I’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately. Not my “friends” on Facebook or my “Friends and Family” discounts. But more about how many forms friendship can take. How long they last. How they begin without even realizing it. How they end. It’s interesting.
Perhaps one reason why I take friendships so seriously is because I am an only child. My parents were my parents; they were never my friends. This whole rant was started after I read a post on Facebook about the “66 Things You Are Supposed To Say to Your Children.” I read the list and started to get a little pissed off, since I had only ever heard one of the 66. Maybe your parents were your friends and supported you every day and in every way, and you’ve heard all 66 of those platitudes and you are so much better than I am as a result. In which case, good for you; I hope you treasure your parents like good whiskey.
In the absence of friends, I also learned at a young age that dogs are a great substitute, but don’t last anywhere near long enough.
I’ve known Brooke since I was 9 years old. Do the math; that’s 51 years. I met her riding the bus to school and commented on her super-cool ID bracelet (which was the grooviest thing you could wear at that age, at that time, other than a ratting comb in your pocket). Who else but my oldest friend, would have turned me on to a new musician, Elton John? Or how to pierce your ears with a potato, an ice cube, and a needle. Or how to smoke her mother’s discarded cigarette butts out of the ashtray of her ’64 Chevy Impala. These are life skills I wasn’t going to learn from my mother. But hey, but I’m not bitter.
Even with the advent of Facebook and other uber-sharing technologies, our long-distance friendship is hard to maintain. Our lives are opposite in so many ways, but if you sit us down at a bar tonight, we’ll talk until dawn and love each other forever. I say I’m going to hop on a plane to Austin but, somehow, I never do. I gotta change that. It astounds me that I do not have one photo of the two of us together. Maybe this is us…
“Single” girlfriends were a lot of short-term fun. Drinking cheap wine and watching Dallas on Friday nights, when we didn’t have a better offer. The other day, a bunch of us were trying to remember who shot JR, anyway. None of us were sure. When I googled it, I got: Kristin Shephard, JR’s scheming sister-in-law and mistress, who shot him in a fit of anger, claiming she was pregnant with his child. Yeah, whatever. Just like JR and Kristin’s affair, a lot of those single-girl friendships didn’t survive the eventual marriages, children, and whatever. They weren’t supposed to. As we all know, most friendships don’t last.
Nancy was one of my crazier single friends. An unusual beauty, with porcelain skin, dark hair, big nose, green eyes, a Tina Fey laugh, and posture like Princess Diana. As a matter of fact, Nancy would often refer to herself as Princess Di, or Lady Nance (long before she died, of course (Princess Di, that is)). When we weren’t trying to write the next great screenplay (I mean, if Sly Stallone can do it, why can’t we?) or pining for Kevin Kline in The Big Chill, Nancy and I were often up to no good. I knew she was trying to pick up my boss, and, while I couldn’t fault her for the merit of that idea, in the same evening, she pretended she was drunk when she pounced on my boyfriend (whom I later married). In short, she had good taste in men, but she was trouble.
For reasons that I just don’t remember, our 7-year friendship faded by the time we moved from Phoenix to Idaho, and I have no idea where she is today. Even Facebook doesn’t know where she is. Did she finally succumb to a life insurance salesman and pop out a couple of kids, while secretly hoping she would have a scandalous affair with Prince Harry? I’d like to think so. If I sat down with her tonight, with her obligatory Marlboros and cheap white wine in hand, I have no idea what we’d talk about. But I’ll remember her forever, for teaching me about the unlikely, but delightful, combination of champagne and Oreos. Really; try it.
When I was single, I even broke the precedent by having a few good, male friends for a while. It’s how I met Nancy and several others. But somehow Harry was right, although not necessarily for the same reason; male friendships hardly ever last. That’s unfortunate, since it effectively eliminates about 50% of the available population.
I’m even not sure where gay men fit into the whole friendship thing…are you allowed to have gay friends as long as you’re single, but not when you’re married? Or are you allowed to have gay friends when you’re married as long as you don’t talk about anything but food? I don’t know the rules here. But there’s an energy to my gay friends that I really enjoy, but don’t seem to know how to get more of.
