Alternative Title 1: Why Does Friendship Get Harder as You Get Older?
Alternative Title 2: For Julie
Friendship is a funny thing. One moment you’re going about the business of existing in a capitalist world that takes everything from you (your time, your energy, your relationships, your dignity, your will to live, et cetera) and then mocks you for not giving enough, and the next, your heart is aching, yearning for a time long past, when laughter was enough to hold your life together. High school was a horrible, horrible time, in more ways than one, but I could never say enough about the laughter. So much of it, and so loud, defining all of the joys of girlhood.
But then, adulthood, and with it, distance. Now that you are all the way in another country, the distance between us is a little longer than the few steps between our cubes in Cherangani House, and I haven’t heard your laugh in months.
By virtue of the fact that I am the way I am, I do not have much experience missing people, feeling their absence acutely and longing for the familiar warmth of their presence. I didn’t even miss my own family during those never-ending years of waking up at 5:00 am to bathe with freezing water, cursing the day I was born each time the water touched my body. But now that you’re not on Kenyan soil, I am discovering that missing a person is more than I am comfortable with. But then again that is what missing a person is. Discomfort. Longing. Nostalgia. Hope.
I have many reasons to resent adulthood. Capitalism. Taxes. Watching my father swallow tablet after tablet to keep the diabetes at bay and hearing my mother wonder aloud whether the weird sensation in her hands is an early warning sign of arthritis. Acne that didn’t go away once the hormones of adolescence did, like they all promised it would, the bastards. Writing cover letters. Realising the government is not just indifferent to me, but is literally out to screw me. Getting cut out of my parents’ health insurance. And – since I experience life a little slower than others do – the first taste of heartbreak. But one that nobody ever prepared me for is realising that the people who know my heart, my friends, get only what is left of me after capitalism has had its way with me. And that as we get older and busier, this is not enough. It is bad enough that the implication here is that I pour the best of myself into surviving a world that was not designed to allow me to thrive, but even worse is the knowledge that by doing this I risk looking away for a couple of weeks and completely losing sight of the people who make me better.
I’m certain that few would consider this a big deal. Relationships come and go, right? But with social skills as insufficient as my own, I am also certain that if I lost my grip on my friendships, I might not be lucky enough to form new ones. It is what it is, and I have long made my peace with my less-than-stellar ways of interacting with the world. But that doesn’t stop me from picturing a future where I fail at being a friend. Now that would be truly embarrassing.
I will admit that the distance between us makes me panic sometimes. The other day my siblings were gushing about how great you are, and I was insisting that since I have more fingers than I have friends, it is hardly just for them to be slobbering over the precious few friends I do have. And I remembered that the last time you and I went on a date, just the two of us, was way back in 2016 or thereabouts, when I was in the middle of hurtling towards the ground after falling off the very high pedestal of Christianity, and you bought me juice and a sandwich, and we talked about sex and diets and how our lives were changing. And I remembered that the last time we spent a significant amount of time together, just the two of us, was when I came to your house after months of postponing it, and you served me chocolate-covered strawberries like in the movies because you were always kind of extra in that sort of way. I can’t help feeling that so much of our friendship is held by remembering; and wondering how long my memories of you will be enough, when many of them are not representative of who you are now.
Making friends as an adult is hard. Even more so for me and my kind who neither see the need to make more friends nor have the skills to do so even if we wanted to. It’s been a great tragedy to learn that maintaining friendships as an adult is just as hard. Adulthood is truly the pits. When my father told me a long while ago that he hasn’t seen the man who was his best man in years, I had nothing but judgement and shock for him. I remember telling both my parents that it was odd that they seemed to only be in touch with two or three of the friends they had in their early twenties. Where were the people they went to school with? Why didn’t they come to our house? Why didn’t we know them? Why aren’t we friends with their children? How could they let their closest friendships just fade away?
But here I am, at the ripe old age of 25, afraid to close my eyes lest I open them and find that it’s been ten years and my friendships structurally degraded over time. I am only now realising that we took for granted the possible future in which we went through our entire lives together, as close as ever through weddings and children and the death of parents and the decay of our own bodies, finally giving eulogies at each other’s funerals. Now I’m just appalled at the possibility that I might not be there to watch your life continue to unfold. Unacceptable. Not when the journal I am using now is a gift you gave me years ago, reminding me every day that you hold a piece of my heart. I used it for a while, the journal, during The Great Fall from Grace of 2016, but when I failed to keep my faith together, I put it away. Now, I have torn away the pages that carried Christian Michelle’s prayers and replaced them with pages of Present Michelle’s rather irreverent thoughts. Which is fitting, because you always were one of my more quietly irreverent friends.
But it is a new year. 2020 is behind us and, if I ignore all the garbage going on in politics, I can still taste hope in the air. Soon, this year will be gone too and you will be back home and I can make up for lost time. Before then, all there is to do, it seems, is wait. And move forward with intention and care, because that’s what keeps friendship alive as the years wear us out and laughter and memory alone are no longer enough.
We will rebuild. We will nurture.
I am wishing you all the good things. I am sending you all the things we send these days – thoughts and prayers, love and light, hugs, multiple heart emojis… everything except money. I am hoping that you have enough joy within you to overshadow the bouts of loneliness when they come. (And I know that they do come, even though you never mention it when we talk.) I am writing down all the things we will do when you return. I am thinking about whether you will sound or look or smell different when I see you next, as stalker-ish as that sounds. I am missing you, missing you, missing you.