Six days and nights is a lot of time to lay on your back with nothing to occupy your mind. It’s exactly what I needed to come to a lot of clarity about a few people.
The fevers were rough. But even at their worst, I rode the waves of pain and discomfort because I wasn’t afraid. I’ve been here before. This is the fourth time I’ve had the flu in two and and a half years. It gets bad, and then it gets boring, and then you slowly forget it was there at all. So I chose to be present. I faced a lot of negative thinking about myself. None of it was true. But in those moments, it was hard to keep hold of reality. After you go through any bodily inflammation like that, depression can creep in and do a number. If you can keep your wits about you when the negativity comes in, you can learn a lot about how depression works and how to spot it before it rots you from the inside.
The unkind words in your head should never be welcomed. They’re like infestations. Nor should the unkind words told to you by people who are purportedly your friends. “Burn your bridges” was a phrase that kept coming up this week. Maddie told me I burn bridges with people. She’s not wrong. I used to do it all the time. Fuck, when I decided to leave the Junior League in Tucson, I wrote an email to this awful monochromatic woman named Jennifer and copied the entire Junior League of Tucson. Everything I had to say about her (and it was unkind…true…but still unkind) was also true about the whole mealy-mouthed, unsophisticated, ambitious, tacky bunch of white women who never saw a Coach bag or white wine label they didn’t like. They were a step above military wives. Their only power was in numbers and that power was one of exclusion. So, yes, I burnt that bridge. She ended up marrying one of D’s work friends from Apple. I assume it was because I’d already thrown another Junior Leaguer in the path of D’s other work friend from Apple. I used to be a yenta before I lost my taste for marriage.
I know a thing or two about friendships, mostly from my father. My mother has never had a single sustained friendship in the course of her entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. She was never able to do it.
I’ve lost friends. I’ve tried to go back and save so many friendships I thought I lost single-handedly. I went in an apologized and sometimes begged. I felt guilt and shame for years about them. On reflection, some of that shit was was definitely on me. But some of it was not, and to carry the burden for the rest of my life would be plain stupid. People do things for all sorts of reasons. We can’t always know why and we can’t ascribe their actions to our faults.
Friendships that have longevity are flexible. They allow people to grow and change. They can be put on a shelf and sustain off of air. They can be called upon in the middle of the night. When there are hard feelings, they can be dealt with. They aren’t there to be counted, as one of a gaggle, or to make one feel less lonely. They are there because they add meaning to life.
Friendships that have to be cared for gingerly? That are there for convenience? That are there to justify that one is cool enough or dedicated enough or worthy enough? I’m too old for that shit. I don’t need that kind of validation. I don’t need or even want to have people invite me to brunch.
I really like hanging out with myself. I go to the movies, discover new restaurants, meet interesting strangers, have amazing adventures, find material for writing, find opportunities for performing. I can be uncompromising and outgoing without being tethered to some ball of anxiety whose needs are constantly being put before my own. I don’t ask other people to manage my issues or make up my mind for me. But for some reason, I allow myself to be imposed upon that way. I’m starting to become more cognizant of this. And I’m starting to create boundaries about it. That is not burning bridges. That is prioritizing healthy over toxic. If you ever do want to meet me in person, the quickest way to get me to never talk to you again is to ask me out and then ask me to plan around your indecisive ass and babysit you all night long while you make bad decisions.
The Girl Scouts have a song about making new friends but keeping the old. One is silver and the other’s gold. Yah, I don’t make lifelong friends with everyone who comes in my path. But I don’t think you’re supposed to. Friends are not Pokemon. You don’t have to catch them all. I have friends from every chapter of my life. For someone as socially inept as I am, that’s saying a whole lot. My dad has ten times that many. And he’s a son of a bitch. But he knows how to value people and they want to be around him. Now that he’s older, he’s been going to a lot of funerals of his old compas. So he plays golf with guys my age. And they can barely keep up.
Maybe friendships are like branches on a fruit tree. You wait until after the first hard freeze of winter, and then you prune, taking out the dead wood and clearing space so that what grows back in Spring can do so in the best possible way. Overlook the process and you risk the health of the whole tree.