I have this friend…or had this friend. She was beautiful and spontaneous and alive with philosophy and theories and spiritual prose. We knew each other when our kids were really young…when we were really young, actually. And we weren’t alone. There was a whole posse of us single moms-raising our kids on a dime, buying clothes from thrift stores with minimum wages from whatever-job-we-had-at-the-moment, having drinks at the beach while our kids played in the shallow waters. By all accounts, this friend and I, despite the fact that most of our interactions/in depth conversations were had with a drink in hand, we kind of lifted each other up. We expected more from each other than the other single mothers our age. Maybe we felt like we had made some bad choices along the way but we knew we were smart enough to beat the odds. Maybe we thought that if “she did it, I can too” and that was all the reason to keep trying. Or maybe we were both just great pretenders….
Regardless, we had been through just about everything two friends could go through. We saw each other love and lose it and love again. We congratulated each others’ children as ardently as we did each other on accomplishments, and we embraced when family and other friends were not as present or understanding. Above all we always, always recognized the strength we had as women, as friends and as mothers to overcome whatever muddled situations we’d put ourselves in. We vowed to each other we’d rise to the top and not only achieve our respective goals but we’d look good doing it.
We had lofty goals and expectations for each other. We would get nice jobs with benefits and feed our kids organic food from Farmers Markets and philosophize and talk about art projects. We would contribute in a real way to the community. We would travel and show our kids the world! We would be old friends in wheelchairs chasing old men with canes at the Sunnyside Nursing Home. (We loved to joke about how that would play out. Old and wrinkled but still young at heart. Chasing tail as earnestly as we had chased our youthful dreams.) We would be real, good, and true. We would overcome together- Always, somehow together. Sisters of the slums we’d put ourselves in. And perhaps that was the difference between us and the others. We had embraced the struggle. This path, for us, was somehow escapable because we were never really meant to be there in the first place. But the sad truth is that we never really made it out…not together, anyway. Somehow we failed at the end and it feels like something bigger than the death that tore us apart. Leaving her where she is, feels harder than watching him float away. The man I loved died but the woman I compared myself to is still there is still there, clinging to that ledge.
This friend I had once was beautiful. Did I say that already? Well it’s so true that it should be said twice. Her beauty radiated so brilliantly that I never really questioned her. Someone that beautiful and knowledgeable and charismatic could not possibly have malice or delusion. She was after all, nicknamed The Truth. And that’s how I knew her once. True. Honest. Real.
After all those years together- those pee-our-pants laughs and “aha” moments, and cheers for each other and hugs and kisses for our children….. My dear friend became lost to me. It could possibly be my fault and it could also have nothing to do with me at all, but she began to fade away the day my boyfriend died.
She held him for a long time. He was already dead, but they were sort of stuck together –her treading water, clinging to a ledge, trying not to give him up to the current, trying not to let him go. HIM- this dead man she clung to for a long time. I think she held on for me. I think she held on for my children. Because that’s how close we were. We would have done anything for each other. Blood sisters. Prick our fingers, jump in front of a bus. As long as you’re ok, I’m ok. Best Friends. And we would have done those things because everything we had, we had struggled together to acquire. So while my other son, a child she’d known since he was just a baby, struggled to find his way out of the current, with my dead boyfriend in her arms, a man she’d watched me slowly but surely fight to fall in love with, she prayed and begged God or the Universe or whomever/whatever she could channel. She pleaded with the sky “not do this to her” and I have no doubt that her desperate, genuine pleas for my son to live helped him find his way out. There is not a moment more real and more true than her terror that I might not be ok if my son didn’t make it out. There is no other friend who could possibly have understood what the loss of my child -whom she’d essentially helped me raise-what his death -could have meant to me and therefore no greater plea I could have asked for than hers in those moments.
After Jason was taken away, minutes and hours and then days and weeks passed with our fingers intertwined. Watching me through windows, across a room, through puffs of endless cigarette smoke, she waited there, treading water. She was right there. She was with me as I tried to learn to breath and crawl and walk and run again. The honest moments, the tried and true friendship, the concern for our families and our goals and our sanity. The Truth was still there….but I think barely. Faintly. She was holding on, but the rocks were starting to get slippery and her grip was beginning to loosen. She was clinging to something that had quite possibly died a long time ago- something that was extinguished by the same water she treaded in. As we began to crawl out and away from the waterfall where he died, she was was somehow still there in those waters. Still there with him dead in her arms.
I don’t know what happened after the third month. It’s probable that the more I started to run from the ledge the further I ran from her, from my past. It’s possible. We were all changed. We were all running a little. Trying to make sense of it all in our own way, yet still- always, together. But there was something not quite right about her anymore. She was so vigilant that she was almost paranoid. So zeroed in she was almost unaware of anything but those final few moments on the rocks and in the water. After seeing it was possible to lose something – someone- some life- every moment and every anchor…she sort of seemed to let it all go. And I was so consumed by finding myself again that maybe I let her slip away. She was right there but it’s possible that her Truth and mine no longer made any sense. And you see, it’s equally possible that I had no choice but to let her fall behind. There was no room for self doubt in my world. I was alone with two kids now. I couldn’t start my day without vomiting at the thought of it. It was just me left to carry them up over that ledge and I had to trust that the direction I was leading them in made sense to me. I had to trust in my own truth. And as I discovered what that meant to me, the more blurred hers seemed.
One day, she’d fabricated some story about me sleeping with her fiance. She’d said it repeatedly to me via text, but would never have a conversation over the phone or in person. It wasn’t true. Not even close to true. But I think she did it to get away from me too- from herself, from her past, her own truths. She blocked me from her social media. She cut me off, completely. This friend of mine, this sister, this truth I knew, told me to go away- made up a lie and I was forced to accept it. And my need to mentally overcome this loss and rebuild my family took precedence over my need to clarify and shake her and smack her and TELL her to be ok- for us, for her, for me, for everyone else. My need to survive this left little room to fight her while I moved forward.
She has become a casualty. And it’s not because she couldn’t make it. It’s because she’s violent and vicious and a liar and we’re all a little too fragile to make her understand. The Truth I once knew, is now knotted and hurtful and cruel and angry and …. a lie. How ironic. And the cruelest part about her now is that she stands where he lay dead in her arms and she thwarts every attempt we make to climb away. She’s down there in those muddied waters, screaming and hurling mud at every one who passes by. Telling stories, fables to anyone who will listen. Making claim to a person and their feelings post mortem. She’s clinging to a ledge he would never want her to hold in the first place. She holding a solitary, painful truth in her hands and it’s slipping through her fingers and it is as fluid and dirty and real as the mud her treading, tired, feet will never touch. She holds on to this place and gnashes and gnarls her fearsome teeth.
I feel that as she held my dead lover in those final moments I will forever hold her dead truth. And because she held him and because I loved her once, one day- when I have my strength again- I will go where other people won’t. I will go back there and unloose her wrinkled hands, and her tired, treading feet and I will calm her gnashing gnarls and I will tell her that she can do this. I will show her that I can and so she can too. Because she is only stuck there on that ledge. This can’t possibly be my dear friend’s fate. We will laugh about this and philosophize and dream in sync…this friend I had once.
My only truth now is that we all make it out together. And she’s still in there. So one day, I will have to go back.