Season 2, 004: How did they begin - our great friendships? What words or gestures were risked - and rewarded?
Last night I had a strange image of putting my head down onto Christy’s kitchen table and all of my body parts became segmented and fell off. Shattering, but orderly, like all of a puppet’s strings untied, let loose, no longer a cohesive whole, a crash test dummy with no seat belt, no car, no blood. My parts were wooden and worn smooth, light like maple, a faint fiddleback grain, kiln dried, now just bits and bobs on the floor, at rest, no energy to roll away, kinetic defeat.
Christy’s mom told her that as a baby she would stare at her hands, perhaps wondering when they would start to create all that was held within her tiny soul. She is a potter, making good things from mud spinning in circles. A chunk of clay reimagined.
A friend offering her table as a good place to fall apart and return, reimagined.
The first thing I noticed was tension between her and the chain-smoker, a woman she seemed to know. But J was in professional mode as she led us through the landscape, offering us all the subtleties of greys and glimmers on a misty fenland afternoon. The expedition ended with a fireside gathering, our spot marked out with fairy lights.
J and I made friends on the river and in the forest. I think it was the third time we met up that she invited me to her home. She lived on a tiny houseboat named after my favourite bird. After a walk on the Washes under a sky full of birds we climbed aboard. She was wild-moored in the middle of nowhere.
I sat cross-legged on a tiny chair by the woodburner. While she cooked something special I looked through J’s paintings. Sated by wildfowl sounds and waterlogged footsteps, hot food and the glow of fire and talk, it felt like I was being seduced. I bought a painting (tiny). But in my bliss my body urged caution, urged me to flee, urged me to fear.
In the dark, remote night J steered us to the only signs of civilisation: a pub decked out with cheery Christmas lights. We said goodbye as I disembarked. Four years and three more paintings later (two of them gifts from her) I suspect that the scariest things about this friend are the very things that scare me about myself.
I have always been a lonely person. I think it comes from a childhood of being parented by 2 people who were there in a practical day to day sense but not in any emotional sense at all. I don’t ever remember being asked how or who I was. That has left a space in my life and heart that has always been there and that has become more noticeable the older I have got. I have always had lots of friends- school friends, Uni friends, work friends, mum friends, lifelong friends and even best friends. I even count an ex boyfriend as a lifelong soul mate friend. And my lovely children also feel like friends too. But even with a lifetime filled with lovely friendship, nothing has ever filled the loneliness in my heart that my childhood left. I still feel like I am searching for one person to fill that gap. Not in the sense of a partner either as I share my life with a solid, dependable man. But as I reach mid life and all of these things seem to come up to be healed and faced, I realise that the friend that I have been searching for really is my whole life is really, in a cliched sense, actually myself and that is where my search for belonging needs to be. I need to be my own best friend.
The first time we met we had Eton Mess for dessert. She dolloped it onto my plate with repeated apologies for the state of it, and I remember thinking that it was an appropriately chaotic dish for someone so very flustered. We were both foreigners back then, both moved to a Swiss village to be at home with small children while our husbands worked in global head offices in the city. The first time we met was in the first week of her arrival. I left dinner with a silent commitment to a six week attempt at friendship. After six weeks, I told myself, I would know if the fluster was the product of her recent move or if she generally operated within a sphere of neuroses that would simply be too much. I knew that no one who moves countries with children is a good version of themselves in the first six weeks. I also knew that it's best to avoid a woman who is too much. Too open. Too loud. Too worried. Too raw. How glad I am that I was so very wrong. Over the first month of knowing her, our days became increasingly shared. Within the chaos and mundanity of child wrangling and meal making and forest walking, I learned that she was much more open, loud, worried and raw than I could have ever imagined. She made me uncomfortable. She made me laugh. She made my days brighter, fuller, and more honest. I learned the mess and magic of her, and shared the mess and magic of myself in return. Years later, now oceans apart, we still have the most wonderful friendship. One that has taught me, among many other things, the absurdity of the notion that a person can ever be too much.
I’m writing about a friendship that went wrong. We met on line when my friend supported me with a comment when someone else criticised me. There followed regular whatsapp messages and a weekly hour for coffee and talk about life, love, work, play, relationships, politics, communication, local gossip and whatever issue of the week, whether national, international or local that we wanted to analyse. I have never yet found a friendship quite so wide ranging as that one. This continued as a warming and special part of my life until I did something I thought was quite innocuous, in all innocence, which unexpectedly upset my friend and damaged their trust in me. I still find it hard to fathom their reaction, but had no option but to accept it; my apologies did not help. We did eventually get back in touch tentatively and always say hi, how’s things when we encounter each other. They visited me in my garden during lockdown and we’ve exchanged caring messages about our respective health issues, but it will never be as it was again. Their life is seemingly too full and busy to find even a chink for time with me, but I’m always pleased to see they’re happy and doing well. I’ve got other friends, longer lasting, more durable and more precious to me but I still mourn the particular nature of that one.
