Friends have been on my mind lately. Not specific friends, but the notion of friendship. The idea of it. I’ve been reading numerous articles about friendship over the past couple of weeks; specifically, female friendships. It’s given me pause, made me think, caused me to reflect.
I’ve been blessed — beyond blessed — to have had an abundance of friends in my life. In grade school, I had my posse, my girls. We were tight, the four of us. We ruled Goff’s skating rink, Brownie meetings, and the Ranger Rick Club. I still vividly remember our late-night sleepovers, sharing soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Sister Veronica Ann’s classroom, choosing each other first for kickball teams at recess. I rode my bike (my first place prize in a Jim Dandy coloring contest) frantically across town to perfect my roller-skating moves in Kerri’s basement, sailed across Lake Tippecanoe with Anna in the Gray Ghost, hunted for crawdads and dead frogs in the creek that ran beside Heather’s house. My childhood days were full and adventurous and wrapped tightly around those girls who were sisters to me.
Then we began growing up and growing apart. It wasn’t that we didn’t love each other anymore, we just began, ever so slowly, to part ways. I tried out for the middle school volleyball team, Kerri continued to swim. We met and made new friends, and life marched on. It’s funny now, looking back. When I see Kerri, I always return right to those days of fairy dust and our Fred and Freda Finkelstein books. There are few childhood memories that I can easily conjure up, but Kerri is always a part of them. She lives near my mom now, but I rarely — if ever — see her. That doesn’t mean she isn’t in my heart, though… that she isn’t forever and always a part of me. She was my best friend then. Besties. BFFs. We pinky-promised.
Before we knew it, the topsy-turvy, hormone-driven days of high school were upon us. I was a three-sport athlete, and those girls who lived on the court and in the field with me were my sisters. We played together, laughed together, won and lost together. We were bound by a common love of sport and competition and the camaraderie that comes from sharing a sweat-filled locker room. We worked hard and we played hard. We shared the highest highs and the lowest lows. We traveled on hot, muggy buses together in search of our next win. We had sleepovers and early morning free-throw practices and after-school Dairy Queen runs. Our lives were parallel. Our hearts and our 2-3 zone defense, synchronized.
And the others… the friends chosen by soul rather than circumstance. Andi, my Andi. Still my go-to girl now, the one who always takes my crazy, middle-of-the-night phone calls and talks me off the ledge, the one who can make me laugh through a torrent of tears. (“Are you having a period? Did you get into a fight with Chris? Are you taking your meds? Do you need me to arrange for a refill? Are you out of wine?”) Libby, my college roommate… fun-loving, uninhibited Libby. Beloved Gail. My music teacher and savior, ten years my senior, unlikeliest of compadres. I knew as soon as I saw her beautiful face and that crazy cap of untamed curls that she would change the trajectory of my life. She saved me from the depths of myself when everything else felt like it was coming unstitched (as it is so often wont to do when you’re a seventeen year old girl).
College brought new friends, new sorority sisters (shout out to my Jess, my Moon Dancer, my free-spirited beauty and to Karyn, the best little sis out there), new experiences, new relationships. Through the bulk of those days, I was with Chris, devoted to Chris, wrapped up in Chris, existing for and beside and with him. But there’s something different about girls. Something my female friends give me that even my beloved can’t. And much to his dismay, it doesn’t involve some seedy girl-on-girl action. (Sorry, Babe.)
As I’ve grown and matured and meandered through this life, I’ve been blessed by some pretty damn amazing women. I’ve met them through so many different and varied venues — as fellow parents, as neighbors, through church (Yes, church! We weren’t always home-churchers…), via mutual friends, as bloggers, through our shared love of writing and reading, by blessed blind luck.
When I’ve needed them, they’ve shown up at my doorstep (my real one, or my virtual one). Sometimes they stayed for a few drinks. Often, they crashed on the couch. Every once in a while, they left sooner than I’d have liked. They brought casseroles and cakes and cabernet. They helped themselves to my clothes and make-up and books and jewelry. They hugged my kids, petted my dogs, turned their noses up at our pet rodents, and ignored my dust bunnies. (Or they pointed them out and mocked me openly for them.) All left an imprint, an indelible mark. Every single one carved her name on my heart.
I’m a girl who easily gives away “things,” but who holds on tightly — sometimes too tightly — to people. My friend, Andrea, described me this way: “If someone has a wall around her, you want to climb that wall. You want to get over that wall and climb into her lap and hug her.” She didn’t say it disparagingly. She said it honestly. That’s exactly who I am. If you are someone I want to know, watch out. I’ll be in your lap before you have a chance to deflect me with a purse or a baby or a quick and pointy elbow. And I’ll probably be laughing too loudly or crying inconsolably when I get there. And I’ll probably kiss you on the lips upon arrival.
“But not everyone wants you in her lap,” Andrea said. “You’ve got to be okay with that. That feeling is about them, not about you.” It’s true, how she painted me. There are not enough friend laps in the world for me. And lip-kissing? It’s just what I do. Heredity, I think. My Mama, Sweet Caroline, always goes straight for the lips.
