My entire life I've never been the kind of person to make friends. I always made best friends.
As I'm generally slow to trust, I tend to only let a select few in and hold onto them with the tenacity of a cockroach. When I left Los Angeles for Hawai'i a few years ago, I knew it would be difficult to leave my Friend-Family, especially the women, but I figured it would be a welcome reprieve from the go-go-go of my former life and social life. I'd keep in touch with my friends, we'd talk on the phone, we'd miss each other, we'd cry, but it would be nothing too traumatizing. It would be simple.
It wasn't. It never is with me.
The morning I left LA, two of my best friends saw me off. My friend Joy had spent the night with me in my empty apartment (my husband had already moved straight to Hawai'i from Japan weeks earlier), and while we hugged each other long and hard in the early morning light, no tears were shed. Like she does, Joy made the moment feel like less of a goodbye and more like the beginning of an adventure. As usual, she made me feel very brave.
I told her I loved her, she me, and she promised to lock up my apartment after I left. The sight of her standing in what was previously MY doorway as I was driven away in my friend Bethany's car is burned in my brain.
I was sad, but I was "handling it." I didn't cry, I only felt a dull ache in my gut. I assumed I was hungry (as usual).
As Bethany and her husband drove me to LAX, things were very normal. We talked about what I'd do in Hawai'i like I was going on vacation, their upcoming wedding plans, and the latest gossip on our college friends. The ache in my gut grew, but still no tears.
When I got to the airport, I grabbed my two giant suitcases from the car's trunk, gently lifted my yowling cat in her cat carrier from the back seat, and turned to bid adieu to Beth.
"I have to make this quick or else I'll cry, and once I stop I won't be able to stop," Beth told me in her no-nonsense-yet-earnest way. If anybody, saying goodbye to Beth -- the friend who "grew up" with me on my first apartment's fire escape drinking a nauseating cocktail of Minute Maid Fruit Punch and cheap champagne, the friend who I saw through so many firsts, the friend who inspired me to find a partner who loved me as much as she does -- was like saying goodbye to family.
For almost 10 years, through laughter, tears, frustration, and kindness, we'd been each other's constant. As we stood on the airport sidewalk, I realized that I'd never made an adult move to a new city without knowing Bethany would be just a drive away. Saying goodbye to her was like taking off the training wheels of adulthood.
We hugged each other, a hug that I just did not want to let go of, and before I could say another word, she hopped into her car and I was watching her misty eyes pull away from the curb. But I still didn't cry. I just ached.
It wasn't until I got to the gate and was boarding that the ache rose up in my throat and I barf-cried into a nearby trash can.
Dramatic? Yes. But the prospect of living my life without the support of the women with whom I'd logged thousands of hours of sharing every embarrassing secret, every insecurity, every fear, all without the necessity of apology or discussion of "judgement," terrified me. My husband is my partner, but these women felt like a part of ME. Who was I without them?
Once in Hawai'i I was all out of tears (and stomach contents), and I attempted to cheerfully settle into my new life.
But I still ached. I was happy to be in the same city as my husband, as we'd lived apart on and off over the years, but as sweet and understanding as he was in those early months, he was not MY PEOPLE, the women in my life. I had freely chosen to live in Hawai'i, but what I had not anticipated was the longing for the unspoken understanding that exists in deep women friendships. Such friendships defy explanation and defy needing explanation. Without them in my daily life I felt surprisingly alone.
Then my birthday rolled around. I got a small, slim envelope in the mail from Beth. Upon opening it, it just a simple slip of note paper and a check.
"I know it's not much, but I want you to do something nice for yourself. I know money is tight, and it's hard over there, but it's your birthday. We take care of each other. You would do the same for me. I love you! Your BB [our nickname for each other], Beth."
With one small gesture, the ache began to fade. Sure I missed Beth, but our friendship wasn't over, as I feared would happen -- it was evolving.
And who showed up at my doorstep a few days later? Joy! Swinging open my front door, she found me partially dressed between two outfits I was half-heartedly trying on to wear for my birthday. I freaked out, we laughed nonstop for no particular reason, and in that big beautiful moment, the rest of the ache vanished.
Everything felt confirmed, finally settled. Different, but okay. We were no less to each other, were even a bit more.
It is through these friendships and others that I've unconsciously created "vows" that I make to my friends, when I make the careful decision to offer them the "roadmap of my heart," as Joy calls it. I suspect they are nothing too unusual, I'm sure many of you share them with your friends -- male or female -- but here are mine. The promises I make to my Friend-Family, and the promises I have no doubt they make to me.
- You never have to explain your weirdness. Odds are I share it too. If I don't, it's something in you that I probably admire.
- Your cat is my cat. Your dog is my dog. Your bird/ferret/goldfish is my bird/ferret/goldfish.
- I will never question your sadness or pain. You feel it, so it's real. I'll do everything I can to make it go away.
- I will never begrudge you any success or happiness. Period.
- If you are excited about me tasting something you made, I will at least try it, even if it looks like moldy Play-Doh. (True story.)
- I won't always tell you you're right, or agree with you. But I'll always hear you out and offer the best argument I can muster. I'll also respect you enough to agree to disagree.
- If you are too drunk to drive, go to jail, are stuck with that creepy lead singer I thought we agreed was THE WORST -- any of those 3 a.m. things -- I'll come and get you. There will be lots of questions asked, but no judgement. I may even get you some fast food.
- If you are in serious trouble, my bank account is yours.
- No illness or ailment is ever too gross for me. I'll change your bandages, I'll feed you soup. Hell, I'll empty your Diva Cup. (Another true story.)
- If someone is cruel to you, I will hate them.
- I will try my hardest to love any partner you choose you give your love to, I will try my damndest to never make you choose between your friend and your partner.
- I understand that you have a "resting bitch face" and will never tell you to "smile!" or "cheer up!"
- I will forgive you.
- I will always save the grossest, freakiest stories just for you, because I know you love them
- Speaking of the "roadmap of your heart," I promise to never poke or prod at the stuff that really hurts. I'll remember what is off limits.
- I'll always tell you if you tucked your skirt into your underwear, there's a salad in your teeth, or there's snot hanging out of your nose.
- Even if you are kicking and screaming and "hate me" in the moment, I will always try to stop you from hurting yourself.
- I'd totally be willing to make myself look like an idiot to save you from irrevocable embarrassment a la Liz Lemon dancing in her bra in front of a room full of Jack Donaghy's colleagues.
- I'll never let you fall asleep drunk, face down on a toilet seat, so when you wake up you have a toilet seat shaped bruise that starts on your forehead and circles around to your chest. It's happened to me and it sucks.
- I will never hesitate to recite the litany of reasons I think you are a beautiful person inside and out.
Yeah, we don't always succeed in keeping them, but it's that bottom-of-your-heart effort that always keeps me coming back for more.
What are your friendship vows?