Tag Archives: friendships

friends and lovers

Earlier this year, as I sat on the hard, wooden bleacher bench and watched my daughter’s volleyball team be destroyed by their opponent, a man sat down next to me. He smiled and said hello.  I smiled politely and felt a nervous flutter in my gut.  He turned his attention to his daughter, a teammate of my daughter’s, and only occasionally glanced my way.  I did my best to avert my eyes and avoid conversation, afraid that something I did might belie the nervousness I felt.  He was handsomer than I had remembered, and fitter than I’d expected. Although, in fairness, I’d never seen him up close and in person before. He seemed relaxed and at ease.  Happy, even.  I kept telling myself that there was no way that he could know that I know what I know.

Because what I know is that 6 years ago he cheated on his wife with a good friend of mine.

My town is just small enough that if your daughter is between the ages of 12 and 14 and plays volleyball competitively, she’s probably on my daughter’s team.  And so here we sit, Casanova and I — on a cold, hard bleacher bench, with the cold, hard truth resting resolutely between us but only I am aware of our shared secret.

When my friend Izzie first met Sergio, she and I weren’t really friends.  We were more like acquaintances.  Our friendship grew as our marriages failed and pretty soon we were sharing all sorts of intimate stories over coffee or (more frequently as time wore on) margaritas.  The first time Izzie met Sergio, she told me later, was like falling off a cliff.  The attraction was immediate and deep and shattering.  It went beyond the physical and into the complicated realms of respect, admiration, and genuine appreciation.  Within months they were crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and Izzie was hopelessly and completely in love with Sergio.  Every last part of her behavior with him was wildly out of character for Izzie, and she wrestled with all sorts of guilty demons, but her heart was determined and single-minded.

There were a lot of things that predestined the unhappy ending of their story, but primary among them, even more so than the fact that both were still married, was Sergio’s professed fondness for “the European way of approaching these things,” as he euphemistically put it to Izzie after she was already too far gone to retreat.  See, Sergio was raised in Europe, amongst money and wealth, and was of the belief that marriage was not necessarily about fidelity but about being partners in raising children and maintaining a family.  He suggested to Izzie that affairs were necessary simply — and only — to have needs met that weren’t being met within the marriage.  And as time wore on, it became clear that such a set-up — a long-term, no-strings-attached affair — was all that he was prepared to offer or consider with Izzie.  Faced with this truth, she was totally crushed, and I was silently outraged (as every good friend is, right?).  It was beyond me how he could see my smart, beautiful, open and loving friend and not want every last thing she was willing to offer him.  I was appalled and frustrated and furious on her behalf, even as the rational part of me knew that, of course, this is how these cookies usually crumble.

Izzie moved on with her divorce and slowly, with a strength that I admired and tried to emulate, put her past behind her.  She displayed remarkable grace and kindness toward Sergio when she heard from him or ran into him, and despite feeling some lingering sense of want, she never wandered one step down that path again.  It seemed that perhaps Sergio and all the messiness from that relationship was behind her, and therefore, me.  Much later, Izzie heard that Sergio’s wife had finally filed for divorce, and that the two were separated.  And time did it’s predictable, comforting march away from that time and pain.

Until Sabrina decided that she wanted to play volleyball.

I saw Sergio’s last name on the team roster and called Izzie.  She confirmed that it was, indeed, Sergio’s daughter on the roster, and we both made the usual “small world” comments.  I didn’t think much of it until the following weekend, when I found myself standing awkwardly at the snack table next to Sergio’s wife.  She tried to make small talk with me, and I, probably quite rudely, walked away.  All I could remember was how much Izzie and I had wondered about this woman all those years ago.  What was she like?  Did she know of Sergio’s affairs?  Did she suspect?  Did she care?  What was wrong with her that he looked elsewhere? (This last was, admittedly, horribly unfair, but a product of the mindset we were in at the time.) And now here I was, forced to make small talk with her, and — gasp! — maybe even grow to like her.

Competitive volleyball is a grueling sport for parents — two to three practices a week and weekend tournaments that start at 8 am and don’t end until almost dinnertime.  There is lots of waiting around between matches and lots of coordinating food and travel.  After a season of this, I have realized the utter foolishness of my earlier belief that perhaps I could simply avoid Sergio and his wife for the year or two that our girls might play together.  I can no more avoid them than I can avoid my own daughter at matches.  It’s impossible.

And so I have done the unthinkable:  I have sat and talked with Sergio’s wife at length at matches.  We have emailed occasionally to confirm practices or set up tournament details.  And I have grudgingly come to like her.  But we have not shared a single interaction during which her husband’s betrayal did not lurk right under the surface of my consciousness. I wish that it would go away, but it won’t.

As for Sergio, he probably thinks me somewhat aloof; certainly he has not guessed at our connection.  My last name, unlike his own, is very common, and I have been careful to avoid mention of Izzie’s name in conversation with or near him.  Still, I find myself unfairly disliking him.  More so than Izzie, I cannot seem to forgive him for causing her tears and heartbreak.  Yes, I know they were consenting adults making a mutually inadvisable decision, the outcome of which was not likely to be good, but I cannot help but lay the blame at his feet.