A decade of sibling silence, always hopeful me unknowing, how if ever we might restore our torn apart relationship. Our mother's accident during lockdown and the reality that she may not survive. It was a message sent to my sister by me that would be the start of our new connection, initially all about possible arrangements for our mother, difficult, fragile circumstances and all through messages. choosing our language our words carefully was mentally exhausting, emotional, draining. Yet, through all of this challenging period we remained constant, expressing care and support for each other. With this strength we stepped forward and arranged to visit me to her home first then her to mine. These first steps for us mending our relationship. Our mother's situation our unknown gift. Just us now me my sister friends making new memories together. We made it.
Fin, we called her, lived in a house behind hollyhocks, dappled purple and white. I’d see her hair bob in front of me on my walk to school, she ahead by three years, appearing and disappearing like a thought. Until…
She helps my brother unroll the corrugated tin siding, stretch the vinyl up and over the sides, to make our backyard pool. He gets the hose, she reappears in a bathing suit and hot-dog shaped float printed in slick-face with the words Hound Dog -- what is that? Billy laughs and Fin says she is in love with Elvis. Everyone is, says Billy, the pool half full and Fin tossing the float, leaping in, fighting Billy to straddle it; they are like wild cowboys and I get splashed.
I stay near the edge but get splashed badly. Fin goes under once or twice, Billy crazy with the water stream, Fin disappearing. Then she is behind me outside the pool, leaning in, turning me toward her, taking wet hair from my eyes, arranging it gently on my forehead. Billy leaves the hose dangling and walks away. Can Fin tell I am crying? I am crying all the time. There now, she says, and she is gone. Hoses, rain, pools, tears - water takes many forms, all blessings.
Meeting Anna was therapeutic and inspiring. She has travelled the world, thrown herself into adventures, and has also suffered massive loss.
Getting to know her, and becoming closer has shown me a kinship that I've never really experienced before.
She understands the effects of trauma, and the messy reality of ‘excavating’ in therapy, along with the ongoing healing process.
Cold water swimming together has shown me that I can find solace, in even the hardest times. The water is our healing place. It has the power to light us up like nothing else. It reminds us again and again how brave we can be-how we still crave feelings of aliveness; highlighting how discomfort is a big part of the healing process.
Whenever i’m having a really tough time, somewhere inside me I know we will be together in the cold water again, a sacred time, free of anxiety and the multitude of masks.
Moments to just be; alive and authentic.
I will gulp, shiver, tingle and burn as I wade or plunge into new and unfamiliar waters, keeping warm by a fire or wrapped in a robe, gifted to me by a person who has been there throughout, and who finds comedy, stimulation, and comfort in what I can’t find in myself at times.
We weren’t meant to be friends and maybe we never were. We both arrived at the same time in an unfamiliar city. I, escaping the claustrophobia of a family who never travelled, but regularly crossed the boundary lines between parent and child. She, seeking the affections of a family with boundaries of Atlantic proportions; a father who worked in the States during the week, flying back to London on weekends when convenient. In the time I knew her, the father remained absent. That was the only reason I could fathom why she slept with her much older, married boss. The tacky lingerie he bought her lay draped over the drawers in our shared bedroom, begging for attention.
She wasn’t pretty but gave the illusion of being so; blond, tall and Sloaney. The honey pot on our nights out. Despite her Oxford education, or perhaps because of it, she played a coquettish girl, helpfully sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Anyone with a mild leaning towards intellectualism soon sidled over to me, in the hope of better, or at least adult, conversation. Not well versed in approaching men, I was indebted to her. The generosity, even joy, she took in providing the trap and offering me the richest pickings, was a revelation. In my small town, the scarcity of eligible men bred possessiveness and jealousy among the female population. Friendships took a back seat as soon as something resembling love was made on one.
At various parties. In a funky clothing store where my best-ever friend was composing poems as she paused between customers. At my local humane society, where she chose me the instant our eyes met. At work, where we went for long walk to discuss our seemingly irreconcilable differences. At a conference, where the organizer grabbed my hand and exclaimed, "You'll love her!" In Grade 12. In Grade 1. At summer camp. At a support group for trauma survivors. ~ They're everywhere, potential friends.
I remember when making friends was easy.
I remember connecting to other little girls (and boys) when I was a little one myself.
I remember the effortless way we would spend time together, doing something or nothing.
I remember spending significant birthdays and events with friends.
I remember planning those events and taking part in them, when it was a pleasure.
I remember when it suddenly wasn't so easy, connection became more tricky, doing anything with friends was then an effort on both or one side.
