Last week, I read a lovely post at Megan Nyberg’s Meditations about friendship, bracelets, Silly Bandz, time and loss. And it made me think about Eva, a woman who was my friend for more than half my life. We met on our first day of college, dorm-mates in a house full of wacky characters (yes, probably ourselves included, though we wouldn’t have seen it that way at the time).
Eva and I were friends through major moments: loss of virginity, first loves, first heartbreaks, adventures abroad, grad school, marriage, the birth of her first child, the start of my attempt to have a child …
Which is where the friendship ended. Somewhere in the hell of my baby-making nightmare, Eva decided I wasn’t being a good friend to her – wasn’t keeping up with her as well as I should, wasn’t supporting her the way she wanted, wasn’t giving her whatever it was she had come to expect from her friendship with me.
Oh, I know that you, my gentle readers, will think, “Who could possibly be so mean to Stacie? She’s so nice!” And that’s very nice of you. But I probably wasn’t a great friend during that time. I was hormone sick and heartsick, sicker with each treatment, with each miscarriage. I was a walking definition of “misery.” So it’s easy for me to imagine someone not liking me much. I have some redeeming qualities, but the fact is that — even today — I’m really not all that nice. There are plenty of reasons to not like me, plenty of ways in which I’m not a great friend that have nothing to do with hormones and childlessness. There are ways in which I am a wonderful friend, too … but I’m human, and I don’t always get it right.
I don’t think any of the un-fabulous things about me justify turning your back on me when I’m at my absolute lowest point ever … and then charging me to call you when I’m prepared to be honest about all the ways I’ve failed as a friend (our last conversation). I can see how random strangers might not like me, it’s harder to see how someone who knew me as well as Eva could let one relatively brief period at the tail end of a 25-year friendship send her packing.
I thought my friendship with Eva would last my whole life. There’s a Nigerian proverb that says, “Hold a true friend with both hands.” I thought of this when I read Megan Nyberg’s friendship bracelet post. Nyberg writes about friendships lost, about how it is that we can be so desperately close to our girlfriends and yet lose them, often without thinking about it, without noticing the loss immediately. We wear our friendships on our wrists and toss them casually when the party-colored floss frays. We don’t hold each other with both hands, even when we think we’re doing exactly that.
And I thought of that proverb and of Nyberg when I got an email from another friend telling me that Eva would like to hear from me, that I can email her at her job.
I don’t really know what to make of that.
She wants to hear from me – presumably not so that she can continue to berate me for being a bad friend – but what, exactly, does she want to hear from me? It is almost four years since we last spoke. I have missed her practically every day. I’ve cried over the loss of her again and again … But I’ve also been angry with her, with her inability to see that I’m not as awful as she seemed to think I was, that maybe I was in the middle of a really stressful, painful time in my life and perhaps what I needed was an understanding friend instead of someone pissed off because I wasn’t giving her enough attention.
I have no idea what to say to her, or if I want to say anything to her. As I said, I miss her. I miss her, her siblings, her parents. I am sad every time I’m pinched or slapped by a memory of something we did together or said to one another or of one our foolish inside jokes. But do I want to open myself up to her again? Do I risk trusting her? Yes, it’s only an email, not my heart open and bleeding in my chest, but really: it’s my heart, open and bleeding in my chest.
Did I hold onto Eva with both hands? Did she hold me? The answer seems plain, but is still hard to believe. She was as close to me as a sister, closer than any other friend. How could either of us have let the other go without a fight?
And what happens now? I’m right back to Dylan Thomas, right back to the lines from the end of his poem:
Shall I let in the stranger,
Shall I welcome the sailor,
Or stay till the day I die?
Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,
Hold you poison or grapes?