I had dinner a few weeks ago with my old friend CJ.
You see, CJ was my best friend in the city for a long time. We had a falling-out a few years back, and out of respect for an extremely meaningful relationship, that part of this story has gone largely untold. However, with CJ’s permission, I’ll tell you a bit about our reunion.
You see, we used to do everything together.
In the dark days of 2008 and beyond, CJ bore witness to some of the awful things in my life. She never flinched; never moved; never stepped back and said, Give me a call when your life is a little less messy, and we’ll go for a mani-pedi, ‘kay?
When the clouds parted, she drove down to Washington with me when I found a new job, and she helped me move out of my husband’s house when my marriage was over, and eventually, she helped me collect my things from where they were scattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and moved them into the place where I live today.
But life changed for the both of us. I struggled to navigate the post-marital world; her life was changing too. With a bang and a whimper, after years of being ferociously inseparable, we parted ways.
Time went on; life went on. The pain of losing someone who had been my constant companion never quite went away. But as with all acute injuries, it eventually faded into a dull, weird ache that would occasionally flare up when someone said something that triggered the thought of one of our (extremely unfunny) inside jokes, or conjured a memory of an experience we’d shared:
* Like the time CJ and Andrew made me be the designated driver coming back from the beergarden in Astoria, and they gave me the wrong directions and I tried to get on the FDR by driving the Jag the wrong way up a bike path.
* Or the time that our friendship almost ended because I was adamant that people got stabbed at the Manhattan Mall, and CJ and another friend of ours were convinced that the Manhattan Mall was a reasonably safe place to be. (They had to eat crow when a week later, someone was again stabbed at the Manhattan Mall).
* Or the time that we ate nothing but peanuts for dinner and said the word “pants” until it didn’t make sense anymore. (That happened frequently.)
* Or the time we made our famous “rum cake” for my annual Christmas party, except we’d hit the rum before we put it into the cake, and accordingly, had the bright idea to use only Bacardi 151 instead of any water for making cake from a boxed mix.
A few weeks ago, somewhat out of the blue, CJ sent me a text message. After some messaging back and forth, we resolved to meet up for dinner.
Since this was the woman who had once helped me scoop an entire gallon of liquid Tide out of the backseat of the Jag, it would’ve been hard for me to resist a chance to dine under any circumstances. But she’d hit me at just the moment when I really needed her, too.
So we met. And we talked.
In some ways, it was startling how different our lives were than they had been two years prior. She was in a committed, loving relationship with a man who was everything she’d ever wanted in a partner, but had surprised her in how he’d come along. I, obviously, was divorced and still travelling; was as single as the day was long.
I listened to her as she told her tale of meeting her boyfriend; of how they fell in love; of how she knew; of what their life together was like. She had waited for this love; it had come unexpectedly. It struck me, then, that we had sat around many a dinner table talking about love — but it had always been about the end of a marriage, and not the prospect of a new one. It had always been about waiting but never about what it would be like when love arrived. And I watched her glow.
She had shared in so many meaningful moments of mine — the big stuff — life and death and divorce and so on. She had met me at the finish line of my first marathon; snapped the photo I used in my Christmas card to announce I’d finished the run, and oh, by the way, I’m getting divorced.
We parted ways at the end of the meal — and I thought, perhaps the old adage was not entirely true; maybe it wasn’t that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Rather: you don’t know what you’ve got till you’ve lost it, but you can perhaps have some part of it back again. Only when you have a means to compare do you understand the gravity of your loss.
At the end of the day, I think we all try to do our best for our friends, and be the best we can for them, too. I think we want our friends to be happy; feel loved; get as much of the good stuff out of life as possible. As in any relationship, it all takes time and tending and sowing and weeding and pruning to make things grow, but especially time.
My life and CJ’s life are very different now, so to try to revert to old ways would be foolish. But what is life if it is not about second chances? Rebirths? Seizing opportunities as they present?
I’ve seen the gravity of this loss. Sometimes things are not worth the work. Sometimes, things are very much worth saving, and very much worth putting in the effort, it simply takes a whole lot of time. For instance, getting Tide out of the interior of a Jaguar.
But also, friendships; sisterhoods; the ties that bind — save them.