As Patti LaBelle Says, Don’t Block the Blessings
For a lot of my life I had no friends because I was super awkward, shy, damaged, super awkward, moved around a lot, and so on. I have always been an acquired taste because of my wide range of “quirks”. I did not know how to make friends or how to be a friend. I thought I did but I did not. I learned how to really engage with people by working in a bar because I realized that if I wanted to get anything done in my life, I was going to have to get over my crippling shyness. I am still very shy but it’s mostly on the inside now.
Friendship is a relatively new thing for me and it has been the greatest gift. I finally understand what all the fuss is about, like, “OH! This is what Beaches was about.”
I am working on becoming a better friend. I can be a great friend. I will listen to your drama no matter how long it goes on. I think I am pretty funny and likable 87% of the time. I will champion you to the ends of the earth. I will give you real talk. I am not so great at keeping up contact if we’re not BFFs. When I get some anxiety, I will bow out of plans. I am overly opinionated (obvi). Sometimes, if I am hurt, I cut you off when that is not deserved. Sometimes, I am mired in my own nonsense to the detriment of paying attention to the people I care about most. Awareness! I am working on it.
Anyway, I have opinions on how to be a friend because I have very, very good friends who always teach me how to be a better person and friend in return by virtue of being in the world.
Five women (L, J, K, B, A,) helped me get through grad school. We were tight in the fight and are always going to be great friends. They made grad school great. J has been a best friend for 7 years now. I don’t like animals but I accept her dog as her child and so love her dog I GUESS. L and I were dissertation/job market buddies so we are extra blood bonded. She is a best friend. We did MLA together which, if you’ve been to MLA, you’ll know what I’m saying. For the past two years, we have been able to support each other as new faculty members, trying to figure out, wait, WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE ARE IN CHARGE? and “What the hell is with all this committee work?” and “Ugh. Grading, amirite?” and “My boss is so hot!!!” and “Ugh. Can we just quit and go back to grad school town and be 1950s ladies?”
I moved for work two years and one month ago not that I’m counting. My closest friend here, L, did the same thing a few years earlier. She is willing to commiserate about whether or not we have chosen right by choosing career over the personal relationships we had to leave. We say, “Why don’t they [men!] make a grand gesture?” and know exactly what’s up. We talk about our writing woes and family and work and work gossip and movies and whatever and we get together nearly every week and she is awesome.
I am a member of a writing group of women who invited me to join because I was new in town and they became my friends, no questions asked. I get teary thinking about how nice and supportive and smart they are. They are also great writers which was nice because there was no awkward, “Well, this is nice,” when reading each other’s work. One of them also got me into competitive Scrabble and her husband is my Scrabble Yoda.
One of my dearest friends, C, is a man who is so amazing. He is a Good Man. He has the best heart. His wife is really nice. He is the beacon for what I am looking for. We can talk about serious things, sensitive, emotional things, funny things, it’s all good. I hate physical contact, but with him, super hugs and it’s wonderful. He hugs so hard it could break your back which I am really into. He is a safe place. He’s also the most amazing physical specimen and I objectify him, publicly, shamelessly, and he’s way into it (I THINK!). He sends the most supportive text messages out of nowhere! I also call him Arms. If you saw them, you’d know.
My friend R is just… I don’t even have the words. She knows when to say, “get your shit together,” and when to say, “I’ve been there.” She is smart and funny and independent and whenever I’m in her town she makes a point of making time to hang out.There are no awkward silences when we talk. Also, she is so supportive. (This is a theme, you’ll see.)
My friend M, is one of my newest best friends. She might not know this. We email each other about 50 times a day. I GChat her red light status. We have hung out in face space too but we live far apart. In May we had a lost cell phone adventure in NYC where we got Inspector Gadget on her phone using the Find My Phone app on my phone and then there was a cab and rain and then we drank until like 2 at my hotel bar. She is ultra smart, ultra supportive, funny as hell. On Mondays, we hate watch Miss Advised which she calls “our stories.” We are both ambitious and just trying to make it and we too are tight in the fight. We disagree about things but it’s such a great debate with her. She makes me think as much as she makes me laugh.
I have great sisters in law, K and J. I don’t really talk about my family a lot online so I’ll leave it at that, but they are great and they make pretty babies.
And then, there is my bestest friend. In early March, my best friend and I were at a conference and we were roommates. We roomed last year, too, when at three in the morning, we talked about a filthy threesome, extravagantly drunk, in the back of a cab, on the way to the hotel to hang out with the hottest guy that we were not going to do anything with but it was a nice fantasy. The cab driver was really paying attention and maybe mortified and maybe wanting to come up with us. We were shameless.
This year, I came to the conference and had five obligations, one of which was pretty major, one of which was going to be all day, every day. I was also sick as a dog with laryngitis and a nightmare stomach thing. I wanted to die a little.
I was performing in Literary Death Match the first night with Jane Smiley! And Darrin Strauss! And Major Jackson! It was a bit of a career highlight. To not be able to speak was absolutely a crisis in the realm of high class problems. I was a sad sad sack. I did my morning panel, literally whispering into the microphone. I was the only girl on the panel so this totally bummed me out because I had things to say! And I couldn’t! Drama. Then I had another panel. More whispering. After that, my bestest friend basically forced me back to the hotel room and brought me hot tea and then, in a strange city she had never been to, went to Whole Foods and came back with two different kinds of Singer’s Saving Grace and propped me up until the performance that night. I WON, hoarse voicing my way through. And she was there, being awesome and endlessly patient and supportive instead of slapping me around like the baby I was being (I really was sick, though, in my defense).
We often say to each other, “I wish we had met sooner,” because it feels like so much time was wasted not having each other but at the same time, I know I wouldn’t have known what to do as a friend had I met her at any other point in my life thank four-ish years ago.
I cannot express enough how good a friend she is to me. I hope I am as good a friend to her. When I first moved, I immediately acted out and rebounded into two very inappropriate romantic situations and she patiently stood by and said, “GIRL!” but did not judge. One of those situations went on for, well, if I admit how long, you’ll GIRL me. She was patient and made it clear, “You can do better,” but didn’t nag me about it either which made it possible for me to be open without having to pretend the situation was ideal.
We’re doing Weight Watchers! She doesn’t need it but I do and she sends me healthy recipes and because I’m a vegetarian, she sends vegetarian recipes! She checks in but in a super supportive way. She taught me how to work the Points system which isn’t complicated but I am dense about certain things and I basically told her, “Yoda, fix this.” She did.
We are really alike. We are different. She knows most of my secrets. I know most of hers. I can tell her the worst things I’ve done and she hears me and doesn’t look away in disgust. She’s my partner on FB! My youngest brother is convinced we’re embroiled in a passionate affair. She caught him snooping on her blog from Port au Prince, trying to find “clues.” She gets my FB relationship status because I don’t believe in giving that to men unless they put a ring on it.
I send her pictures of my nieces and nephew who are the lights of my life and she oohs and aaahs and when she sends me pictures of her people I oooh and aah and it’s genuine. What matters to her matters to me and vice versa.
When you meet someone or several someones who see you, who see you for the mess you are and the good things you are and they embrace all of it is a blessing.
What I’m trying to say is, “I am blessed,” and trying to live up to the blessings.