What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
You were once our own private storm. Lone black wave on the beach curling in on itself, folding all the darkness within until it became too much to bear, and then you crested and collapsed onto the shore, devastating everyone in our wake. You didn’t know it then, but you combed the beach determined to ruin. Felt the crunch of shells and bottles underfoot. But you never winced, bled and certainly never cried, as that was against the rules. Over the years the ocean had become something of a house and you were its tired, listless tenant wanting to break the lease, wade your way out, but everyone seemed to love the storm that was you. Boys called you their miniature hurricane, wrestled their fingers through the thicket that was our hair. Miming fear on their inevitable drowning. Girls barnacled themselves to you because back then being a sideshow act in the hurt circus was the height of literary sophistication, and you with your storied childhood gave everyone a part to play.
You were an ocean and a telenovella all at once, and everyone lived for next week’s episode. But you were tired and had so much pain. Where do you put all this pain? Can you store it in the house and swim away? Or do you become the one who becomes engulfed in it, so much so that the undertow brings you further away from the light.
But one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the wave changed shape and form and then it was the past and there you were in a room miles away from the ocean.
In Russia, you couldn’t sleep. You wandered the city with strangers watching the sky, wondering when it would ever fall to darkness. Come twilight you passed the time with a girl from L.A. who smacked gum loudly and talked about a heroin addiction that made her come undone. Like soldiers out of battle, you traded your drug war stories and joked about scoring pills in TJ until everyone stared — forcing the two of you into a corner. Her constant gum-smacking, her sing-song voice and erratic way of speaking unnerved you. She was irritating in the worst way but you wanted to be around her. Amongst the thieving gypsies and men hawking pirated DVDs on the Nevsky Prospekt, you kept finding your way to her. Bumped into her in the Summer Gardens, passed her between classes, and you joked and laughed because the two of you, a friendship?, made absolutely no sense. What was this acerbic New Yorker, with her clipped walk and obsession with order, doing with a girl, wearing shorts way too short, from East L.A.?
And so it goes. As the years marched onward, she would become a great, enduring love. You often talked about how you were two halves made whole. Apart you were puzzle but together you were terrific symmetry, finishing each other’s sentences, practicing our respective mimicries. You determined that your friendship would endure because you were so different. You shone so bright, always, and she was content in her quiet. Bound by familial hurt and a history of self-medication, we often mused over the story that was us and we each scurried home to write our respective books. You held her head in your hands during a heartbreak and she was the one you called when you decided to quit drinking, for good. Back then you thought this: there was never a friendship such as ours. We were impenetrable. Nothing could break us.
Never did we think that we would be responsible for our ruin. We were our own wreckage. Did we know it at the time, or only know when remembering all of it?
Lately I’ve been reminded, albeit in a roundabout way, about friendship and love, and how the two are inexplicably bound to one another. There are those friendships where you only glide across the surface of one another. You have your cozy dinners and kiss-kiss on the cheek and then you fade into the recesses of night, only to do it all over again in six months. And there are other friendships that swell and crest — you friend and love furiously and recklessly — but in time inevitably fall because of the weight of itself. Who knew that gravity could undo so many? And then there are those quiet friendships that ebb and flow and we sometimes take them for granted because they aren’t of the telenovella kind, but these are the ones that endure. Those are the friendships that do not alter.
Today I spent a three-hour lunch with an old friend at The Fat Radish, and we spoke of the great love I’d lost, the ones I never really had, and the one who remains a constant. While I’ll never really know why my friendship with S faded, I’m honored to have gathered with her for the time that we had, and our fissure and break allowed me trespass to a whole host of beautiful friendships worth cultivating.
And all this time was the constant harvest. The one friend who has shared eighteen years of my life and we endure. We gather in her home and on the phone and any way that we can come together. Sometimes I like to think of us as two waves in the light, glinting, magical, coming together and pulling away when we need to.