And I find that it is not just Izzie over whom I feel protective, but Sergio’s wife, too.  I do not know her well or even consider her a friend, but I like her, and I hate that I know this about her marriage and she probably does not.  I hate to imagine that she would likely feel humiliated and betrayed by my silence, too.  And so I blame Sergio for all of it. For Izzie’s tears and his wife’s ignorance and my strange, awkward position.  It’s probably not fair, but I do.

I know for certain that I will never, ever, in any small or large way, betray what I know to Sergio or to his wife.  I would not violate Izzie’s trust in that manner under any circumstances, and I have no wish to cause possible pain to Sergio’s wife.  Instead I will continue to sit through practices and tournaments, musing silently to myself about how far and wide our choices resonate.  Nothing that we ever do is completely over.  It is there, always, reappearing in surprising places and with never-anticipated results.  Our pain, our mistakes, our lapses, all there, capable of being discovered at any given moment and inflicting further pain even years and years later.

I will keep my thoughts to myself.  I will wonder at the possible irony of someone in the gymnasium knowing something equally painful and unexpected about me or my life.  And I will continue to sit on the hard, wooden bleacher bench, watch my daughter’s team, and silently contemplate my friends and their lovers.

affairs

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the spiritual book club

In the last years of my marriage, I was part of a very special book club.  We started out as a normal enough book club — four women who were acquainted with each other to varying degrees, but all connected through a local daycare center/preschool.  Two were teachers there and the other two of us had worked together at the county attorney’s office and now had children at the preschool. We were from different religious and geographical backgrounds, but we shared a love of books and discussion.

It started normally enough — a novel here, a biography there.  Long discussions of the books over coffee or brunch, with frequent detours discussing mothering, sex, or careers.  It was, in most ways, pretty much your run-of-the-mill book club.  But there were early signs that it was different, too.  Something in how we related to each other… trusted each other… made our book club meetings so much more than book discussions.  I can’t speak for the others, but they were my soul food during those years, and some of those conversations sincerely changed my life.  Most notably, we read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and my friends’ comments in our discussion that autumn day unwittingly launched me on my stumbling path toward divorce.  It was, for me, the point of no return, but I’m sure they had no idea.

As I look back, the evolution of the book club was fateful… each progression carefully choreographed and occurring at precisely the right time; proof that the universe knows better than we when things should happen.  The big turning point occurred one day when my attorney friend, Michelle, brought a new book to the club.  It was Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison Dubois, the psychic on whom the television show “Medium” was based.  Michelle was a practicing Jew, and, in my experience, the most reserved, pragmatic, and practical of us all.  But following a death in her extended family, her son had begun asking difficult questions and life and death and the beyond, and so Michelle found herself stretching past the tenets of Judaism for answers for him. She had started reading the book and wanted desperately to talk to someone about it, but was concerned that her other friends would think her crazy.  So she brought it to us.  And it changed everything.

We read the book and discussed it, each of us taking small, tentative steps to reveal things that we’d experienced, thought about or believed in.  And we discovered a shared fascination with the spiritual world, and a surprisingly coherent understanding of God and our place in the universe, despite our divergent religious backgrounds.  I’m not exactly sure if or when we agreed to take the book club into a different direction, but after that first Allison Dubois book, I don’t think we read another “regular” book together.

For the next few years, we embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery together.  We read books about religion and ghosts, psychic phenomena and channeling, auras and spirit guides, reincarnation and past lives, God and death and angels.  Then, we began doing “field trips” — we had our auras cleansed and our past lives read and shelled out money to hear internationally-known psychics speak.  It was fascinating and expansive and left us all reeling from the possibilities we had never considered.  We approached all things with an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism, but never cynicism.  Sometimes we debated, sometimes we agreed.  Some of our experiences and readings spoke to some of us and not so much to others.  We were honest and thoughtful and supportive of each others’ journey.  Occasionally, we would consider adding a new member to our little group, but we never actually did.  Somehow we knew that the dynamic of the 4 of us was just as it should be.

The book club broke apart right around the time of my separation.  I’ve never known if my separation was somehow the cause — did the others feel, as I did, that our work together had helped lead me to that place, and perhaps they felt uncomfortable with that knowledge? — but for whatever reason, one and then the other got too busy to meet anymore.  The bonds that had been formed quietly fell away.  Perhaps our work together was simply done.

The last thing my book club did together was a yoga retreat in the mountains.  It was beautiful and special, but I could feel the space between us.  At lunch that day, we sat in the sun on a deck and shared stories of the small miracles and wondrous things that had happened to us since our last meeting together; our meetings had mostly devolved into sharing those stories — the things you couldn’t tell anyone else without them looking at you sideways.  But I could sense the distance between us, too.  And it made me a little sad.

