I love it when this happens: I have a plan for the day, all errands and pragmatism, some loose ideas about the writing bit of the day, and then the phone rings.
"Hey, I called in sick today. What are you doing?" And suddenly, redundantly, what I thought the day was about changes. A friend who is moving away soon wants to spend her day with me, just hanging out, talking, maybe take a walk and throw down some Pad Thai. I rush through the errands that might have dragged on all day, and by mid-morning I am home and contemplating the coming and going of various friends from my life.
Just the other day, I spent a considerable amount of energy resisting the urge to contact someone who's been out of (my) orbit for about a year. We had a falling out when some past treachery dropped into plain view and caused me quite a bit of pain, for which I could get no healing response. Her reluctance to acknowledge that she had behaved dishonorably--her denial that I even had a right to say so--confounded me. The last words she said to me were, "Well, I'm not giving up on our friendship."
"No, me neither, that's why I think we should keep talking about this," I replied. But then she never called, and I wasn't sure that I should. Over the year, I've thought of her often and laughed about so many of the things we used to laugh about. I've retold the stories that she told so much better, watched a couple of movies we disagreed about the first time, wrote her a birthday card and then threw it in recycling. Why insinuate yourself where you're not wanted? But it is a loss. She was one of the funniest, most gregarious people I've ever known, though perhaps not the most honest. I miss her.
I often find myself comparing new friendships to old ones, the friends who seemed at the time like a rather harmonious mix of almost-middle-aged, highly educated women. We had varying and not always compatible views, but almost every weekend we ended up passing the evening on someone's deck, grilling salmon, drinking wine, and hashing out the complexities of the world. We didn't know how good those times were. A variety of forces, including a bit of treachery, tore the group apart after several years, but I have realized that those evenings and those women became my gold standard for friendship, warts and all. I know I have a tendency to see people as what they could be more clearly than I see what they are and to love them accordingly. I also know they gave me up much more willingly than I let them go: this is not a point of pride for me, just an observation. And a cautionary note. I guess I was a bit naive, so I'm embarrassed by how much real estate those women own in my psyche.
I find myself more reticent now, less willing or able to extend myself in friendship. I'm far less extroverted than I was then, for one thing, and lots more wary of duplicity. I am also now a part of an urban scene that has very different rhythms and customs than the small college town where I spent the last 19 years. People are busier and there is no such thing as spontaneity. The friend who is coming over today is from "back home." My Chicago peeps wouldn't dream of calling on the fly or coming over with no particular plan of action. I will occasionally email some blogger whose voice I like, but there again, it's all a product of my imagination of that person, not in any way likely to become a friendship. These attempts at contact strike me as Morse code signals from one ship to another on a dark sea, or a satellite blinking a message to an inanimate receiver far below. Geography is important, at least at the beginning.
Susie Bright wrote in her recently published Mommy's Little Girl that she "didn't know how to fall in love in L. A. anymore." She feels disheartened by the emphasis our culture puts on posturing and "auditioning" and keeping things light and cool. I agree. Form has replaced content in every area of American life: you don't have to be a hard-working employee, just know how to portray one. Pose as a reporter while you regurgitate memos from the politically powerful. Talk like you're 30, even if you're 13. You can be a sexual virtuoso without a heart. You can even be president without an intellect. It does not seem to matter. Friendship has hollowed out and become more a concept than a practice. My sense is that we have become confused about what is supposed to excite us in life. We have lost our ability to simply be and to enjoy each other's company. We seem to think it's a waste of time.
Maybe I'm behind the times, or maybe I'm ahead. I don't know. But I do know that I don't want to lose one opportunity to hang out with a friend, no matter what elements of life's edifice are clamoring for my energy and attention. Those people who come and go from our lives--the ones with whom we briefly share an outlook, a joke, a fear, an interest--are the only things that really matter in the end.