A couple of weeks ago, I was moving a plastic box in which I store letters that I've kept from various stages of my life (you know, back from the old days. I've also archived certain emails, but that's not a factor when you move house). Catching sight of an envelope with V's handwriting on it, I was thinking about her and wondering if I should try and get in touch. It's been a few years since we last wrote to each other. I think we last saw each other in person briefly in 1989, waving from two moving vehicles. Even then, it had been a couple of years since we'd been close.

We met during the first month of our freshman year at college. We were at a preppy East-Coast university which made it real easy for all of us alterna-types to find each other. I had met these two guys who were on the top floor of my dorm (one of whom went on to be a moderately famous indie alt-rocker) maybe the second day of our freshman orientation period. (They used to bring all the freshmen in early to drink themselves silly and bond with each other before classes began.) One day I looked out the window and it was raining hair. I went up to the top floor and I met V. She was balanced on the balcony ledge while crazy Rod shaved half of her head. On one side she had long blond hair to the middle of her back; on the other, short sexy stubble. (This was 1985, people. This was cool and gorgeous and still very brave.)

She showed up at my room the next day at 7 in the morning -- I was half asleep but oh so flattered. We were always enthusiastic about each other -- our friendship full of intensity and strangeness as only 18 year olds can have. She was the first woman I fell in love with -- but I didn't tell her. She was busy with various men, and hitchiking to Canada, and Bread & Puppet. She's a free spirit in a way I never ever would be. Which is probably what drew us together, I guess. Much, much later, she told me once that she'd been in love with me too. Which I count as one of two potential relationships that I'm glad never ever were acted upon. But I learned a lot from her, grew and stretched my boundaries in all sorts of ways. I also learned where I wouldn't go, what I wasn't really interested in trying or putting up with. Also useful to figure out when you're 18.

After a couple of years, we drifted apart, spending time in different circles. She had a boyfriend in Canada, I had my first serious girlfriend. She dropped out of school for a while, and I was planning to go to grad school.

A few years later -- 1991 or 1992 I think -- I sent a postcard to her mom's address to try and track her down. We corresponded for a year or two, pretty irregularly. She was living in an abandoned school bus in the woods, with no electricity and no running water. I felt weirdly ashamed of my growing investment in and reliance upon technology. Fascinated by her life, but kind of afraid of it too. I visited the state where she was living, but made no effort to try and go to see her. It seemed too awkward, too strange.

It's been a long time since we last wrote. But I guess I must have told her when I got the job at Large Urban -- maybe I sent a new address note, maybe we were still occasionally in contact. Or maybe she figured out a way to track me down (it's not that hard really). Because I got a card from her a few days ago, sent to my work address! So startling, and yet so familiar, since I'd been thinking about her so recently.

She's still living in the woods -- in a solar house she and her boyfriend built themselves, with an outhouse in the back. She has a 2 year old son. She teaches migrant workers. She's an amazing creative person who's living the kind of life she wants to, free from the expectations that most of us have. I'm delighted to hear from her, and yet wondering almost where to begin in replying. There's a lot to catch up on. It's kind of mysterious to me, how I can still feel connected to her after all this time, when we don't have much in common. That connection is boosted by the fact that she doesn't email -- it's a real letter, touched by her hand. And I have to write her back by hand. A different kind of thoughtfulness is involved, fitting for the resumption of a friendship so tenuous and yet apparently strong.