I remember the agony of friends having children, that I would never have. Of being shut out of parties and events because of the children I didn't have.
I remember pre pandemic times, when friends were not all on a screen or words on a phone.
I remember that things change, that I still have friends that care and that I see, whilst remembering the ones that got away or never returned.
Friend in Perpetuity
I can feel you, sense you in the air flow. Your drift and sway embraces me like a web of fine feelings sticking to my skin. I track your flow of friendship through the strong scent you leave in your wake. It guides me towards you, pulls me towards your energy. Your spark has ignited my life; illuminated my way forward, but your light burns with a clinging intensity fastening me to you; but I still distil you like an ambrosial liqueur and drink in the essence of you.
You have swished and swashed yourself around my timeline; gathered in loose strands of me, collected my pain and anguish; wrapped them in your friendly face and smiled away my fantasies and fears and hidden away my secrets. A piece of my heart I carved for you. One of my heartbeats hangs from your neck; a betrothal of closeness snagged in your weave. We are an unlikely pairing set in a stretch of time. You are my lived landscape.
I sometimes fear the fierceness of our friendship, your edges have become sharp, jagged and unforgiving; a snap away from a break or a crack away from a wreck. We have become castaways on each others islands, afraid to swim away or build a bothy to share. I have snuffed out and re-ignited our desire to friend over the decades, but the fault lines have re-opened exposing a drift of desire. I never held you in a lover's embrace, but we wrapped each other up in a coat of many colours and dared to dream.
Thank you so much Tanya for adding my piece. I really love the visual shape of it on the website too. Pretty blown away really! I originally hesitated whether or not to post this piece, I'm so glad I did. I don't know, perhaps it's all about timing, what resonates. Me, noticing your book, immediately ordering it and now to here. This, your project really resonates. Your response has lifted me. More writing to come from me. Julie xx
I grieved when our 'friendship' came to an end. I mourned for the previous 14 years of 'her' dominant force in my life.
She 'saw' me and quite literally 'stopped me in my tracks' as I shuffled along the street ,eyes down , heavy with sadness and heading towards someone's sofa , that I called "home for now".
She was twice my age and said she had "lost a great love" , that she too had been thrown into the 'deep sadness' . I was too broken to mutter the words that were in my head "I'm lost , I don't have a home and they don't love me " .
I was 18 years old and homeless for the second time in just over a year .This time felt different though . I no longer felt 'cute' , the drugs and alcohol weren't working , I was hungry and 'friends' looked at me with 'that ' look . I didn't fit anymore , I never really had . I just pretended .
Over the years she would offer me a place to sleep on her floor, create a 21st birthday party for me with a Barbie cake , she would help move me to yet another dirty shared house , she would encourage me to split with a guy I liked because I was "too mentally ill to have a relationship" , she would insist that I have an abortion and I did .I did everything she told me to .
Our 'strange' friendship ended over 11 years ago now , which is nearly as long as the time it lasted.
Today I am a teacher , an Aunt and on a 'Programme' where I am now learning how to communicate my feelings and how to have relationships.
The words she spoke then, echo into my everyday life and seem to make more sense now than they ever did then .
Friendship Series 2_04. Jean Wilson
We met over the garden gate. Literally. Heavily pregnant, I had moved from our upstairs flat to a larger terraced house closer to town and the beach: room for our imminent arrival and proximity to ‘all local amenities’ as the blurb went. She has loved me from the start, unconditionally. Her door is always open; the kettle always on. The relationship is hard to categorize. Her eldest was 24, her youngest 9 months, and her live-in daughter’s son 3 months. She is mother to six children, two of them twins. Was she mother, sister, equal friend? Age didn’t seem to matter.
Her accent betrays M’s Welsh origins and she had eschewed a career with the BBC to marry Norman, a northeast lad. She loves language and reading, common ground for us there then. She is interested in people and a good listener. Extremely generous, even when resources are limited, her perfect day is to be with family and friends, though I think she values a little peace as she has got older.
My life has been rich in friendships. Despite having moved cities several times, relationships have been maintained and grown with distance. Some have been for a season but many have been for life. What, I wonder, makes this richness? This year, M and I will have been friends for 45 years. Despite moving away then returning to a different part of town, if we haven’t seen each other for a while, we catch up and are as close as ever. We have shared everything without judgement. Have we ever fallen out? No. We have differed in our opinions, but respected those differences. We have lived ‘next to’ not ‘in’. We’ve been tolerant and warm. Both of us.
Thank you very much for your feedback Tanya. It is music to my ears that it was right to follow my instinct on my voice. It still blows my mind that you take the time to read all of our memories and comment on them! You are so very generous and I can't thank you enough. Hope you are all well and have a beautiful weekend.