There are certain people and times in your life that leave indelible marks on your soul forever.  The book club was like that for me.  Those women provided a safe place for me to explore and examine aspects of myself that had been dormant for many years.  Our time together reminded me of the girl I had been and lost somewhere along the way, and the spiritual foundation I uncovered within myself gave me the strength and courage to make the scariest decision of my life.

The book club gave me one more thing — a dear friend that I see rarely but cherish very much.  Although she is several years younger than me, I admire her immensely and rely on her to ground me when I lose my way.  We understand each other in a way that goes beyond my feeble human comprehension.  The book club is over, but it’s impact on my life is felt every day.  Some of the books we read remain touchstones for me, dog-eared from multiple readings, and the things I learned about life and death and myself from those years inform everything I do now.

I’ve recently given thought to starting a new book club, with a different focus….  Maybe it’s time for another adventure…..

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mommy martyrdom

I like that this blogger offers an alternative concept of what it means to be a “good mother.” As a woman who was, for too many years, sequestered in her roles of wife and mother, this really resonates with me. My post divorce life is full of meaningful friendships that I make a genuine priority in my life, and what a difference they make to my soul. I am definitely a better mother, daughter, employee, and partner when I have the warmth of girl time in my life.

Views from the Couch

Some friends and I were chatting and the the above meme card came up, which has been posted around Facebook, and we discovered that we were unanimously annoyed with the implied sentiment. Listen up ladies, this isn’t the 1950’s! Your goal in life no longer has to be landing a husband so you can spend the rest of your life finding shoes to compliment your newest apron or dedicate yourself solely to dispensing little humans out of your vagina like Pez. Supposedly, the sky is the limit–okay, well the glass ceiling is the limit (wink, wink). You can go to college, and not just for your M.R.S. degree. You can have a career. You can have an active social life and go out with friends. The world is your oyster! That is, until you have a child. At that point, you are only supposed to concern yourself with all things…

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finding myself, alongside a high school mascot

Joke:

What’s the difference between a hockey game and a high school reunion?

At a hockey game you see fast pucks.

Sometimes, I turn around and run smack into myself in the most unlikely of places. It is in those moments when I see myself clearly – the good and the bad – and make my best peace with who I am.

I am returning from four days in my hometown, having cashed in some frequent-flyer miles to make the journey back for my 25-year high school reunion. It was a two-day event, and during that time, I luxuriated in the warmth and acceptance of friendships nearly as old as me. I observed how quickly we all fell into the easy understanding that comes from spending a whole childhood together. I laughed when a classmate spilled her red wine on me and apologized profusely; I reminded her that it was hardly the first glass of wine she’d spilled on me, and hopefully would not be the last. She laughed, too.

Along with my high school reunion, I also spent many hours reconnecting with college friends and even bumped into a treasured friend who has known me since infancy. My weekend was rife with intimate moments – trading parenting challenges with a college sorority sister, sharing a quiet moment of giggles with the man to whom I’d lost my virginity, walking into a Starbucks and discovering a former neighbor who’d done everything from babysitting me to lecturing me on safe sex as a teenager. These are people from whom I could not have hidden myself, even had I wanted to. These are people who knew me long before I’d perfected any masks or defense mechanisms or means of deflecting the truth. I could see, in their faces and their dealing with me, the clearest reflection I’d seen of myself in a long time.

I also discovered, as I stood amidst my classmates, how very right and included I felt. In my adult life in Colorado, I frequently feel a bit out of place… different… odd. I am often very aware that my sensibilities and independent spirit separate me from many I know. I realized over this past weekend, as I watched my former classmates and their partners, that my particular form of independence is partly a function of where and how I grew up. In junior high school, my friends and I were hopping on the Metro to spend the day in DC without a chaperone. Classmates left and then reappeared after a parent’s assignment to an embassy in a country on the other side of the world. Nearly all my college friends studied and/or lived abroad. Most of them did not marry until their late 20’s. There was an expectation that one would explore and know the world to some degree before settling down. The couples I talked to this weekend all (literally all) had hobbies and interests of their own, as well as ones they shared with their partners. Girls’ weekends and guys’ weekends away were common, even expected. Lives were shared, not enmeshed. These conversations were vastly different from those I have with my friends in Colorado.

By the end of the weekend, I realized how starved for this I have been. I moved to Colorado as an engaged woman and nearly all the friends Bryce and I made as a couple followed in the paradigm I thought he preferred and seemed comfortable with: the couple did nearly everything together, all the time. Hobbies, including sports, were shared together. Most child-rearing responsibilities fell to the woman and financial support to the man, and family life revolved almost entirely around the children and their activities. And within a few years of living in this paradigm, I felt stifled, suffocated, and sad.

Well, no wonder.

That’s not to say, of course, that this particular marriage model is unique in any way to Colorado, nor that it is the only model present in our town. But, for whatever reason, this is the model that I found myself surrounded with and from which I rebelled when I left my husband and broke up my family. And, for whatever reason, it is still the primary model I see around me as a single woman now. But it is a model that still chafes at me, leaving a raw, red patch on my soul, requiring attention and adjustment, lest it fester and infect my sense of myself once again.

