I haven’t always been the best friend a girl could be. It’s not that I’m not supportive, it’s that I’ve not always been present when I was needed. It’s not that my friends and family are not daily in my thoughts. It’s that I become so obsessed with the person/place/thing right in front of me that I lose track of time until falling exhausted into bed at night. Quiet moments when I might otherwise write a letter or place a phone call are lost to Hypnos, god of slumber.
It’s not that I don’t pay attention, it’s that the blinding white-hot light of my love can only be directed one place at a time.
If you’ve ever touched a light bulb after it’s been on all day, you probably realize such intensity is not the most consoling thing to have in your face. I’m neither comfortable nor satisfied with this aspect of myself, but I figure there are probably worse flaws.
Over the last four decades I have lived in seven different cities in four states. I’ve moved thirty times, and that doesn’t include the back and forth trips from college to home over school breaks. Every stop on my journey brought a new round of “friends.”
They say you never know who your true friends are until you need them most. Maybe I kept moving so much because I subconsciously feared I would disappoint people if they got to know me too well.
Those few and poor dumb bastards who have known me warts-and-all have fallen out of contact over the years. I loved, and was loved by them in friendship. They changed my life forever. And yet, I wonder if they disappeared because of something I neglected to do. Always wondering, Was it my fault?
I’ve also been boy-crazy. Nothing messes up close female friendships like the introduction of the y chromosome. A parade of serially monogamous (well mostly, Ouch!) relationships kept me busy. Then there were the married years.
Pastor’s wife in a 5400-member congregation, department secretary, piano teacher, flute teacher, church choir member, youth choir leader, youth handbell choir leader, grad student working on a 900-page dissertation in connection with 8,000 flutists, and heaven forbid I forget, mother of a young child… I wondered precisely when I was supposed to take time to build lasting friendships.
Yes, I realize the contradiction of being so connected to so many people, yet not feeling intimate friendship with any one of them. I’ve always “known” a thousand people. Often several thousand at once. No wonder my head feels full. But how many of them have I let close enough to know me?
My Virgo instinct for perfection was finely honed as a child and polished daily for four decades. I’ve recently begun to recover from this affliction — in miniscule, barely perceptible steps — with the guidance of my second husband. Even now, my hand reaches for the scissors and the whetstone. Every thread I leave hanging gives me a guilty conscience and an upset stomach. How can I be less than perfect for those closest to me? Don’t they deserve the very best I have to offer?
Through writing, though, I am learning my “best” stories are those that make me most vulnerable. Sharing a weakness is ironically the strongest tool in my literary shed.
So, it is with sad and yet overjoyed heart that I finally start to learn what it means to make friends. What it means to be a friend.
For all those years, I truly believed if my light bulb of love burned bright enough it would bring people closer to me instead of pushing them away. If I wove all my friends’ dangling threads of mishap into a silken robe, they would feel luxuriously close rather than strangled. If I gave all my energy and gifts away, taking nothing in return, I would feel self-worth and satisfaction without obligation or need for reciprocation.
But in the meantime I furtively hid my own burned out bulbs. I tucked my ragged and torn edges out of sight. And in the end, I didn’t realize the friends I hid these things from were the same people who knew how, and maybe even wanted to, help change and mend me with their attention.
Being “perfect” kept me from fully experiencing the love of friends. The unconditional kindnesses I routinely gave away to strangers were those I denied myself.
I know I haven’t finished learning this lesson yet. I know it will be painful, and before long I’ll be screaming, “Screw Change!” It is likely that many will not respect the choices I have made. It is likely the real me will be brash and offensive. And it is certain that I will routinely burn too bright and try too hard.
But you’ve got the clicker now, so please remind me when it’s time to “turn off” for awhile.