Monthly Archives: February 2014

It is always unsettling to find yourself in words written by someone so long ago.

My husband has no friends, and I envy him. He loves gatherings, enjoys a good crowd, but he doesn’t seek out companionship. He doesn’t call a friend on the phone and invite them for a drink or a meal. He doesn’t chitchat. He can entertain himself for hours. He  rarely seems lonely, quite the opposite actually. I, on the other hand, am a social butterfly with intense social anxiety. I crave human connection and conversation, yet I’m a nervous wreck in a crowd of people, whether they be friends or strangers. I am a poor group performer, I always have been, inevitably my nervous social energy leads me to all sorts of social mistakes and misunderstandings. I talk too much, offer too much, ask too much, expect too much, sometimes, I am simply just too much. This behavior turns people off, it would turn me off, plus, it opens me up to ridicule and harsh judgements. My husband, sits in the corner, reserved and calm, if someone approaches him, he is receptive, if no one approaches him, he is completely nonplussed and content on his own. He is a people watcher. Sometimes, he makes me nervous. Other times, I worry if he is happy. Most of the time, I envy him.

This past year, I have struggled to change my approach to friendship, to re-write my own definition, particularly in female/female relations. I have never excelled at being friends with women, the friendship between women has a propensity toward the intense. My personality has a predilection toward intensity, as well. I willingly shut my eyes tight and leap full force into these types of friendships. I read too many books. I am warped by the stories of friendship of which I have filled my head. I become fiercely loyal before building a relationship in which to be loyal to, convinced this is what defines friendship, convinced this is the path to the idealized friendships I have read about. It’s not. It never ends well, but rather with the pain I have caused, to a one-time friend, as well as myself. Often, I pick the wrong friends. I get caught up in the fever of shared secrets, the idea of a close tie that binds two people, the loyalty and comradery, the chitchat. I expect too much and I end up let down. Years ago, I asked my husband why he doesn’t have close friends, he responded that people always let you down. I smirked at him, felt pity for such a close-minded view of the world. In hindsight, I think he has a point.

While reading a section from Proust’s “Within a Budding Grove” the other afternoon, I came across a passage about the dwindling last days of a friendship. In the book the young narrator is avoiding contact with his friend, Gilberte, he visits her house to see her parents, but only when she is not home, because he wants her to know he was there, yet to not actually come into contact with her. He turns away any invitations that she extends. He is hurt, mainly due to the lack of intensity she feels in their friendship in comparison to his own. He denies himself her company, even though he longs for it, based on principle.  In his mind, he tries to will her to make a grand gesture, make her need for his companionship take center stage. He converses with Gilberte in his head, tells her that every passing day makes him love her less, that the more time that passes the wider the gap between them grows, until one day he will cease to need her friendship, he will feel nothing for her, it will be too late. I was thunderstruck, to say the least. It is always unsettling to find yourself in words written by someone so long ago. I realized that I am that narrator, and that is not a positive personality trait. I slowly slipped the book back into it’s place on the shelf and quietly went about my day. I told no one of my discovery, I hadn’t anyone to tell.

I have spent a lifetime pushing people away when my feelings have been hurt, blocking contact and any chance of reconciliation while secretly attempting to will them into fixing the ever-growing breech between us. I have felt the exact moment when it becomes irreparable. I have relished it, that moment, because it signified an end to a bad situation, packed my pain and loss into my suitcase and headed for home. Until recently, I learned little from these broken loyalties. I just swallowed the anger and disappointment and moved on to new friendships, to try my hand at it one more time. This time is different. I have taken a page from my husband’s playbook, I am learning to be less socially intense. I am learning to have pleasant interactions without all of the baggage of expectation. I am enjoying it, and people, for the first time in many years. If friendship blossoms from such simple moments I will take it as a gift, if not, I will not mourn.

In October of 2013, I took a weekend trip with a group of female friends. I was nursing the wounds of my latest unhealthy friendship, coaxing them into scars that I hoped would fade with time. I had no expectations. It was a good weekend, full of music, food, wine and laughter. That Sunday morning, as I sat on the porch of my friend’s house in the hills of West Virginia, writing in my journal, I was finally able to let go.

On the Death of Friendship- October 2013

There’s a song on a record in my house about having no regrets.

It’s sung in French.

But French regrets are as good as any, and besides

it’s a starting point.

So, let’s pour oil on troubled waters, shall we?

It’s here, in the hills of West Virginia,

in a house full of cooking smells,

boots clicking on torn linoleum floors,

a swish of a skirt,

a stunning silence,

calm, but for a rustle of forest at 3am.

This is the nighttime of my childhood,

dark and deserted.

Here, is where I appreciate

its absence, marvel at its existence

in the first place. Perhaps,

it was just something I dreamt up

on a bleak October morning

in the mountains.

Or was it the plot

of a book I read long ago,

long enough to have forgotten

it was only a book, and nothing more?

This house is a womb,

small and warm, even

the walls are soft.

We lounge in the corners,

the nooks and crannies,

of a room as high as it is wide,

wine is passed about,

sloshed into glasses,

mugs, jelly jars,

No one is left to thirst.

And somehow, I miss you

less than I have ever missed anyone.

You broke me so firmly and cleanly,

without a moment’s hesitation,

as an errant reader,

snaps the spine of a book,

flat backed upon his desk,

caught between elbows.

And me?

I am on the porch

at daybreak

packing the remnants

 of our drought throated

friendship into heavy wooden crates

to be tucked away in the eaves of my mind.

An attic with plenty of room to store you,

shove you deep into the shadows of memory.