Half-way through my weekend, my friend Ryan asked me what I had discovered so far this weekend. With hardly a breath’s hesitation, I answered, “Me. I found myself again.” And I really meant it. After high school ended, and over the course of many, many years, I slowly lost sight of myself. I watched as the parts of me I liked best became obscured and diminished. At times I fought hard to secure those pieces, but other times I surrendered them with little protest. But this weekend, I felt fully and completely whole again. And what a beautiful feeling it is.

Annie and I have often noted that the people who seem happiest post-divorce are those who achieved whatever they left their marriages to pursue. In some cases, that might be a more robust career, or to escape a controlling or abusive spouse, or to find peace from a high-conflict relationship, or to find love beyond what they had in their marriage. This weekend has caused me to re-think why it is that I left and what it is that I am seeking. I am seeing more clearly how the choices that I have made since my divorce belie my true heart’s desire. How funny it is when we realize why we have been doing what we have been doing…

As I was leaving the reunion, my best friend from the 6th grade gave me a long hug and whispered in my ear as we both fought back tears, “You’ve been away for so long. I hope I see you again.”

I hope I see you, too, my old friend. And I hope you always see me.

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there’s no place like home

I am 30,000 feet above the Earth, somewhere over the American mid-west, hurtling toward my hometown of Washington DC. The premise for my trip is my 25th high school class reunion, but for me, it is much more than that.

I was born in DC, at Georgetown University Hospital, and raised just outside the city in a leafy Maryland suburb that was staunchly upper middle-class at the time. After my father died, my mom did everything she could to keep us in that neighborhood on her meager salary and a government check, because the schools were some of the best in the country and the neighbors were warm and supportive. I grew up in and out of the kitchens of various neighbors. The older kids were my babysitters, and the younger ones my surrogate siblings. I felt safe, and loved, and fully unaware that I was lacking anything.

For many of my friends, DC was a city they rarely ventured into, but not so for me. Despite our financial struggles (or maybe because of them), my mom and I spent quite a bit of time downtown. DC is a town that can be enjoyed on a shoe-string, if you know how to do it. Certainly you miss out on the fabeled eateries and extraordinary theater offerings, but I grew up knowing my way around the Smithsonian museums by the time I was in middle school. The National Zoo fed my love of animals, and every Fourth of July, we spread a blanket near the Washington monument and oohed and aahed as fireworks exploded over the Lincoln Memorial. I grew up biking and roller skating through Rock Creek Park, and every year my mom would squirrel away enough pennies to dress me up and take me to the Kennedy Center, usually around Christmas time. My friends and I used the Metro to venture into all parts of the city, even those that would have sent our parents reeling, had they known. We hiked into Georgetown (not served by the Metro because, at the time of its design, the snobby muckety-mucks thought the subway would bring in “the wrong element”), and we cried over the Vietnam War Memorial, returning to school and demanding of our teachers why we were not taught about that part of history (it wasn’t yet part of the standard curriculum in the mid-1980’s, beyond a short mention).

After living in several other places, I returned to life in the city when I attended law school in DC, and got to know my hometown in entirely new ways. I lived in a historical but tired part of town that was gradually gentrifying. During my last visit, I was astonished to see how upscale it had become, but relieved that its gentrification had saved the glorious old movie theater with the balcony where I’d gone on countless dates.

It was while I was in law school that I finally followed in my dad’s footsteps and headed to Capitol Hill. I stumbled into an amazing job as a lobbyist (ahem, “advocate,” since non-profits are not allowed to lobby) for a national child welfare non-profit. It was a heady time in DC, and for me personally, although my stint in the music business had fortunately insulated me from being star-struck by mere senators or chiefs of staff. I mean, what was a White House invitation when you’d been on tour with a major rock band? I loved my work and worked harder than I ever had before or since. Fourteen-hour workdays were frequent, and my friendships revolved around my work, as is common in our nation’s capital.

Leaving DC was not difficult for me. I was ready. I was tired of the hours, tired of the stress, tired of the status-seeking behavior of those around me. I longed for a better work-life balance and for people who didn’t ask me what I did for a living within the first 30 seconds of conversation. And I wanted to have and raise a family without having to move out to the cow pastures to find an affordable home. So, when I visited Colorado and fell in love with it, I didn’t look back. And 15 years later, I rarely have.

The last time I came to DC was almost exactly 4 years ago, over Thanksgiving. Under the partially-true pretense that my dearest friend from college, Caitlyn, needed my help with her infant daughter while her husband Caleb was out of the country, I escaped to her house for nearly a week, lost in my thoughts and confusion. We ran errands, drank wine, ate brownies for dinner, and delicately unraveled the giant ball of twine that my emotions around my marriage had become. It was to Caitlyn that I first uttered the word “divorce” in reference to my own life, and it was lying awake in her guest bedroom where I finally realized that I truly didn’t love my husband anymore. I returned home more sad than when I’d left, but also more clear about the gravity of the situation in front of me. This time I will be staying at Caitlyn’s house again — my life so changed and our friendship so the same.

