Saturday, January 06, 2007

Some are gold, some are not

I was in the park today with my friend T, enjoying an indian summer in New York City of which cynical New Yorkers are fearful. We were discussing friendships. T has a friend who has become increasingly distant and difficult. "I think I have to let her go," T said. I was surprised. T does not let anyone go without a fight. But she was a newer friend, and it was getting exhausting. "I totally understand", I said, nodding as I watched my toddler take off with a bucket of dirt. And I did understand. But it wasn't easy getting there.

T is my oldest friend from the age of ten, when she transferred to my elementary school. That year, my best friend had moved away, so the timing was good to find a new one. T sat directly behind me, and my first words to her were "Can I borrow your White Out?" The first day of school was the first and last day I was ever fastidious about my schoolwork. She produced the little bottle from what I am sure was a clear plastic sleeve inside her looseleaf notebook. Upon my third request her eyes rolled slightly. Still, we became fast friends, bonded in bad hair and a love for Chinese jump rope.

T is still the funniest person I have ever known. We laughed our way through highschool, through the six hour bus rides to visit each others colleges. We lived together briefly in Manhattan in our early twenties until she met the man she would later marry and I discovered I was much better off living alone at that age. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, she at mine. At her wedding, she handed me her jewelry mid ceremony, a tradition for a bride to hand to a woman struggling to have a baby. She was the first friend to meet my daughter at home, for a good half hour before I had my first of many post partum breakdowns and kicked her out.

It has not always been idyllic. I retreated in dark moments, disappearing for weeks or months. We drifted apart at times. Still, T never let me go. She knew me inside and out, and how to handle me. When I finally came to see why she hated my boyfriend and cut off contact with him, she fielded his calls. "If you know Amy at all," she told him, "you know she will talk to you when she is ready". I never was, thanks mainly thanks to her.

As T talked abut her friend who she was on the verge of severing ties with, my wisdom came from an experience with a shared friend of ours, named E. E came into our lives in high school. She was unlike anyone I had ever met. Petite, artsy, cerebral but also an intense romantic. She was T's friend first, and my own friendship with E developed organically, like the best ones do, when you don't remember how it started.

E and I were more alike than T and I in the way that were were both extremely intense. If T was my favorite pair of shoes, the ones that always fit and looked good, E was a strappy stiletto that sometimes pinched but made me feel sexy and alive and unlike myself. We wrote pages and pages to each other during class, quoting songs from The Indigo Girls and Survivor. We made sappy mix tapes. We talked on the phone even before leaving for school. "What are you wearing?" she'd ask in a mock suggestive tone. When we got older, we'd get drunk on bad wine and sleep in her single bed together, staring at the ceiling that she had painted herself and adorned with stars. My relationship with E was exhausting and heady and addictive. We exchanged "I love you" readily, in a way that, combined with her free spirit and my obsessive and sometimes impressionable personality, worried my mother. E was fiercly independant, with older parents who were absent for months at a time, leaving us space to indulge in our friendship at all hours. Rumors swirled that she was bisexual, and she embraced them, never confirming or denying. I was smitten.

Our arrival at separate colleges created the first schism we had ever encountered. The separation was painful. I fell into a new group of friends, and immediately began dealing with a set of unnatural tragedies that threw me for a two year tailspin. E was roommates with several women who were as freespirited and intense as she was, more beautiful and readily accessible than I. I came home from college, eager to reconnect and was greeted with an E who seemed colder, more distant, less alluring.

I sank into a depression my second year of college, which took me away from every long distance friend. I became an irritating type of after school special character, complete with overalls, a sour expression and penchant for extreme dieting. I never returned phone calls and shunned attempts to save me. When I got over my morose phase, I had to repair my relationships. T was easy. E was not so. I visited her in Israel, and tried to explain that which I myself did not understand. The wall she had built was thicker and seemingly impenetrable. To quote one of our favorite songs, it was as if she had "built a fortress around (her) heart." It was not until another friend let me off the hook, saying I had no need to apologize, that I grew to resent what E was putting me through to recapture a smidgen of our past.

In the years that followed I watched E replace me with another girl whose hair she played with while she lay in her lap. My photos disappeared from her bookshelves. We forgot birthdays and phone calls ceased. Still, I clung to threads. I married first, and asked her to create the artwork for my ketubah. At her wedding years later, I signed her ketubah, and strained to see her from my seat in the ceremony. I handed her a card that was filled with my good wishes and loopy expressions of pain from the current state of our relationship. "It is one of my greatest regrets in life" I wrote, with the melodrama that always seems to rear its head when a loved one is getting married. It was a pathetic ploy to leverage the importance of the day and regain my position in her life. It failed.

I still see E, because T is friends with her. But about two years ago I had the same conversation with T that she was having with me. About wanting to sever ties with E instead of the sporadic emails and dinners. "I have made my peace with it", I declared, despite the fact that there are photos of me, E and T all over T's apartment. And I believed it. Until E called me the week after Chloe was born. It had been years since we spoke on the phone. "I'm so sorry it took me this long!" she apologized breathlessly. "I have been thinking about you". And just like that, she sucked me back in, with promises to visit and earnestly inquiring about my well being. And just as quickly, she disappeared again. And as I reflect on the fact that I have mentioned her more than once on my blog, and devoted more space to her than my dear and deserved friend T, and I wonder why we always give chase to the ones who flee us.

I have been gifted in this life with many friends. Very few know me now, the good and the ugly. Even fewer have stood the test of time. It's hard to walk away, to avoid romanticizing relationships in hindsight merely because they are no longer present. But it's even harder to be disappointed over and over again. Now the stakes are higher. I need someone to watch my daughter, to hold my hand during a sonogram, to talk me down from a ledge when I find a lump in my breast. It's more than a good mix tape can offer. It means being a good friend too, when you are tired and can't bear the thought of the phone or a date. And it means letting go, and making peace with the people who look good flanking you in a photograph ten years ago, but no longer come to life.


At 3:32 PM PST, Anonymous weboy said...

I love this, and I think it's so true - and that friendships mature with age, and that the good ones last regardless. Like... well, Leigh, for instance, where I find friendship has only deepened and someone who understands - and who brings this wealth of other people into my life.:) But I've let friends go, and I still have my complicated (by choice) relationship with my ex. Why do we always give chase to the ones who flee us? I wish I knew.

At 3:47 PM PST, Blogger Amy said...

Weboy - I totally hear you! One of my fave songs in hebrew has a line that loosely translates to "and even though you are here, and you are so beautiful, from you I run like a plague". And I always thought...if only!



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