Non, rien de rien.

Non, Je ne regrette rien.

But, I am foolish that way.

I admit it.

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Sometimes, I let my thoughts wander, let them seek out their own subject…

I have put off starting this blog for more than a year. I have never been good with beginnings, nor endings, for that matter. I have always preferred the middle of any story, the casual day to day feel of setting up a scene. I like background. With that in mind, I am going to start in the middle, also known as, today. I am not going to explain in detail how this blog was meant to be a journal of my Proust-reading journey or any of that pretentious tripe. Just this: A few days ago someone that I have met only once, yet share a love of Proust with, wrote to me about her take on said writer and his writing, I volleyed back my own take, not very different from her own, and a conversation ensued. It was good. It made me think.

With this in mind, I sat down to write. It has been my habit for years to not decide to write about a particular thing, but to let my thoughts wander and choose their own subject. My thoughts chose Molly, so here goes. My path first crossed Molly’s when we were teenagers, she lived in another state. I was dating a boy, he had relatives visiting for Christmas and wanted me to meet his cousin, Molly. We met as planned and, I believe neither of us, was very much impressed with the other, not against, just not particularly interested. A year or so later, I was eighteen, attending community college and working part time in a portrait studio. The boy and I had broken up some time before. A new girl was hired at the studio, it was Molly. Her family had relocated and she had yet to make any friends in her new home. My high school friends had all left for college. Molly and I were both without a social circle. We became inseparable and stayed that way for a number of years. Then, Molly moved across the country with a boyfriend. We lost touch. I wondered about her off and on for years. I missed the ease and openness of our conversations. I got married, found new friends.

Flash forward more than a decade later, my husband scheduled a day trip to NYC to see a film with a friend. The plan was for the two of them to meet up with some people this friend knew for the film and dinner afterward. The friend cancelled. My husband went without him. Upon arriving home that night my husband filled me in on these strangers he met in the city, including a girl named Molly. It occurred to me that the mutual friend may have known my friend Molly when she lived in our city. I did some digging. It was Molly. I came into possession of her email address, but didn’t contact her for months. I was nervous, so much time had passed, maybe that easy connection we had shared had dissipated. People change, the world changes. I have always had this inherent need to preserve my memories and not taint them with the present.  Finally, I emailed Molly and we set a date for me to visit NYC. I questioned my husband over and over, during the four hour drive, about how to handle twelve hours with someone I had neither seen nor spoken to in over a decade. He asked if I would recognize her on the street and I was certain I could pick her out of a crowd. We parked in a garage in the village and walked to our meet up spot with Molly.

I knew her immediately, even with three lanes of traffic and throngs of people between us, I pointed her out to my husband. He asked, “Are you sure that’s her?” I was. My husband greeted my old friend and left us together on the corner. We began walking and talking, and never stopped, for twelve hours, our conversation hitting on all topics. We had a lot of catching up to do and I was surprised, albeit pleasantly, that no topic seemed off limits. It was the kind of conversation we had grown used to in our youth. We drank tea, bought books, drank wine, bought more books. (This is, after all, NYC. The book stores are endless.) Molly and I renewed our friendship. We kept in touch on facebook and through email. I visited her a few more times.

Fast forward to the last year and a half, I lost a childhood friend, Vashni, to cancer in the Autumn of 2012. It hit me hard, harder than I wanted to admit. Around the same time Vashni passed away, Molly was diagnosed with cancer as well. It felt like I’d been sucker punched. Molly began treatment. She visited twice that year. We spent an evening having one of those marathon conversations, this one clocking in at eight hours. She was sick, there was no hiding it. I drove her back to her parent’s house in the middle of the night, she looked tired, and I worried I’d kept her up too late. We kept in touch throughout her treatment. A few weeks before the anniversary of Vashni’s passing, Molly finished treatment. She came to visit. She decided to move back to the west coast. I wanted a day with her in NYC before she left, we made plans for my husband and I to spend two days with Molly, just two weeks before her move.

We walked the city. Drank tea, bought books, drank wine, bought more books. Molly moved to the west coast. Her cancer went into remission.

When I sat down to write the other day, I let my thoughts wander. They wandered into an October day, spent in NYC with an old friend…

—————————————————————

October-NYC 2013

                for Molly

Alphabet city in the rain, a yellow sweater, and no umbrella.

We seek refuge in storefronts.

You, drawing your hat over your ears, craning your neck, giving your face to the clouds,

 laughing at the weather.

Inside, it is darker than any sky that hangs above the city.

At a small table, you order wine and pull off the hat.

Your hair is a whisper, no more than a fraction of an inch or so,

 spun out, unevenly, into a cloud of gold.

I have half a mind to touch it, feel for myself that it’s real,

give a tug to the swirl just above your left ear, place my hand, palm down

on the crown of your head,

I quietly smother the impulse.

Women over forty don’t pet each other in bars on Thursday afternoons,

nor do they want to, for that matter.

Instead, we talk about books.

Books we read as children, books we read in college,

 books we read last week, books we want to read more than anything else.

It’s a novel idea. Books are safe.

 They don’t get sick and fix their eyes upon death.

You order more pinot.

On the sidewalk, we trip over puddles, arms linked at the elbow,

wine clumsy, water swishing in our boots, the rainstorm

having punched the time clock

and gone home for the day.

You, navigating us through streets,

around corners,

into your favorite park.

A pair of nomads, bedouins

without a plan, or even a map.

You and I,

 sitting close together,

 on a damp bench,

letting the city curl words around us.

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