Wednesday, December 20, 2006

nine rings of hell (three rings of friendship?)

People have inevitabilities in their lives and one of my inevitabilities is England.

I don't know why; I can't help it. I always end up there, even though it leaves me with a horrible sour taste in my mouth. Like sucking on a dirty sock. Yes, that's what I imagine it's like.

Anyway, I manage to delude myself each time and I put the sock back in my mouth, thinking this time it's going to taste like a lollipop again. But no. It never does. It probably never did--socks rarely taste like lollipops, even when they're clean. Which means I must have been suffering some kind of distorting mental illness the whole time I lived over there, because I remember every moment in psychadelic Oz colors and soft warm music and soft hugs and red wine, bottles and bottles and bottles. (Therein might lie the key.) But what I wouldn't give for a new sock to suck on.

I'm not being fair. My friends were very good to me--I was only there for two full days and they were all dispersed already for their Christmas holidays. Keri took a train and Suzana suffered a delayed 5-hour bus ride just to see me for a few hours. People who hadn't really been close friends for two years got together on my account and Dave tore himself away from his college tour and fundraising obligations to hang out (and ask me sweetly would I mind if a fine upstanding Englishman were to come stay on my floor for a few days? Of course not, I said. All right then, he said. But would I mind about him? Aww.) and Seb cooked a huge and comprehensive dinner that included a huge side of shivering beef, brocolli, green beans, and carrots, and his famous roasted potatoes. We pub lunched and pub crawled and coffee shop hopped and looked for snowglobes in lots of nice stores. People hugged me and patted me and confided in me as though there had never been a break of many months (or years) in our friendship. Naturally there was an unfortunately (but maybe inevitably) timed Hugh-related incident toward the end of the whole jaunt but aside from one brief interval of hysterical sobbing and then a rather silly feeling to endure the whole plane ride home the trip was a smashing success and reminds me how lucky I am to have people who both care for me and tolerate me in many parts of the world (hard-pressed though I am to understand how I manage to retain them).

The proverbial fly (if only it were not ointment but martini!) of course was Ann-related. Ann-related issues are always the most debilitating because they are the issues about which I happen to be the most deluded (and, as a result, the disappointments are always disappointingly disappointing). Silly me; I thought it was all right. They invited me to stay, and they called me home from a cocktail party (where everyone else I knew was) to hang out specially with them. Of course after calling me home we sullenly watched a TV special on Courtney Love for about 45 minutes and then they were off to bed. That was my last night there with them. They said they would make me lunch and walk me to the bus stop but in the morning when (by their request) I woke them up to say goodbye neither one even got out of bed to give me a hug. The morbid part of me hoped the plane would go down so that they could go to their graves thinking "it was her last human contact with friends and we didn't even hug her...what miserable people we are...after all of our good times and our true love..."

I was terribly, terribly disappointed that night of the cocktail party, after they went to bed and I sat alone on the couch, sleepless and miserable. I thought of how it was my last night before having to go home and back to work, and instead of drinking with friends (which had been an option) I had, out of loyalty to these formerly beloved dear friends of mine, come home from one party only to be left alone with my moodiness.

About ten minutes after they got into bed I thought to myself that it was worse to go to bed myself with these horrible feelings so I went and knocked on their door, determined to say won't you mind and stay up just a little longer with me, we can catch up, we can drink some beer, I changed my mind and I want you to pack me that lunch you mentioned, anything, or just give me a hug.

But when I got to the door they were already naked and under their covers and Ian in particular was so cold and made me feel so ridiculous for waking them up ("What time is it?" he said, and I answered "Ten minutes later than when you went to bed," and he snorted into his pillow and let Ann do all the talking from that point) that I couldn't get it out. Instead I apologized for my moodiness and Ann said it really didn't matter and I felt dismissed so I left.

I didn't get it until on the plane home, and when I did I stopped feeling hurt immediately and I went cold inside. All weekend when they had been talking about how they are so self-sufficient as a couple, how they've shed all those unnecessary annoying former friends who still think things are just like the old days, how they wish people who have fallen to "casual acquaintance" level would realize that a history of friendship didn't entitle them to all the privileges of a current and active friendship, and how as an adult you don't need all the friends you thought you needed when you were an approval-seeking college first year...they were talking to me. I didn't get the hint. And it wasn't one conversation, either--it was at least one long conversation with Ann and one long conversation with Ian that I can remember clearly. I just didn't get it. How could I have been so foolish as to think I am beyond and above all of those inferior friends whose contracts have been terminated? Clearly I am in fact the furthest of the friends and thereby the least necessary, by far.