Some people say that you can’t go home again, and I suppose in many ways that’s true. But I would argue that it depends on what you’re seeking there. My friends in the DC area know me in ways my friends out West simply can’t, because they know where I came from, and what made me who I am. They saw me grow fundamentally into the person I became and always will be. There is something intimate in having known each other before puberty, during braces and pimples, through countless fashion disasters and relationship crises. Many of my kindergarten class will be at my high school reunion this weekend, as will the boy I lost my virginity to, and my first “frenemy.” And wedged alongside the high school reunion festivities, I will be meeting up with two more college friends whose friendships have left indelible marks on my life. These people are my life’s context, the fabric that creates the texture of my history. Somewhere along the way, life mostly evens out, and the friends we make at that point, while no less important or valuable, know only the mostly-finished product; they never glimpse the raw materials.

When I was going through my divorce, I faced all sorts of judgment and criticism from supposed friends in my community. Their reactions left me feeling betrayed and deflated. One night, while chatting with a friend I grew up with but haven’t seen in 20 years, I asked her why none of my hometown friends had asked me why I was getting divorced. “I think it’s probably because we all know you,” she said simply. “And we know that you’re smart and a good person. And we figure if you chose to do this, then it was the right thing for you to do.” Her words sustained me for weeks afterward, as I muddled through the self-doubts and fears of those early month of separation.

Washington, DC will always be my hometown, even if it’s no longer my home. When I come back to DC now, it’s not to reclaim some distant past or slip into the persona of a former me. I love the life I have made in Colorado, and I feel secure in the decisions that carried me from hometown. But sometimes… just sometimes… it’s nice to go home again and sink into the familiar, the known, and the understood. Just for a little while.

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the deal.

My friend Annie got back from a short vacation last night, and before we even put our children into their respective beds, I had unloaded on her the detritus of a stressful week.  The expense and hassle of purchasing three new appliances, one of which has flooded my laundry room (twice!).  The predictable but still painful family arguments around the disposition of my aunt’s belongings.  A disagreement with James.  Essentially the stuff that is life, but a heavier burden when carried alone.

I remember once when I was a small child and my widowed mother had very little money, our dishwasher flooded the kitchen for the second or third time in as many weeks.  My mom sat on the kitchen floor, amidst the soapy mess, and sobbed.  Overwhelmed and lonely, she couldn’t move until there weren’t any tears left.  Then she fetched some towels and began the frustrating process of sopping up all that water, as I perched on the stairs and watched.

I have thought a lot about that day this week, as I’ve mopped up my own soapy messes.  Twice.

Nearly every marriage has some big parts that really work.  For me and Bryce, it was the rough times.  Unlike some couples, we were at our best when facing a challenge together, shoulder-to-shoulder.  Whether it was Sabrina’s serious health concerns or Bryce’s dual lay-offs in one year, we just braced ourselves and carried on, in sync.

One of the shames of divorce is that you have to divorce the whole person.   You don’t get to pick and choose which pieces of them you’d like to never see again.  The baby goes out with the bathwater, so to speak.

Since I left Bryce, I have not had another relationship that felt as reliable or solid as that one.  I miss that in my life.  I really do.  But in the absence of that particular kind of comfort, I have discovered a nearly-as-good substitute in my friends.

Sometime early in our friendship — before I’d even left Bryce — Annie and I fell into a certain unspoken deal with each other:  if one of us needs someone, no matter the time or inconvenience, the other is there.  We have each had moments in which we’ve dropped everything at work, or plopped our children in front of a movie, or told a date that it would “just be a minute” so that we could attend to whatever small or large crisis had exploded in the other’s world.  Sometimes there have been tears, sometimes curse words, sometimes desperation, and sometimes anguish.  Sometimes we have come through for each other better than at other times, but we have always been there.

A few years ago, I couldn’t have appreciated this in the same way, and I didn’t ask it of my friends then, either.  But when, after many, many years, you suddenly find yourself without someone solid to lean on in the dark or difficult times, friendships take on a different quality.

When I was in my 20’s and still believed that I was Superwoman, I had a therapist ask me where I unpacked my load.  I had no earthly idea what she meant, but it sounded vaguely sexual to me and I was embarrassed by the question.  What she meant, of course, was simply where was I safe enough to let it all out?  To allow all my deepest fears and hopes and dreams to get some air.  At that time, I had no answer for her.   Her question has stayed with me for all these years.

I realized this week that it is still a question I struggle with, but the closest I come to that safety is with my female friends.  With a few of them — like Annie — I don’t have to be always smart or always accomplished or always fun.  Sometimes I’m not any of those things.  Sometimes I’m frustrated and overwhelmed and sad.  And I thank God that I have people in my life who can handle me that way.

I am constantly amazed at how much better I feel after talking to a friend and unpacking my heavy load.  It’s enough to give me the strength to re-pack it and carry it for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet the washing machine repairman.  Again.