Female friendships are such a mystery and a blessing. I used to be fearful of them, apprehensive about the perceived and expected competition, the back-stabbing, the conflict. “Girls are mean,” I used to say. And, indeed, some of them are. So are some boys. So are some dogs. So are rhinoceroses. It’s unfair and inaccurate to pin that generalization on a group simply because I am intimidated by them as a whole. I used to worry about whether I would have The One. The BFF. But I’ve found that the label is unimportant. It is a life saver to cling to when the waters are rough, but what really saves you are the hands that pull you from the depths, the ones that reach out and say, “Here. Hang on tight. Stay strong. I’ll hold you until you can get back on your feet. You’re safe with me.” Some who say BFF might only mean BFT (today). And that’s okay. I might choose to say it, too. We know when it’s real, we girls. We know what’s lasting, what’s substantial, what matters, what perseveres. Friendship is not an acronym or a title, it’s a commitment. It’s a hug when you need it most, a phone call at just the right time, a key to the back door, a necessary kick in the ass. It’s trust and honesty. Sometimes, it’s booze. Often times, it’s booze. On the best days, it’s salted dark chocolate caramels AND booze.
Some girls can, indeed, be mean. I can be mean, even when I try my very hardest not to be. Even when I claim it’s exactly who I don’t want to be. (Mirror, mirror…) And other girls are authentic and loving and giving and vulnerable and kind and open. Some come to you with their big hearts and their loud laughter and embrace every bit of you — the post 4 c-sections stomach, the flabby arms, the gray hairs, the neediness and angst. They honor your dramatic flair and pull you back when it threatens to cross into the ridiculous. (Which, of course, it so often does.) They bring you homemade chicken soup when you’re sick, they run your progeny all over town, they offer their homes and their spare beds and their softest pillows when you need a place to rest your weary head.
Women do this. Women love. Women nurture. It is part of us, it is in our blood. We grow and birth our babies, we hold hands with those as they pass into the next world, we organize the bake sales and orchestrate the funerals. We sit beside those who have lost their hair — but never their spirit — to chemo, we snuggle each others’ babies when they’re fevered and croupy and contagious. We are not afraid of germs. We do not shy away from the green snot. We are women. We are moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, lovers. We are soft and hard and strong and vulnerable and damaged and brave and brilliant all rolled into a beautiful package of unfettered laughter and deep, cavernous souls.
It is said that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I used to want all of my women to be lifetimers. As I get older (and have the bifocals to prove it), I am beginning to realize that the gifts I am given by this universe, the inspirational women who come into my life to walk this path with me, always seem to arrive at just the right time. When they go, should they choose to go, it is often painful and searing and hard. But with time, I realize that it is right and as it should be. There are a million more human hearts and minds out there to discover and enjoy and serve. Someone will serve her better. Someone will serve me better. There is a greater plan than mine, than ours. Sometimes I love my friends more than they are able to love me. Sometimes I need more than they can give. And sometimes, those roles are reversed. It’s okay. Life is not about keeping score, it is about being. Being, giving, receiving, opening. And then doing it all over again.
I’ve learned throughout my four decades how I want to be treated, how I need to be loved. And by watching, experiencing, expanding, I more fully understand now how I want my friends to treat themselves, their other friends, the world. I want kindness. Kindness and acceptance. Eyes that see the beauty and promise in whatever form it manifests. I don’t want to be changed into what someone else thinks I should be… I want to be challenged, so I can choose to grow on my own. I want to be led by example so I can lead by example.
And more importantly, I’m settling into the truth of what I have to offer my friends, what gifts I can bestow, how I can help them balance and laugh and prosper, how I can hold them when they cry, how I can lift them when they need to soar, how I can sit beside them, silently, hand in hand, when words become cheap and insignificant. We all have so much to give, if only we’d trust ourselves with the giving.
As I look around at the framed faces in my bedroom office, I realize how truly blessed I am. There is a special picture that hangs above my desk, one that was given to me by a soul mate, a mentor, a lifetimer. It’s a Curly Girl quote that reads, “We all let people into our lives, but you will find that really good friends let you into your own.” I didn’t quite understand it at first, but I’m learning. I’m beginning to understand. I am much more equipped to rightfully honor and elevate my friends when I, myself, am grounded and stable, when I know who I am and what I can be for them. There is this delicate dance to friendship, the give, the take, the push, the pull. To truly grow and expand, we must give selflessly and graciously accept what returns.
Your breath, my breath. Your step, my step. Without that cadence, all the oxygen is depleted, all the life is extinguished.
And with friendship, it’s all about the life. Thank you, dear, beautiful, vulnerable, authentic women who have chosen to sign your names across my heart. Thank you for visiting, for staying… even for leaving when you felt you must. Thank you for your gifts, your cards, your songs, your words, your example, your hugs, your hands. Thank you for seeing me, for taking the time to look and understand. And for being okay with — for truly embracing — what I have fashioned out of this existence. That’s all we want out of this life, really. To be seen, to be embraced, to be understood.
You are loved. You are cherished. You are super stars.
I am undeserving of such treasure. And so profoundly grateful for it.