Ten years ago, when my ex-husband and I were both in our late twenties, we lived in Washington DC. I was part of a clique of women who were mirror images of each other. We shopped at the same stores, ran the same runs, wore the same clothes, read the same books and believed the same things. I LOVED them dearly, but I was always ACHING for more. I craved interactions with others who looked nothing like me, spoke dissimilarly, and cooked with spices that were not found in my own kitchen cabinets.
I desired variety. I needed creativity and new challenges. It was suddenly deeply vital for me to know more, learn more, and be more. Of course, this was before I regarded feelings to have any meaning or purpose so it was a bit confusing. I was a hard bitch. The restlessness for more was like a constant itch without ever finding the source of the bite. I didn’t understand why I felt the way that I did. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that I just needed the light that was deep within me to be ignited.
I found respite from my matching group in the form of a masculine, gay, New York City transplant, Jamaican/Bahamian black man who could easily hang shelving in my bedroom and then beat me in a Tyra Banks runway walk-off. We would pump the streets of DC together during our days off from the restaurant where we both worked. He called me Heidi because I looked like a “plain Jane.” I’m not sure why he didn’t just go with “Jane,” but it’s probably because he wasn’t into being predictable. We were a good match because he yearned to be a white girl who appeared to be from the Mid-West and I just wanted to be interesting. He brought me to stores with colorful Air Jordan high tops before high tops became a thing again. For lunch, we ate at cheap Mexican restaurants and drank five dollar pitchers of margaritas. For dinner, we went to fancy establishments where people would chuckle at us as we ooo’d and ahh’d over delicacies, our hands flying while we talked. He befriended people everywhere we went. There were always stories to tell, experiences to make us laugh, and plenty of his theatrics to keep our attention.
My own drama was minimal because I was slightly dead inside. Because of extreme guilt and shame, I was covering up my secrets of an affair by being incredibly boring. I was just sort of blank. As soon as I would go home, the light that M’Heidi (my pet name for my DC pal) had brought out in me would go dark again. I was a despondent human being pretending to play house-wife to a really great man. I was surrounded by a loving tribe of coordinating friends. And I was miserable. Because I was hiding from the truth.
After my divorce, I was no longer a part of the identical gang. It was a mutual break-up. They were shell-shocked and I was sad, lost, spinning, and quietly sitting in the mess that I had created. I was starting over. There was no love lost between us, but the band would never be put back together again. Because I broke it.
Fast forward a few years to my cancer diagnosis. From my hospital bed, I called my few friends who knew about the previously scheduled throat tumor biopsy that would take place the day after my c-section. That morning there were not many numbers that I had to dial. The individuals who knew about the cancer were a small and dear collection of old and new friends. I saved the other important calls for when I got home.
From my hospital room, I did call Kristen; my ex best friend from the analogous tribe in DC.
We had met in college. We were kindred. Our friendship was soul deep. Our relationship reminded me of Anne of Green Gables and her beloved, Diana. Since my divorce, we had picked up some of the pieces of our friendship, but had put them back together differently. The pieces were sparse. We were no longer the same. She was hurt by my two-faced inauthenticity and the role she had to play as my infidelity secret-keeper and I was upset that she couldn’t accept the “new me.” She answered on the third ring and I said, “Kristen, you have to sit down.” She replied, “What’s going on? Is the baby ok?” I said, “Sam’s ok, but I have cancer.” I could feel her body crumble as she choked on her own words and pleaded, “Jaime, nooooooo, Jaime, no, no, noooooo,” into the phone.
We had only seen each other twice since my divorce (one of those times was at a funeral), but two weeks after receiving my cancer call, she left her three small children with her husband and flew up to spend time with me in the hospital. We met at The Brigham and she sat with me as my radiation oncologist explained that I wouldn’t be able to breast feed for much longer. She sat with me in a stale, secluded room as I pumped milk for Sam in between multiple appointments. She sat at the foot of my hospital bed while a nurse placed a huge IV into my arm. She was allowed to stay in the room, but had to stand three feet back from me while I got my mask fitted to my face in the radiation screening room. She bravely said, “Wiggle your fingers if you want me to take your picture.” I was in a scanning tube and the neon green plastic molding was drying to my face as I was bolted to the table. I wiggled my fingers. I’m so glad I did.
Afterwards we went to lunch in the city and said things to each other that were real, and honest and full of Love. She drove me home to Mike and Sam on the Northshore. She held my baby and everything felt easy and regular and good. On the ride out of the city, I had told her about a recent conversation with my doctor who had originally found the tumor. After I had explained to him that I landed at Dana Farber and would be receiving care outside of Lahey, he said, “Ok. Good Luck. Jaime, you need to know that they’re going to drop a bomb on you. But remember that in five years this will just be a blip. I’ll see you on the other side.” As Kristen left that day, she gave me a hug and whispered, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
And she has. We don’t speak regularly. But I love her, and she loves me.
In fact, each member of the (once) matching group has found new places in my life. I don’t think any of us look the same anymore. We’ve all grown up. Found new paths. Learned new things. Become our own entities. I would assume that it has something to do with getting older. Just yesterday, I received a 40th birthday party invitation from one of them. The party isn’t until January and it’s five days before my due date, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The friends that I regularly keep in touch with today are some of the same people in my short contact list from three years ago in my hospital bed. Others of those friends have drifted away because life has carried us in different directions. Most likely, we will come back together again. This summer, I rekindled a few relationships with old companions, and added some brand-new ones into my life. It feels really good; natural and unforced.
Maybe my best friends these days won’t be my best friends for life. And that’s ok. There’s a consistent ebb and flow that happens in all things and friendships are a part of that tide.
Gretchen and I didn’t spend as much time together this summer as we have in past summers. But just last week, she was on a fourteen-day solo adventure in Hawaii living her best life and taking a break from any phone calls. I had posted something on IG and a follower had adamantly disagreed with my post. Within five minutes of reading the comment, she had added her own (very kind) comment to back-up my original words. And then without any caption, she texted me a GIF of a kid getting clotheslined in a game of Red Rover. No explanation needed.
It’s funny how friends can play such different and equally important roles in our lives. Some only appear for a year, and some for thirty. Some are intermittent and some are steady. Some are meant to add to a foundation, some to support, some are meant to teach us something, some for play and entertainment, and some to hold up a match to a spark that is deep within us.