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the friendship salve

I am sitting on a bench in one of my favorite places in town, sipping a chai tea latte and people watching.  Tulips are in full bloom, the sky is the kind of blue that only happens in the West, and throngs of locals and tourists are milling about the pedestrian mall, pausing to watch the street performers and artists.  A man to my left is arranging his body into a small box, accompanied by a man playing a didgeridoo down the way to my right.  My iPhone says it’s 60F, but in the sunshine at this altitude, I’m certain it’s closer to 70F or more.  I am peeling off layers every few minutes.

On the bench next to me are two women, who appear to be in their 30’s.  They’ve been sitting there since before I sat down, and are completely absorbed in their conversation, the springtime activities around us completely forgotten, ignored.  They are speaking loudly enough for me to hear, 10 feet away, and so I am shamelessly eavesdropping.

One of the women is verbally processing the end of a relationship.  She is describing to her friend, in detail, the end of the relationship.  How she knew.  What she did.  The arguments.  The subsequent loneliness.  Her recent, furtive attempts at dating again.

Her friend is the more grounded one at the moment.  She listens and offers advice, validation, support.  She makes her friend laugh and, even at this distance, I can feel the comfort she is delivering.  Their body language speaks to a long and intimate friendship, although some of their exchange suggests otherwise.  Regardless, they are doing what women do so well for each other:  they are bonding, supporting, comforting.

What would we do without our friends?  What must it be like to have no female friends?  Mine have carried me through some monstrously difficult moments with grace and compassion.  I cannot imagine not having that in my life.

In my youth, I was never one of those girls who completely dropped her girlfriends when she got a boyfriend.  Typically what has happened during those times is that my “friend” list gets edited, those acquaintances with whom I do not have a deep connection are pruned back.  But my friendships — and that bonding time with other females — is far too important to me  to let go because of the man in my life.

My marriage was the exception.  For various reasons, I felt guilty for spending time with my friends, and slowly, gradually, they all but disappeared from my life.  Until one day, many years later, I woke up feeling barren and alone and void.

When James and I started dating, I wondered, briefly, if that pattern would repeat.  But I found that I still made time to see my friends, that I still needed that connection and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty taking that time to indulge in the balm of female friendship.  James teased me, for “being such a girl,” but it was clear that he didn’t really mind, that he admired and valued my friendships.

I suppose, like most things, the need for face-to-face contact with our friends — for that intimate connection — varies with each of us.  This time after my divorce has taught me that I need it deeply.  Not just when things are difficult or stressful or sad, but always.  I need to talk and listen and share and connect.  I need afternoons in the sun like the women next to me are sharing.

I imagine that the two women on the bench one over will stay long after I depart in a few moments.  They are still catching up, exchanging stories and laughing.  I watch them and know, that when they leave each other today, it will be with lighter hearts and fuller souls than when they sat down.  They will smile more and rest easier for their time spent together.

And so will I, for having, just by proximity, soaked up some of the salve that is female friendship.

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moments

I started my morning today with a friend who told me the story of a man she’d recently met in a local photo shop.  They started talking cameras and ended up talking about friendship.  It was one of those simple moments in which we make a connection with a perfect stranger that stays with us, even days later.  Not a romantic connection, but the kind of connection in which there is a recognition of a similar way of thinking, of a similar wanting in this world, of a similar desire for human connectedness.  Some might call it a soul connection.

As I drove to work, my mind played with the kinds of moments I’ve shared with strangers.  Some are very simple, others life-changing.  In some of those moments, I am convinced that the other person shared the experience, but in others, I suspect that I passed through their life with little impression or impact.  That doesn’t, of course, make those moments any less special to me.

Hours later, driving home from work, a song cycled through my iPhone and I was reminded of one such moment that I shared with a man, 20 years ago.  At that time I was barely 23-years-old, working in the British music industry, promoting artists to radio and television outlets.  It was late afternoon on an early summer day, and I was backstage at a radio station-sponsored charity concert, supporting one of our acts.   They finished and filed off the stage, grumbling about their performance (and granted, it wasn’t their best).  I murmured words of encouragement and offered hugs, then turned to follow them out of the stage area.  As we moved, single-file, the next band was coming on, single-file next to us in the narrow, short hallway.  From a short distance, I made eye contact with the other band’s singer.  We locked eyes, holding the gaze as he walked past me, so close I could smell him and see the flecks in his eyes.  As I passed, I craned my neck to hold his gaze, and he managed to turn himself completely around in the tight space, guitar in hand, watching me move away from him until his bandmate shoved him onto the stage.  As he struck the first chords on his guitar, my colleagues and I stepped out the door, into the blinding sunlight, and away from him.  I’d never seen him before, and I never saw him again.  But 20 years later, I still remember that moment.

