Friday, June 15, 2007

Friends, scarcity, plenitude

Earlier this week, Phantom said that her purpose in blogging was "certainly not to realign [her] social circles or to revise [her] narratives of some of the unhappiest moments of [her] life." Reading that I thought, "whoops! if you substitute 'traumatic' for 'unhappiest' that's pretty much exactly why I started blogging." Those of you who've been reading awhile will know about Z.'s birth and hospitalization, but the social piece I haven't really written about.

When I was in college, I attached myself to the class ahead of me, mostly because I had already had the sink-or-swim experience of living in France in a host family, and then had come out, so I felt impatient with my fellow first-years who were in the middle of upheavals I'd already survived. Now, I'd lived through the grief of older friends graduating before, so I took the precaution of making some friends my own year, but the morning after the class of '92 graduated found me driving my packed car to California for the summer, playing a mixed tape from the woman I'd done everything with for a year, weeping out my abandonment pretty much all the way to Chicago. Yeah, it was like that.

The person who was most important to me through all four years of college was another member of that class, K. There were people I had more intense, briefer, attachments to, but having K. in my life was the avenue by which I emerged from college more sane than not. She took me in and balanced me out and saw me, and I think she got something like that from me, and we just plain enjoyed each other. We stayed close through my senior year, then drifted. I shouldn't have let that happen. I owed us both more.

Over the years I find I've left a trail of lost friendships, abandoned not because I loved the person less but because I loved them too much still, and the pain of staying connected across distance was too much for me to live with.

I did okay that way because there were always people around to love until, you know, there weren't. We spent two years in Madison and when I came home, pregnant and enmeshed in business planning, we found that all of our friends had left during our absence--my grad school friends for academic jobs, A.'s college friends for graduate school, our synagogue friends for a combination of relationships and grad school and pulpits. It was a piecemeal exodus that, from our distance, we hadn't added up until we came home to the desolation. And it continued: the couple we thought was so great from childbirth class moved to Seattle, our midwife is now in Berkeley, the neighbor I befriended when I first moved here 8 years ago is about to marry and move to Boston. And in the complete involvement of baby-parenting and business-building, in the emotional fragility of my last two years, I have not been able to see my way out of this isolation.

When Helen died, there was an impromptu memorial for her in New York. I went up because I had to be with people who knew her, and sit for awhile with others who'd just had whatever was left of their trust in the universe shredded. One of the gifts that Helen left behind her is the web of people she tied together during her lifetime. I had not realized that I was still part of that web until I got the phone call about her death and had to pass it on, and then walked into that darkened room in January--a prodigal from Philadelphia who had burned through not money but ties--and walking into that room was like walking into the distillation of my college dining hall, and K's face was the first one I saw. I hadn't seen her in at least a dozen years. Somehow, that evening, that friendship was restored to me.

And blogging. When I started writing this blog, four months ago, it was definitely out of a sense that a web could be spun from a blog. I gave the url out to old friends, those I could find of the scattered ones who used to be, at some point, integral to the rhythm of my life. I imagined they were my audience, and my mother, and A., and Z. when she grows up enough, and Phantom, whom I'd found and corresponded with because of her post on Helen. I knew other people would find me and I would find them, and the new medium was fascinating, and I just kind of plunged in. For a few weeks I read enormously, trying to figure out the webs of connections that were already out there. Now, I think I'm starting to worry less and enjoy it more. And something odd has happened.

Last weekend I met, or re-met, three of the people in this new web of mine. And had that rush of new friendship I hadn't had since graduate school. And since I came home two more of you spontaneously wrote to me. In the last few days and weeks I'm taking this blog more seriously. And I think--right now, today, anyway--that it may be that I'll be okay.

11 comments:

Phantom Scribbler said...

You know, honestly, I had a minor heart attack when my piece got linked from Helen's memorial web site. I almost pulled the whole damn blog down in a panic. I don't know what I thought would happen if opened myself up to being found -- even pseudonymously -- by people from that era of my life, but it was something like "the horror, the horror!"

I'm glad Becca talked me down from my bloggy ledge that night, and, in doing so, gave me the chance to get to know you. It's quite a group of people that you've got gathered around you; I'm honored to be a part of it. And I suspect that you are, indeed, going to be OK. Maybe -- just maybe -- we all are.

liz said...

Hugs to you both.

Jenny Davidson said...

Good, isn't it?!? A strange thing...

E. said...

One of the things I like about your blog, S., is the opportunity its offers for me to connect on a more day-to-day level with the things going on in your life. I haved missed that, and I like the feeling of being more involved. As we all get older (ah, the inevitability!), it feels to me like we just don't have as much time as we used to, and it's harder to spend it with friends and family, rather than on our responsibilities. The feelings we have for loved ones are in no way diminished, but work, children, etc. demand our attention in a new way. Blogging's power for connecting (and reconnecting) with people is a welcome revelation.

Julia said...

It's good to see you feeling this way.

susan said...

Maybe OK indeed: this is good to see.

S. said...

Phantom, tell Becca I owe her a big one.

Jenny, strange indeed. I am reminding myself that the ripple effects of art and friendship are from Helen's life, not her death.

E., I'm so glad you're reading! And commenting. And I'm looking forward to staying with you in the directions you go with your writing.

Liz, Julia and Susan, thanks. It's quite a relief to read myself writing it, too.

Magpie said...

I think you'll be more than okay. And that you'll enrich others along the way.

S. said...

Magpie, that's a wonderful thought. I'll give it my best shot, anyhow. :)

niobe said...

This post makes me feel almost hopeful. The pendulum has swung so far the other way in my own life, as, over the past eight months or so, I've systematically eliminated pretty much all of my old friends from my life because I can't bear the thought of their pity. Yeah, not the brightest move on my part.

But it's so good to see you emerging from isolation and working to bring people together. Maybe, like you, I'll eventually be able to move towards other people instead of running away as fast as I can.

S. said...

I don't know, Niobe, I think retreat is natural and necessary when you've been through what you've been through. I think there's a deeper intelligence at work, maybe? But I do hope for you that you bring people back in to you. I wouldn't exactly call myself a model, though: it took me a year and half to even acknowledge I had a big enough problem to ask for help--and another nine months from that point to get to this post which is still, um, a little tentative. I hope things shift faster for you.