Saturday, March 3, 2007

To All the Girls I've Loved Before

And to all of you who googled one of the worst duets of all time, please meander elsewhere, for you won't find what you need here.

For a variety of reasons, I lately find myself preoccupied with the idea of friendship. I have a husband trying hard to recover his own relationship with a man he once saw as a brother. I have a daughter developing into a human being with preferences about who she spends time with. And I have very recently received a letter from the neighbor of my dead grandmother, thanking me for acknowledging the friendship she shared with the old lady, as if that were somehow in question.

I think I have been fortunate in this life with the friendships I have been given, for the most part. At 36, I find myself still connected with some of the best women I have known in this life. I am grateful for this, and also very aware of why these particular women have "made the cut", and why I have made theirs. I know that at least part of it is related to the friendships themselves, which never suffered any of the dramatics or damage that some of my other friendships have endured. None of us stole each other's boyfriends, or .....well, back in the day that really was the only firing offense. But it's not that alone. It's also about the paths our lives have taken. Who ended up getting married and having children, or at least wanting to get married and having children? Who ended up showing disdain for the life that I have chosen, even though we walked the same pathways until only a few years ago? Who actually tried to make the friendship work when circumstances made it less effortless than it once was? The women I still have in my life are the ones whose paths mirror mine, but also chose to remember and cherish our history. The women like me, who remember who we were and don't disdain it, but also don't want to be back there.

All of this makes me think of the ones who got away, as it were. The ones I loved fiercely, but lost, for whatever reason. I don't believe it's possible to have a strong friendship with another woman and not feel the loss of it when it is gone, even if it's your decision to leave. To all the girls I loved before, here is what I learned from you.

1. Ali-cat. You were the first girl to call me friend and not call me freak. We were childhood friends in the truest sense --we experienced the ridiculous, inventive and dreamlike early years of our lives together. You were the reason I wasn't ridiculed at school. You were my grounding in reality, and my safe place. We moved away and left you behind, but for years every friend I had was held up to the cutting of your shadow I kept, like Wendy Darling, by my pillow. You gave me confidence.

2. Kathy. You and Wendy always loved each other more than you loved me, but you still made me part of your world. You shared with me, and were so very careful to call me as often as you called each other. You left notes in my locker. You gave me cards on Valentine's Day. You kept me from shutting down through two years of hell in Catholic school, and you stood behind me, quiet and strong, while I figured out who I was and how to fight for what I believed in. You showed me my own strength.

3. Alison. I never understood why you wanted to be my friend. You were 18, I was 14, and we were from different worlds. When you went away to college, you sent me letter after letter about the things you were experiencing, wonderful things. At the time I was too young and naive to see your bravado for what it was, and your stories gave me hope that there was life after high school. You made me mix tapes that changed my entire view of music. You gave me the black cape to wrap myself in when I went away to college myself, my ticket in.

4. Heather. You were always the "cooler" friend. You knew the names of everyone in all the bands I loved, and knew when they would be playing at the club downtown. You had already been "cool" in high school, and had no need to use college as a tool to reinvent yourself. You took me in, and validated me with your friendship. You asked for nothing in return except for mine, not at all the bad teen movie scenario that would have been if Hollywood had been writing this friendship. You loved me, and I loved you, until your own self-loathing led you down a path that I could not follow, and we drifted apart, quietly and without drama or fanfare. You gave me my first adult friendship with another woman, and the skills to build more.

5. Wanna Blessed Be. A pseudonym, and the first I've used here. The woman in question is someone who has tried very hard in the not so distant past to do damage to the life I have built for myself, and I will not give her more tools than I have to that would allow her to find me in this place. We were friends because we worked together. Sometimes you worked for me, and sometimes just near me, but for a long time we enjoyed the solidarity that comes from being outside the norm while working inside it. We shared many of the same views, and we shared many of our secrets. You were involved in many of the most significant events in my adult life - you were at my wedding, and at the hospital after the birth of the Kraken. Time passed, and even while we saw each other every day our lives took different directions. Mine became more stable and comfortable, while yours unraveled. Events transpired that I don't feel comfortable conveying here, and you betrayed me. More than once. Something that very few women I have loved in this life have done. You shook my faith in my own intuition.

6. Lori. We also met at work, and our lives could not have been more different. You were the girl that went to the fraternity parties, and wore sweatshirts and baseball hats to the office. I was the girl wearing the wig to hide the fact that her hair was pink. Circumstances drove us to friendship, and I worked harder for yours than I have for any other friendship I have had in this life. You made me fight for every revelation, every understanding, every vulnerability. But eventually, you became one of the best friends I have ever had. No one has ever made me laugh the way you did, or allowed me (nay, encouraged) me to be so silly. And when my heart was broken by a jerk you hated, you still dropped what you were doing and drove across town to drink margaritas with me and tell me he was a jerk. You moved. Not far away, only 40 minutes or so, but it might as well have been over the ocean. The timing was terrible, with your job, and my job, and my meeting the Minotaur so soon thereafter that everyone's time became precious and scarce. You were in my wedding, and you soon thereafter married the man you presented to me for the first time at the rehearsal dinner. I sat on the beach at your wedding, 8 months pregnant, so incredibly grateful that after all the imbeciles you had dated, you had managed to marry the only one I had ever felt comfortable with. You gave me the first adult friendship I made OUTSIDE of college, and many, many years of good times.

This loss is the one I am feeling so powerfully now, because she is only 40 minutes away, and because my love for her is still very strong. We did not part ways due to any emnity of spirit, we just chose different roads. She and her husband work all the time, and have no children (nor any desire to have any). My life is as alien to her as hers is to mine. When we do meet, it's strained, awkward, because our context for each other is several years out of date. We talk, but we never meet where we used to meet - right in the middle, with hilarious consequences. I read her blog, without commenting, so that I can feel at least some connection to her. I love her. I will always love her. No matter how many years in a row she forgets my birthday, or how much time passes since the heyday of our friendship. Like an old love whose letters are hidden in a box under your bed, she'll always be the one who got away.

SugarMama, Piece of Work, and Steel Magnolia, you have no vignettes in this story. This story is about the women who changed my life and then exited, stage left. Your scene is still running, ladies, and I don't plan on giving you permission to leave the theatre anytime soon.


Sugarmama said...

Hey, I'M certainly not going anywhere. And I was hoping I wasn't a part of that particular list. I mean, I know I haven't called much lately...

Piece of Work said...

WHat a beautiful list. It makes me miss you like crazy! I'm sorry you are feeling the loss right now.

bon said...

Beautiful post... makes me think of my own past loves/friendships.
(walks away thinking about writing one just like it)

robert said...

Excellent post...reminds me of my past relations too :)....enjoy life and have fun...thats all I can say! best wishes!

inkling said...

Sometimes at work I envy the girls their adolescent friendships--it's never quite as intense later as it is then, and those people have such power to shape who your are.

cubmommy said...

This is a very nice post. I wish I had a group of friends like that who could be my support.

Any friends I have made from high school on have drifted away.

Sad really.