Now remember, I was a young American girl in the British music industry who favored body-hugging catsuits and thigh-high boots.  Turning heads backstage was not an uncommon occurrence in those days.  But that moment was different.  Deeper.  Special somehow. What was it about him that arrested me in that moment? It wasn’t his good looks; he actually wasn’t the physical type I went for back then, and I’d never given him a second thought, despite the fact that his band was splashed all over magazines and tv in Britain at that time.  No, as I looked into his eyes, I felt something different… a pull… a desire to sit and talk to and know this person.  Likewise, in his eyes, I saw not the simple, hot, predatory hunger of lust that I was used to, but a kind of…. recognition… surprise… attraction. Later, his band skyrocketed to fame and had two gigantic hits stateside after my return.  But to me, he’s always been a pair of hazel eyes in a dim hallway.

Life is made richest by those precious, unexpected moments of connection.  Some are shared with people we already love, when we discover a new intersection of understanding or shared passion.  Others — and in many ways these are the more delightful — are shared with people we barely know.  They are reminders of interconnectedness, of the fact that we are not alone in this universe, small islands merely bumping into each other as we navigate the physical world.

I have very few of these moments these days.  My life is so constructed as to limit the opportunities for me to meet new and dynamic people.   Sometimes when I think of how many of those moments I experienced in my 20’s, I want to go back and shake that young woman.  I want to tell her how much rarer those moments become as we age.  I want to yell at her to turn around and talk to that young man backstage, to wait for his set to end and him to come find her.  I want to inform her that those are the moments that change our lives.

Then again, my life in my 20’s was very different.  When I was living in England, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds — musicians, actors, painters.  Their way of looking at the world challenged me and pushed the limits of my creativity.  I spent most nights in nightclubs and recording studios, often not arriving home until noon the next day.  When I gave that up, I plunged myself headfirst into law school.  Again, I was surrounded by people who pushed me, scared me with their intellect, and forced me to debate and defend my beliefs.  Those two periods of my life were very different in so many ways, but shared a vital similarity:  I was open and curious and hungry for the world around me in my 20’s.

In some ways, I am still that young girl.  I am still emotionally and intellectually curious.  I am still intrigued and arrested by dynamic people who can blow me away in one fashion or another.  But age has bred caution, and knowledge, and a certain disappointment in human limitations.

Even so, every once in a while, I am still blessed with one of those perfect moments.  And now, the awareness of their rarity makes them all more sweeter.

Someone asked me today what I want most right now.

Moments.  I want moments.

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the release valve

I encountered a small problem at work recently that left me stumped.  The nutshell version is that I needed an accurate map of our town, showing town borders, property lines, street names, and address numbers, and only those things.  Without this map, a massive project that I’ve been working on for months could end up unraveling at a pivotal point.

Given that I work in town administration, you might think that obtaining such a map would be fairly easy.  But, no.  This is a very small town with very limited resources and we had no such map.  We had other maps, lots and lots of other maps, but not a map like this.  I was beginning to quietly panic. I had to have this map, and I had to have it by next Tuesday.

And then I was reminded that when we are kind to people, it usually comes back to us tenfold.

A colleague of mine, whom I’ll call “Todd,” arrived in the office a bit ago, with a big smile on his face.  “Hey, T,” he called out, “I have something for you!”  Now, there are only 7 of us working here (ten, actually, if you include my colleague’s adorable 3-month-old baby boy who comes to work with her every day and the 2 dogs that serve as “canine ambassadors” to members of the community who stop by).  Most of us crowded into the break room to see what had our normally recalcitrant Todd sounding so buoyant.

With a flourish, Todd handed me a large, rolled up paper.  I looked at him, with his shit-eating grin on his face, and frantically opened the bundle as if I were about to discover the Superstar Barbie I’d begged for at age 8.  And there it was.  In all it’s glory.

My simple, perfect map.

Me:  “How….?  Where…..?”

Todd:  “Will and I sat down yesterday and played with the software and figured it out.  I knew you needed it.  It took us a couple of hours, and it’s not been fully-proofed, but I feel pretty sure it’ll be accurate.  I went to Kinko’s this morning and got it enlarged for you.”

I honestly did not know what to say.  Todd is currently cramming to get things done so he can take off for a much-deserved vacation.  He absolutely did not have the time to do this for me.  And Will isn’t even employed by the town anymore.  I’d noticed that he was in the office yesterday, but hadn’t thought anything of it.  After thanking Todd profusely, I had to retreat to my office because I honestly thought I might cry.

Right now I am shouldering more stress and fear and moments of panic than I have in almost 20 years.  There are financial pressures that are weighing heavily on me, employment concerns that come with the territory when you work in a political job, and middle school looming for my overly-sensitive eldest daughter.  Add to that an ex-boyfriend who has showed up with no apparent intention other than to wreak further emotional havoc on my life, and you can probably understand that I’m feeling pretty lost and lonely and overwhelmed and unsupported right now.  It happens.  It’s life.  But it still sucks.

But it is also in those moments when we most realize our value to the people around us, the ways that we are connected and care for and about each other.  I drove to work this morning, reminding myself that I have friends I can turn to.  Annie will listen to me cry.  K.C. will give me or loan me any money I’d ever need.  Katrina will keep me company so I’m not lonely and panicked.  I don’t have to shoulder everything alone, always.  I don’t have to be a strong, together, poised woman every. single. minute.  I am allowed to be weak, and scared, and uncertain sometimes.  We all are.  None of us are superheroes.  Sometimes we have to ask for help, for friendship, for support.

