“Friend” is an interesting word. I think it’s thrown around an awful lot in our society, far more than it should be.
My wife had a ton of friends, or at least she called them that. I cannot say for certain that all of them were really “friends” in the truest, Manoucheri definition of the word, though. I loved my wife beyond all belief, in spite of the arguments, frustration, illnesses, depression and other things. Those were the hard parts, the things about marriage that you endure to get the smiles, caresses, the soft touch of the back of her hand on my cheek, those kinds of things. Nothing comes without some sort of price. It’s not a bad thing. I don’t say that as if life is a series of payments and rewards. In fact, you are maddened by these things and then grow to love that you love the madness as much as they do.
But Andrea had a tendency to call people friends who ended up leaving her and our lives a little too easily. I could give you the dictionary’s definition, that “ person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard” line. But my wife’s definition of friendship and mine were never quite the same. She had friends and then she had friends. For me, I tended to be much more like my father, maybe that’s good and maybe that’s bad. My Dad has a circle of friends that is very, very small. His best friend in the whole world passed away not long after Andrea did. In fact, he was living in the house with me when the man passed and that was hard for me to come to terms with.
I have a small circle of people that I can honestly call friends. They cross the sexual divide. They tend to be people who are loyal, caring, and whose judgement and inspiration I ask for and weigh heavily. Some know how much they mean to me, others may not realize that I hold them in such high regard. I say this not to make people read and wonder if they’re in the category. I know there are people who are friendly and pleasant and whose judgement I listen to. But when things are awful, when the world collapses around you, there are only a few people whose friendship you trust enough to let go of those last emotional strings and let yourself fall into their help. Some of them I’ve known for years. Some may be people I’ve just met. Or maybe it’s someone I’ve yet to meet. Regardless, I am friendly with a lot of people. I’m friends with a few.
If you’re wondering why I bring this up it’s because I can finally think about these things with some clarity. Some of those very people called me and were broken up as I was when they heard what had happened. I looked to them for strength beyond what my parents could give.
When Andrea first got sick and ended up in the hospital, her best friend called me. This was, quite literally, her best friend. I know this because they would go for weeks or months without talking and when they finally connected would have no issues with the length of time or the distance. They would talk for hours. When Andrea was in depression and saddened about how she looked or felt and didn’t want this friend to see her she showed up on a plane anyway, calling me and working out the details with me because . . . she’s my friend too.
When I started dating Andrea, her best friend in the whole world was a woman I’d gone to school with. My wife ended up roommates with her and we had no idea until we met there was even that connection. It’s a tribute to my wife that she could learn everything this person knew about me and still marry me.
But the most important thing here is that when Andrea ended up in the hospital she called and said she’d booked a flight and would be at our house to help with the kids before the weekend. Neither of us knew at the time Andrea wasn’t going to make it. She stayed through the funeral and then left. In the throngs of losing my best friend I never stopped to think about how she was someone else’s best friend, too. Only a year later did I realize that she’d lost something strong, too. In only now think about how calling or asking for time might just remind her of what was missing in her life as well.
In the depths of despair you have tunnel vision. I saw the world from my point of view. I realized it’s the best of friends that realize that and don’t treat you badly for it. They lose, too, and wait for you to bring the world back into focus before crossing through the maelstrom themselves. I hadn’t stopped to think what losses others felt. I hadn’t realized a simple call from me or the kids could be icy reminders of loss for others.
Two amazing friends from Dallas constantly helped me with dealing with the emotions and then the realities of raising my kids alone – one in particular helping me with the issues of getting a girl ready for the prom. Then my brother helped me by giving me musical distraction and conversation.
A family we know here helped me navigate the valleys in my life and helped me manage the finances of everyone’s help and then went so far as to pick up my kids when I was stuck at work. There was no hesitation, just action. That is what you do for friends . . . real friends.
I have friends, but it’s the friends that have helped me survive. They gave of themselves but never thought of it as giving. They simply considered it part of who they are. I have since made other friends, whose conversation I can enjoy without pause and without discomfort. It’s a hard circle to break into, but once you’re there, it’s fairly certain to be permanent.