The mangoes arrived in the daily mail. Five large, rosy pink and green Valencia Pride mangoes, not yet ripened to their full sweetness. They showed up with little notice and even less fanfare. The last box of fruit arrived three years ago and then abruptly stopped appearing, along with a sixty-year friendship.
Peter and I were unlikely friends—both misfits, behaving slightly outside the norms of our high school social circles. He was a rich fat boy living in the shadow of his handsome, talented, and arrogant older brother. I was a kid existing on the fringes of popularity amongst two separate groups, the kids who hung out at LJ, Little Jerusalem, and those whose gathering place was LVC, Little Vatican City—one group Jewish, the other Christian. At my house, we scrounged up kosher salami sandwiches; at his, we snacked on Delmonico steaks. We considered ourselves outsiders and, together with a few others, bonded into a friendship of mutual support.
The circle of friends that Peter and I shared were Jews who, with the exception of Peter, were from working class families, intellectually curious, generous in spirit, and slightly out of step with our peers. We wore our differences like badges of courage, while protecting each other from the insecurities that bedevil teenage outsiders.
High school ended, Peter went off to a fat farm, and I started college at the University of Miami as a townie. It would be a decade or more until our paths crossed again, albeit briefly at our tenth high school reunion, when I was married and the mother of two. The next time I saw Peter was in New Jersey. He and his wife were in town for a flower show—Peter was a grower and landscaper—and I was remarried, had spent time as a cop in Atlanta and, having acquired a PhD, was teaching at Kean College. When I next saw Peter again, we were both divorced and, having resumed our friendship, attended our thirtieth high school reunion together. I spent winter breaks in Florida with my mother and, for a good part of the time, with Peter. We went on small Florida vacation adventures, ate dinners out with my older brother and his wife, visited with old friends. and shared new ones. No matter whom either of us was dating, we went to every subsequent high school reunion together. If people wanted to know what Peter was up to, they could ask me. If I was of interest, Peter was always up-to-date on my whereabouts.
I returned to the U.S. from Cambodia in 1997 with an adopted six-year-old daughter. I convinced her to come with me to America by promising to take her to Disney World and introduce her to Mickey Mouse. Peter fulfilled that promise, standing in heat so offensive and damp that it would wilt spaghetti, with Tevi perched on his shoulders, clinging to him in fear after meeting the “giant rat.” Peter was not coy about his feelings. He wanted more than friendship. Although I adored, valued, and cared for him, I could never cross that invisible line. Sometimes he aroused me, but I always held back. My sexual attractions and consequent relationships never ended well, so I wasn’t willing to risk his friendship.
Peter and I simultaneously went through serial relationships. I finally decided that the chase was a bad idea, but Peter kept searching. His last relationship was with a woman named Frances. It was an odd affair, satisfying both and satisfying neither. It went on for a long time, while our usual annual “date” continued unabated.
The letter arrived with no prior hint of its contents. It was short and to the point. “My therapist says that you are preventing me from having a meaningful relationship with other women. He advised me never to communicate with you again. Peter.” That letter ended our friendship. My supply of mangoes also ceased.
Two weeks ago an email from Peter, the first in three years, appeared in my inbox. “I have shipped you mangoes. They should reach West Virginia by the weekend.” Peter collected shot glasses. There were still a couple in the kitchen cupboard that I had bought for him in Puerto Rico. I had never sent them. They still had the tags from the store. I wrapped them carefully, tucked in a note thanking him for the mangoes, put them in a used Amazon box, and mailed them. I got an email back saying only, “Thank you for the shot glasses.” That was a week ago. I have heard nothing since.