I hadn’t asked Todd for his help, but he gave it anyway, and I know why.  Back in January, at a drunken going-away party for another colleague, Todd confided in me that he is in love with a woman 2,000 miles away and he is, frankly, heartsick over her.  Since then, I have listened when I didn’t have the time, and inquired how he’s doing when I could tell he needed to talk, and encouraged and supported their tentative steps to creating a relationship against the odds.  They are small things, to be sure, but when you’re in that space, is there anything better than knowing that someone cares, just a little bit?

That’s why he made me my map, I am sure of it.  To let me know that he appreciates me, too.

Sometimes a small, random act of kindness like that serves as a release valve for the pressure you’re feeling.  Locked in the crucible of a stressful situation, it’s easy to feel that something has to give — and fast — or you’re going to quietly explode.  But then a friend comes along and offers a hug or a favor or a word of encouragement and it’s just enough to release some of that force that’s pressing in on you.  And life goes on.  And somehow we muddle through.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go give Todd a big hug before he leaves on his vacation.

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social media flunkie

Personally, technology and I have not always gotten along.

There was the infamous-among-my-friends episode in which I inadvertently employed the use of the match.com “Thanks, but no thanks” button four times in one night at the same guy.  And I’ve certainly had my share of misdirected texts, Reply-All emails, and cringe-worthy Facebook moments.  But nothing on the scale of today’s social media epic fail.

The funny thing is that I actually do this for a living.  Really, I do.  As part of my job, I host a successful Facebook page and Twitter feed for the city that employs me, and I’ve created and maintained a website with double the traffic of its predecessor.  So, it would be fair to expect that I’d have a decent grasp of this stuff.

But no.  Not really.

Today, I received an Invitation to Connect from LinkedIn.  Turns out one of my work colleagues wanted to connect with me.  Fine, no problem there.  I logged in and accepted his invitation.  And that’s when LinkedIn did a really mean thing to me.

It showed me a window with about 6-8 people in it and suggested that I make some new connections.  I looked over the people in the suggestion window, shrugged, and thought, “Sure, why not?”  And then I clicked on the “Add Connections” button.  The next page cheerfully informed that 178 Invitations had been sent.

WHAAATTT?!?!?!?!?!?!

That’s right, folks, LinkedIn sent Invitations to Connect to everyone in my Yahoo address book who was currently on LinkedIn and not connected to me.  One. Hundred. Seventy. Eight.

You know why I wasn’t connected to most of those people?  BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CONNECTED TO MOST OF THOSE PEOPLE!!

As I assessed the damage, I discovered that the little window had a scroll function that I’d failed to notice… the six or eight people I saw were merely — and without exaggeration — the tip of the iceberg.  In reviewing the entire list of my newest LinkedIn Connections, I realized that the lucky recipients fell generally into several sub-categories:

  1. Friends and colleagues that I actually would like to be connected with but hadn’t realized they were on LinkedIn (perhaps a dozen people at most, including Parker);
  2. Acquaintances that I have no reason to be connected to, usually because they were from a former career or because my relationship with them truly consisted of a single email about my daughter’s soccer practice two years ago;
  3. People whom I simply don’t recognize at all (seriously — even after many of them accepted my invitations, I now have several dozen “connections” with people I don’t have the foggiest idea who they are or how I supposedly know them); and, of course,
  4. Those individuals that I really should have permanently deleted from my contacts folder because I have no wish to ever speak to them again (and yes, this category contains several ex-boyfriends of dubious character).

Sigh.

Now, my fondest hope was that everyone in Categories 2-4 would receive my invitation, view it and think “WTF?” and then politely disregard it, sending it quickly on it’s way to the little cyber trashcan in their email program.

But no.  Not really.

One of the first acceptances came from the guy I dated with the lingerie model/professional chef ex-wife.  A few acceptances later, I received one from a work colleague who, I happen to know, hated my very existence on this planet.  And then, of course, there were the flurry of acceptances from people who I’m sure are very nice, but I’ve no freaking clue who they are.  But the icing on the cake was, of course, the acceptance from Mike, the man who broke my heart in ways I hadn’t even known could happen.  Ugh and Ick.

Even as I sit here typing this, my phone happily pings me every few minutes with the announcement of another acceptance.  Yay me!

Annie has delighted in poking fun at me about this, and, really, who can blame her?  If she’d done it, I’d be having fun at her expense for weeks to come.  But she also reminded me that maybe I’d done this for a reason… Maybe the universe has a greater plan for my guffaw than merely providing fodder for my friends to tease me mercilessly….  I suppose we shall see.

Anyway, I guess I might as well head over to LinkedIn and try to figure out who these new connections are and why in the world they think we should be connected.  Or maybe I’ll just go pin some stuff on my Pinterest board… it’s probably safer.

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