Hello, wonderful readers! Today I want to share some beautiful, bracingly honest words from my friend Pamela. Pamela blogs here and is truly gifted when it comes to the written word. Today she’s writing about friendship, and how the landscape of friendship changes as we age, in unexpected ways. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section (and I know Pamela would, too.) As I read her piece, I found myself nodding in recognition.
Please make her feel welcome and enjoy!
For most of my life I’ve been a “girl’s girl.” In my twenties I rarely had a boyfriend and I was always up for anything: a run, a trip to the mall, a night out in La Jolla for drinks. I was surrounded by an extensive circle of women I loved, and because of this, I’ve had an irrational self-confidence in my ability to make friends. I was absolutely convinced that I would remain single forever, but in terms of other women, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling lonely.
Somehow, during my thirties, this all changed. I did finally find a boyfriend, and married him. We had a baby and then another. But my husband is also in the Navy, and because of this, we move every two years. Soon, my close circle of friends was miles away. Some were in San Diego, some in Philadelphia, and some in Palo Alto. At first I didn’t think this would be a problem. “I’m really good at making friends,” I told my husband during our first move.
What really happened was that when I took my toddler son to the park, he had a huge tantrum over another child’s dump truck and suddenly, instead of invitations to play dates I was receiving those looks. One woman came over to me and gave me the name of a book that she said, “might help you.”
On another day, I was talking to a woman who I thought could become a friend. She seemed to have a liberal bent so it seemed safe to confess that I was very much against George W. Bush’s politics and the current war, when suddenly, she yanked my arm and pulled me off to the side of the sand box.
“You should never criticize the president,” she hissed at me. “Or even the Republicans. They’re the ones approving our husbands’paychecks.”
I walked home that day feeling a bit bewildered. In my twenties, I followed the “Sex & the City” rules for friendship, the first of which was that the bond between girlfriends was stronger than anything else. Now, I seemed to be living in a 21st century version of“Thirtysomething.” Somehow friendship had become imbued with politics and parenting. With husbands.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose begins with the line: “Now I believe they will leave me alone,”which has been my approach to friendship ever since. It wasn’t that one incident of course, but many of them, piled on top of each other, making the trip to the playground or school drop-off sometimes seem as intimidating as approaching my high school locker room mirror, where the cheerleaders used to spray their salon-sized cans of Aqua Net. And to think I used to be so good at friendship.
I am lucky enough to have a great friend and former cross-country teammate who will always be a jewel in my heart. I have another friend from my twenties who is like a sister, and a dear friend from DC who is incredibly intuitive and unfailingly kind. Through blogs, I have “met” several amazing women and we write to each other, like modern pen pals.
But even old friendships aren’t immune to the ravages of time and changing values, children and money issues, religion and politics. During this past year, one of my very dearest and oldest friendships began to fray and snap. I held on as long and as tightly as I could, but it was becoming clear that both of us were suffering – from distance, disconnection, and an old theme of competition. One night, after a phone conversation with Margaret, I went for a walk because I was reeling with sadness and hurt. I felt attacked and betrayed, and a bit confused. As I walked through the cold night, I thought about the agenda my friendships seemed to be based upon, which were qualities that were important to me at 21 but that I no longer care about now that I am 40.
When we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina to live on the Marine base here, a few people said that I would probably be lonely in the strange southern town I now find myself, which is not so much a town as it is a cluster of tattoo parlors and used car dealerships, sad little gatherings of storefronts where Spanky’s Sports Bar squats next door to God’s House of Deliverance. There is a gentlemen’s club called The Driftwood, which advertises that Luscious Lucia will be dancing tonight, and the windows of the Waffle Shoppe next door are too greasy to see into.
And yet, this town holds as much kindness and grace as I would expect to find in an ashram along the Ganges. I teach at a yoga studio in one of these strip malls, right next to a notary and a cat clinic, a paint store, and another evangelical center of worship. The students trickle in with their smiles and their mats and during savasana we listen to the silence and the boom of artillery on Camp Lejeune that punctuates the quiet.
Dani, who owns the studio, is a former school guidance counselor and a single mom. Last spring, she left her job and used all her savings to open the studio, which she runs by herself, and I am constantly struck by the fact that although she has given every cent she has to her dream, she is rich with a liberating sort of happiness. I hadn’t expected to find yoga in Jacksonville, or a person as joyful and generous as Dani, but then again, I hadn’t counted on the power of kindness. How could that have not been on my list of what is required in a friend?
Yesterday, my next-door neighbor Remy came over and asked if we wanted to get together and grill tonight with the neighbors across the street. Remy, who is from Saipan, is making red rice and guacamole, and Lisa, who grew up in Germany, is making some kind of potato salad and dessert. Scott and I took the ten pounds of homemade sausage someone recently gave to him out of the freezer and I made tofu kabobs.
Someone asked me recently if I was lonely here, without friends, and I answered honestly that I am not. I live on a street where a quarter of the men are gone, off to a war that still exists, even if no one talks about it anymore. And although it sounds old-fashioned, the women stick together. We take each other’s children and make each other dinner. I take Remy’s daughter to story hour and to the park and when she goes to Sam’s Club, she brings over a hunk of Gouda cheese, a box of whole-grain crackers, or a package of sprouted tofu. Last fall, I woke up one day to an ambulance in Remy’s driveway and watched from the window as they loaded her son in the back. Cowering in my kitchen, I sent Remy a text, asking if I could help, while Lisa strode across both of our lawns, found the keys to Remy’s minivan, and drove Remy’s four other children to school. This is what military wives do for each other. This is what neighbors do for each other. And this sounds an awful lot like friendship to me.
At noon today, I picked the last of the lettuce from my garden to make a salad for tonight. A little later, Oliver and I will go to see the Camp Lejeune High School production of “Godspell,” in which Remy’s oldest son will be wonderful as Jesus. Teenage voices will fill an auditorium and we will marvel at how well they did, how many lines they had to memorize. Later, when the temperature drops, neighbors who feel like friends will gather on our yard and eat. There will be two grills in Remy’s driveway, a front door propped open, salad dressing in mason jars, and a tub full of soda and beer and juice boxes. Camp chairs will be set up and maybe a tent. Kids will ride on bikes and scooters and push each other on the tire swing. They will leave most of their dinner on their plates but then come back for cheesecake and berries. Finally, I will take my own tired boys into the house and get them into the shower. They will ask for toast, and I will get out the butter, the cinnamon and the sugar. Later still, I will go for a walk and see a raccoon run behind a dumpster and into the woods. He will be running low, his back hunched against something worrisome that might happen, and I will find a certain kinship with him. I will realize that I too am a scavenger, finding friendship in the most unlikely of places.