The Rarity of Friendship

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The rarity of friendship, the complexity of friendships as they metamorphose through time — this is the drama Wallace Stegner builds word by word, scene by scene.  It has an internal tension wrought by memory, the what-ifs and the if-onlys that devour us when we fall prey to the past and future.  We bear witness as friends…

~~ Terry Tempest Williams, on Stegner’s CROSSING TO SAFETY

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I finally took everyone’s advice and read Gail Caldwell’s beautiful memoir, LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, the story of her friendship with Caroline Knapp.  The reading was both a pleasure and a relief.  I’d barely begun when I realized why I’ve put it off for so long.

A few years ago I parted ways with a friend.  We were the kind of friends who showed up unannounced in each other’s living rooms; the kind of friends who spoke everyday and trusted each other with our children and our husbands and our dogs and our sins and our most humiliating vulnerabilities; the kind of friends who knew how the other arranged and organized her kitchen drawers.  When I read the first few pages of the Caldwell book, there we were in her words.  (last line of Chapter 1):  I reached out for her and said, “But you’re coming back, right?”  She smiled but shook her head; her face was a well of sadness.  (opening line of Chapter 2):  Everything really started with the dogs.  

One of the last memories I have is of spending the night at her house before leaving town.  My dogs slept over, too.  I had a bloody nose; I had a horrible cold; I’d lost my voice; I was never coming back.

I remember trying, at the time, to explain the devastation of this loss to my husband, to my kids, to other friends, but in the end every effort fell flat.  What was there to say?  I couldn’t even write about it.  Still can’t.  I’ve found much of what I wished I could say in Caldwell’s book.  And in Stegner’s.

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From CROSSING TO SAFETY:  I didn’t know myself well, and still don’t.  But I did know, and know now, the few people I have loved and trusted.  My feeling for them is one part of me that I have never quarreled with.

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10 thoughts on “The Rarity of Friendship

  1. Averil Dean

    I had and lost a friend like that years ago. I still can’t talk about it. If not worse than the death of a loved one, it’s at least every bit as bad.

  2. Josey

    i’m so sorry for the loss of such a friendship.

    the only friend i’ve lost that hit me hard was a recent break with my sister. we split two years ago when i wrote something about our family that she didn’t think i should be sharing. we tip-toed back toward each other in light of a crisis with our younger sister last year, and now we’re talking on the phone, texting, but we’re not 100 percent. if i had to call it, i would say not even 50 percent.

    all the family dynamics at play between us supersede the dynamics of our previous friendship. i get, but i don’t know that she does.

    funny reading this now, i’m leaving in 30 minutes for dinner with a friend that i met on the first day of kindergarten. we’ve known each other for 35 years. she was the first person i ever got in trouble with (i was braiding her hair and we were giggling instead of listening, resulting in an afternoon spent at the quiet table).

    1. Teri Post author

      This friend and I now talk about once a year, and it’s so stilted and formal. I love hearing her voice, but the distance makes me sad. I can see this thing with your sister, like you had something in addition to the family connection, and how awkward it must be now.

      Enjoy your kindergarten friend. I have a feeling your dinner table won’t be the least bit quiet. 😉

  3. girl in the hat

    I have lost track of some good friends but nothing hurts more than having lost my best friend since middle school. We lasted through each other’s weddings, then couldn’t hold it together any longer. I still miss her. In fact, her absence is bigger and realer than most of my current friendships. I still talk to her in my head. xo to you.

    1. Teri Post author

      Once you’ve had this kind of friend, you can’t help but realize that the chances of it happening again — with someone else — is all but impossible. As you say, the absence is bigger and realer. I wished I’d appreciated it more for what it was at the time.

  4. Lyra

    Yes, yes, yes.
    The one break up that I can’t…won’t discuss is the one with my best friend. It is far deeper and harder than anyone ever I’ve lost. And we still do the every once in awhile thing. And that makes it worse. You know what you had and how rare it is and how it can’t be undone. There’s no going back. If ever there is a heartbreak, that is it.
    Yes.

  5. chillcat

    I lost a friend once too, well I chose to lose her. She’d been so close, but abusive of our friendship, bossy with my kids. She drank. I had to cut her off and years later her critique of my mothering (she was childless then) rang in my head when she called to say, We can be friends again now, let me tell you about my twins.

    Yeah, right.

    1. Teri Post author

      I chose my loss as well. Had to. Chose it without really having a choice —- the story of it all would fill a book.

      You were smart about your friend, Cat. Now that she has twins she officially knows twice as much as you ever did. Wouldn’t that be fun to hear over coffee or cocktails? 😉

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