way I envy them that. It’s the nature of us all to covet the thing we cannot have.

To be an only child, as my wife and I were, is a privileged but sometimes lonely condition. We’ve had friends, of course, some of them almost like brothers and sisters. Almost, though never quite.

But friends can change. Or lives take different directions. In this age of restless mobility, people drift to other corners of the land, or of the world. And very often, in spite of good intentions, the special tie eventually is broken, the kinship lost.

There are exceptions, or near exceptions.

Last year, two men I care for a good deal, old newspaper friends, drove halfway across the continent so we could spend a few days together in the woods. Later this month they’ll be coming again, this time for most of two weeks.

The declared purpose of these reunions is to pursue the wild turkey, a mythical and mostly unobtainable beast. But that’s only the excuse.

They are friends of nearly 40 years, those two. We passed something like a decade of our youth in the same newsroom, working to learn the way of words — chased fires together, traveled places, walked autumn fields and stood in frozen duck marshes together, fought the editors together when we could.

Even after all this time, the memories are clear as yesterday, and the stories we retell can begin in the middle, with everything before and after known.

I feel about them very much as I think I would about brothers, if I had any. Yet nearly all those things we speak of now happened half a lifetime ago. After that, the pages are mostly blank.

That’s not how it is for my daughters, or ever will be. From their earliest remembered moments, everything is known. And to the very last, everything will be.

One has just come back from a spring holiday spent with her sister in a far city. Their voices sang with excitement on the phone as they planned their time together. They hadn’t seen each other for — what? — not quite three months. And already they’d begun to feel the ache of separation.

When we met the plane, we asked the one returning how the visit had gone, and what they’d done.

There was nothing very dramatic to report. They’d gone to a gallery, seen a movie or two. But mainly, it seemed, they’d spent their days in long walks and sitting in coffeehouses together, talking. The point was not to do something, but just to be there.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “We had a grand time!”

They are different, and distinctly individual — yet in uncountable small ways alike.

A moment ago, it seems, they were warring over territory in the back compartment of the station wagon on our way to somewhere.

Now, suddenly, they’re grown into women, looking at the world through separate pairs of eyes, committed to careers that are unalike, living 1,200 miles apart, but bound by their faith in the everlasting dependability of sisterhood, and their need for one another.

In part that must result from the accident of so many years under one roof. But there’s something else — something more.

That something more doesn’t make the value of friendships any less. But it may explain why it is that we only children, alone in a way siblings can never be, sometimes find ourselves missing the brother or sister we never had.