It often comes as a surprise to learn that your pen pal, upon his moving close to you, is not a close friend of yours. Only in retrospect does it now dawn on you that writing or speaking by phone was the glue that held the friendship, as it was, together. You only knew so much about him and, it turns out, the better. Much of his life, you now see, and indeed much of yours had not been subject to observation and thus to quiet judgment and, in fine, to the fading away that inevitably comes with dissonance.
We might exclaim: “How strange it is that when we were far away we were so close and yet when we are so close we are far away!” We might exclaim thus, but is it really a mystery?
Not, to repeat, in hindsight.
Face to face, the differences between you and him appear grosser and courser than what you had hitherto shared. Maybe it was a mutual love of Rilke or perhaps a certain sense of humor that held fast your attention and your amity. Never visiting him or he you, you were none the wiser about his other proclivities, his habits, above all, about the way he lives. Nor, again, he you.
Sad to say, there is no going back now. You can’t live within walking or driving distance and pretend that you can go back to the epistolary form or to the monthly phone call. Wouldn’t that be a farce? And you can’t unsee or unexperience what you have seen or experienced. Nor is there any fudging the fact that the sheen has worn off. Undeniably, the magic is gone.
Wisdom is not always pretty.