Marriage itself seems to complicate and determine some friendships. Do we as a couple mesh with them as a couple? Or is he a sweetheart one minute and an ungrateful boor the next? Does that mean, then, that we girls can only steal away for the occasional stab at bonding over shopping or dinner? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s complicated.
Most friendships we make at jobs wind up being equally impermanent. It’s sort of like being in a war, in the trenches together. But when the war is over or one of us moves on, there’s no friendship glue to hold us together. Our relationship was based on that time, that situation, and that place. The nature of our relationships doesn’t usually dive deeply enough to last the test of time. We lose our common ground to laugh, complain, and worry about. We move on. It’s all good.
As we’ve gotten older, it’s gotten worse. Friends get older, crankier, and even die; you may have heard about this. Or, friends suddenly wake up one day and decide that, in spite of decades together, it’s over.
The cookie jar that we reach into for our friends starts to dwindle. I like a good crumb as much as the next person, but not when compared to an entire semi-sweet, chocolate chip cookie with walnuts.
For a number of years, Gary and I thought we wanted to leave Boise. It’s a nice place to live, but a little click-ish. If you don’t belong to a specific church or have kids in soccer together, friends can be hard to make. We looked and looked and looked, for years, on and off. No matter how close we came to leaving Boise, it just never happened. Our friends just learned to take it in stride, as if it were some kind of flu we were afflicted with every few years. Instead, we moved to four different houses in the Boise area and tried to settle in. It wasn’t until we bought our fifth house, the one we live in now, that we feel like we’re home.
Truth be told, one of the things that made the thought of moving much harder was leaving our friends behind, to go to a place where we would know essentially no one. Whatever we were searching for in another town couldn’t begin to replace our friends and the richness they brought to our lives.
So I realize that I am now hanging onto my remaining friends with a vengeance. Cindy is considering moving far away and it makes me so, so sad that she might trade her Boise tribe for the unknown, but then I remember that I almost did the same thing.
In spite of my big talk about friendship, I am terrible about picking up the phone to talk to them on a regular basis, like I used to. (But I’m not sure they’re any better at it than I am.) The best I seem to be able to do is to call them on my 30-minute commute home, once in a while. But ask me to pick up the phone at night just to call and say hi? Oddly, it hardly ever happens. So, the care and feeding of friendships seems to be mostly lost on me.
And then, when I least expect it, the universe puts a new batch of cookies in the oven. Opportunities to start new friendships or enhance old ones drop in my lap and if I’m not too unobservant or busy with the minutia that consumes my daily life, I might grab a cold glass of milk, a fresh cookie, and savor them both. I’ve also heard that a good porter can be a great substitute for milk.
My little tribe of friends is poised for expansion again, just when I needed it most. Out of nowhere, came a lovely card and refrigerator magnet from Colleen:
How sweet is that?! When I went back to work, again, this magnet was the first thing I tacked up in the wall of my cube. I thought of her and her sister/my work compadre, Maureen and thought…how great it must be, to be sisters and lifelong best friends. And now they are part of my little tribe; lucky me!
Sandra, whom I’ve known and enjoyed through several employers and jobs, has just popped back up. Maybe there’s finally a chance to carve out enough time in our busy lives to get together, talk about food, art, and life. Or maybe just food. It’s too soon to tell.
And there are others. With delightful husbands. Who cook beautifully and have great laughs. I just gotta pick up the damn phone once in a while.
At work, when someone has the opportunity to throw you under the bus and she doesn’t, you realize that even this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. I suspect I’ll know more after a martini or two. I’ll get back to you about that.
And sometimes, old friends can pop back in, just to remind me of how they see me and what I’m capable of, not just who I seem to have turned into. You know who you are. Your hugs are like a cold beer after a long run, on a very hot day.
Well, you’ll be super-pleased to hear that I think I’m done with this subject for a while. Instead, I think I’ll go call one of these lovely women and see how her life is going. Or hang out with my favorite girl dog, Claire.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.