Sunday, December 4, 2011

Friendship: More Than "BFF!" by Robin Minnick

I was born the youngest of five girls in upstate New York. I've lived in Maryland, Vermont, back in New York, in Nashville, TN and now in North Carolina. I have a love affair with words and with Christmas, and my husband and I come from a long line of elves. Not too surprisingly we seem to have founded a dynasty of wordsmiths and caregivers and counselors.

I have had varying amounts of success in writing, but I couldn't be happier than when I am devising a plot, revising a manuscript, or revisiting the chaos of the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month aka November).

Friendship: More Than "BFF!"
by Robin Minnick 
Kaye raised the question recently about friends, friends who come in and out of our lives, friends who hurt us and leave, and just friendships in general. It raised a few more questions for me.

First, I'm one of those pain-in-the-neck friends who is probably too present when she's around, and not enough when there is distance between us. I completely believe in the philosophy illustrated in this sign. (Luckily, so do quite a few of my friends.)

This can be attested to by the fact that a number of my classmates have found me or been found by me on Facebook. -- and we still only talk  every now and then.

I've moved around a lot. As much as I've picked up friends in new places, I always wound up leaving a few behind. Even best friends. I may be a writer, but I am a truly lousy correspondent -- until email. After all, that's what phones were for, right? But I love email. Electrons are such cute little devils, and they seem so much more immediate.


I raised the question on FB -- but no one answered :( -- about how many writers had ever written about their friends in their fiction? Okay, it was a dangerous question. I don't blame people for not answering. However, at the risk that I'm putting my head on some sort of virtual chopping block here, I have. I've written about friends or used bits of them as characters for reasons both bad and good. Human nature being what it is, I daresay they will see what is not there and not recognize what is, so I think I'm relatively safe. Writing about them -- and my own past -- has provided fodder for the storymaker and ease for my soul in so many ways.

Going back to Kaye's question about friends, however, I do have a story to relate.

In the 1990's we made friends with the neighbors who lived behind us. Our only previous exposure to them had been when they built a bonfire in their back yard to get rid of a tree they'd taken down. I watched from our kitchen door, thinking what nuts they were to take such a risk. Later, the day we met officially, our oldest daughter trundled out her new twin baby sisters in a laundry basket for our neighbor to see. That zany behavior and the babies sealed our friendship.

We already attended the same church; their daughter and son were respectively each one year older than our second oldest daughter and our son; and we were fascinated with each other. Their family and ours fit together beautifully. We went through dance recitals, summer classes, card games, Little League, and children's choir together, Our daughters shared -- and got in trouble in -- the first combined grade 3-4 class our schools had. Actually, it was the two of us mothers who got in trouble, but that's another story altogether.

We talked writing projects. She was an educational director at a local historic site and an artist. Together we had ideas in abundance. In fact, we once discussed an idea for a book series that actually appeared a year or so later, but not from us.

The event that showed the culmination of our friendship had to be when we returned from a vacation to find they'd installed a gate in our back fence so that we could visit back and forth without going around the block. They placed a big red bow on it so we'd be sure and see it the moment we got back

A couple years later they moved, but only to a bigger house down our street. The friendship continued. There were other small disruptive changes; the kids changed schools away from ours, but it was to follow their own academic plans, so it was all right. Our friendship endured and grew with little more changing.

Until the dad was laid off. They had already seen us through one lay-off; now it was their turn. And the ax completely fell when the job he got was not in Tennessee but in Minnesota. With heavy hearts we saw them off, everyone being as brave as they could be, not admitting how horrible this was.

Despite good intentions, we didn't write or even phone as much as we'd planned. Partly because we were all trying to rebuild our lives without each other. It's one thing to lose a personal best friend. These were our best family friends, the only family we'd ever known who fit with all of us. They were also our youngest child's godparents.

I felt bereft. Never mind that I had an equal responsibility to maintain our friendship. She sounded so cheerful when we did communicate that I assumed all was well with their new lives. I was, we were, completely left behind.

They had a bad scare when their daughter developed meningitis, and we were in fairly close contact then. But as her daughter came out of the illness, my friend attacked her masters and teaching degrees, her husband moved along in his job, all our kids grew and attended college,

I knew I'd never have a best friend again. It was that simple. Friends yes, but my best friend was gone, along with the possibility of ever having another. I didn't even stop to think about the best friends I'd left behind at various stages of my life. We were still in touch. We all lived lives in different states. And we'd all grown comfortable with our separate lives. Somehow, this felt different. Maybe it was because this friendship was part of the roots we'd finally put down. All I knew was that it hurt.

And then along came Facebook

I resisted FB for a while. I'm no better at maintaining that than I am at other social environments. And I didn't want to intrude on what I saw as my kids' territory. However, Kaye here, and Scott Simon on NPR, made comments that made me see the sense of signing up.

I learned how FB could keep me in touch with family far away, even with members I barely knew. I made some new online friends through Kaye's referrals, and even a few professional contacts. Now my workplace has a page, and I'm in touch with people there. But I didn't expect to see friends from all stages of my life suddenly appear. Anyone with a FB account knows what I'm talking about. It is a wonderful way to reconnect with people you would otherwise never hear from again.

And that's how my friend found me. It was a cautious communications at first, but then our reacquainting spilled forth.

And I learned some stuff.

By this time, our family had been through the same trauma of changing states, ripping up roots put down over 24 years. We knew what it was like to come into a family community cold and have to make a place for ourselves. We're actually still working on that. I was in a better frame of mind to understand that moving took a great deal of energy and concentration, long after the furniture is arranged and the kids settled in the new school.

Still, what I learned startled me. I'd known about the daughter's illness. That had taken a lot of their time and emotional energy to deal with. What I had not known was my friend's subsequent emotional state. She'd gone into a depression, in part due to missing me and her life in our city.  As with all depressions, it took her a while to climb out. She had, and she was stronger for it, as was her family.

I read her story with both guilt and humility. While I'd been nursing my wounds in the city she'd left behind, she'd been enduring heartache. When we talked, she always regaled us with her adventures, so it had never occurred to me that she was suffering too. I, who should have known there are always multiple sides to any story, had failed to even consider the possibility. I had moaned that she was not here for me, but I was not there for her either.

Neither of us blames the other. We both know our own natures. And, I think we have recovered, at least for the most part. We are still lousy correspondents. We do, however, keep tabs on each other, and our families. We celebrate on FB, and we mourn together privately. It is, however, lesson learned.

I no longer assume I know what is going on in my friends' lives. I no longer take for granted that I've gotten the worse end of the deal in a relationship. And I look a little harder at how I can keep a friendship healthy.

Kaye could tell you. We seldom see each other, as we are at opposite ends of the state, and she no longer works at ASU where one of those twin daughters goes. I'm not nearly as good as she is about sending holiday cards or ecards. But we're in touch, and if one of us really needs the other, we're there.

So here's to success in friendship, and success in whatever you do, but most of all, here's to friendship!


I've sent pics before of my workspaces, in the car, in my office. Here is a picture of what is across from my workspace, in our living room. The piano in the corner hosts a variety of scenes. The Hallowe'en display recently ended. Here is our Thanksgiving tableau. Not sure what's up for Christmas.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Robin - Welcome, cutie!!!!!

always fun to see you, and I especially enjoyed reading this.


Unknown said...

Hi, Kaye. Thanks for letting me meander through and muse.