The next thing to clarify was the nature of our relationship--purely utilitarian. But hers was an honest economic utilitarianism and mine was a greasier emotional leechy variety. Yes, I am fearsomely codependent, and she was lonely and a little insecure, so we fed each other's friend-need. It was very simple, since we each needed someone. She was unhappy in love, and I, though not unhappy in love, continued to be fearsomely codependent, so our relationship thrived. Then she was happy in love, and I, although still fearsomely codependent, was no longer strictly speaking "necessary." Then, when my heart was broken (just like hers was the year before when I had nurtured her and held her hand) but she was happy in love, I became for her not only unnecessary but a bit of a downer. And in her defense she gave it an OK shot, but in the end she decided to cut ties. To save herself and her happiness. So although I was there for her when I was happy and she was sad, due to the differences in our personalities she was unable to be there for me when she was happy and I was sad. I can't hold that against her, at least not anymore. Actually, I can. And I do. But I want to be a good and warm-hearted person so I fight it. But now, since our history separates us even further, I am an even less utilitarian option than I was for her then. I understand it. I don't relate to it, but I understand it. And in the end I'm most disappointed in myself, since I lost years off my life worrying over a friend who didn't turn out to be the kind of person who would lose anything at all worrying about me. But I see the world through moonrat-colored glasses, and everything looks like a piece of cheese. Until I put it in my mouth and it turns out to be a dirty sock.

I'm a little confused about why Ann sent me that email just before I left for Paris--"Are you excited to see us?" it said. "I miss you. xxx." Did she miss me? asks the curious lump in my throat. But my hardened heart asks, Who gives a fuck?

Melanie says that she and her friend Angel were talking about this the other day. They came up with a theory of three rings of friendship--rings like a vendiagram? I asked. Melanie laughed and said she couldn't believe I had just used the word "vendiagram" in a real sentence--to establish a rule for what endures. The three rings are chemistry, history, and exposure. The top-tier, top-eschelon friendships are the ones in that tiny center triangle of overlap among the three; the second tier have two in common; the flimsiest and least durable have one ring. For most of us, our beloved second-tier friends are our hearts and our souls and they know our lives and our stories and they care. For most of us, the first-tier friend doesn't actually exist. We replace (or attempt to replace) the first-tier friend with a lover or with an ideal.

I think this is a brilliant defining aid and I shall go about from this day forth applying it liberally to my life. It explains everything--the flare-ups and burn-outs of those hot-button friendships that die harder than Bruce Willis, the inexplicable pen-pals you still write to after thirteen years even though you've never met and have nothing in common, the dear old high school friends who stay close even when you see them only once a year, and the on-going quest for the near impossible to find (now that you're an adult and you have been broken and innured by inhibitions and self-preservation mechanisms): the new friend who will spark you like flint and has time for you everyday and who, instead of burning out, will not let us down. Someone who will complement our life and our lover(s) and dreams. Will be like those incredibly passionate junior high school friendships we had. Except not go away after a couple of years.

I think most people do give up after awhile. Because the fallout of a failed attempt is just soul-shattering. Much like love in general. But I suppose the heart can break over many things.

I am proud of my second-tier: my far-away friends whom I love and who are really and truly there for me even though I can't and don't see them everyday; my close-by friends who are wonderful and dear to me although we don't (yet) have the time-tested history to bridge the third wheel. They may not be that thing I think I'm looking for but they have time and again proven to be the thing that I need the most. And they shake their heads and forgive me at each abortive attempt to fill the dusty first-tier pedestal. Bless them and keep them and bring them back to me so I can recover from my own protracted foolishness.


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Miller would be proud. I can see the themes of your first published novel.

moonrat said...

Hmm. Alas, I have already written this novel, and it was received with decidedly mixed reviews, including "overly conversational, rather dull, lacking focus," "the characters just didn't interest me, sorry," and "you write nicely at most parts, but your plot, well, it kinda sucks," etc. But maybe they'll all come clamoring back for it if I publish something else first...oh, and I see where you're going with this idea of themes...

Anonymous said...

i have just one thing to say...

in the cookie of life, friends are the chocolate chips.... hehe.

The First Carol said...

This voice. This is what I want to read more of and experience. Figure out the plot, but please, keep writing this conversation.

moonrat said...

carol, special for you, i'll write a whole book out of it.