I have lost touch with people very dear to me and grieved after parting with people I truly love. I've gone years without hearing from those who have inspired me.
But I can't seem to shake my real estate agent.
It's been six months since we sold our house, and we're still getting postcards from Real Estate Lady – not to mention letters, bookmarks, beach balls, suggested summer reading lists, magnets and notepads.
I can't say that I mind this too much – who couldn't use an extra notepad? It's just kinda weird. I don't hear from my sister as often as I hear from Real Estate Lady, and I have to wonder: What gives?
The obvious answer, of course, is money. By keeping so loyally in touch, Real Estate Lady will no doubt embed herself deep in my frontal cortex – so that when next I need an agent, hers will be the first name to come to mind. This trick has already worked. The notepads and calendars she left on our doorstep in the four years before we sold our house made hers the first number we called when we decided to move.
But we've moved out of her "coverage area" with no plans to move back – she knows this. Still, here we are, receiving her glowing review of "Shadow of the Wind," by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So emphatic is her reading suggestion, she has tucked two bookmarks (with her company's logo on them, of course) inside her note.
Which makes me wonder whether this really is about money. Is this shrewd or pathological?
We all know people who make an art of correspondence – people who learn calligraphy and own fancy rubber stamps. They maintain pen pal relationships that span decades and have steady, practiced signatures. They slip a card in the mail, thanking you for a lovely dinner party, before they've even gotten to your house. They are always chipper. They never forget a birthday. They periodically forward e-mails that include cats doing something cute.
They scare me.
I am trying to figure out what, exactly, disquiets me about Real Estate Lady's compulsive networking, when I get a call from Lisa.
The last time I talked to Lisa she was on a bus, yelling into a dying cell phone that she was going to call me when she got home. That was two months ago. This time, she dials me up while resting in a hammock that was part of an art installation in San Jose. She had a few minutes to talk, as she waited for a friend of hers she hadn't seen or spoken much to for two years.
"I have a $100 flight voucher; it expires in December, and I want to use it to visit you," she says, before running down a list of reasons why such a visit would be impossible. The sentiment would sound insincere if it didn't add at the end, "You know what? Why don't I transfer the voucher to you and you can visit me up here."
That's when I understood. Keeping in touch is only meaningful if … well, if it's meaningful. Consistent correspondence doesn't say anything other than "I hate trees." When someone really reaches out to you, it doesn't feel like junk mail; it feels like a sincere invitation to play ball on the beach or hear about the good book she's reading.
\Maybe on some unconscious level I'm just trying to make an excuse for being bad at calling and writing people, but I don't think so. Real Estate Lady can send all the postcards she wants. Some of the people who love me the most are the ones I hear from the least.