Spectrum: What Is Friendship?

My ideal in-person friendship works like this: Every three weeks or once a month, my friend and I meet on a weekday afternoon for tea or coffee at a café, preferably one where we can sit in a bright garden or cozy indoor corner facing the door. My friend shares their current interest, talking without interruption for as long as they want. I don’t have to ask questions–I just listen and respond, drawing connections between what my friend says and my current thoughts and observations about life. Then it’s my turn, and I get to talk without interruption–even for ten minutes, if I want to–about my current special interest, and after I’ve said all that’s begged to be said, my friend can ask me questions and draw connections. And then, we can talk more, or, better yet, sit in companionable silence while the birds sing around us and the sun shines and the light bathes our eyes and quiets our minds.

I had a friendship like that! It lasted for about three years. During that time, my current topics of interest were cello, gardening, and life-patterns in romantic relationships (and the intersects of those three interests) and those topics engaged my friend’s attention. Then, my special interest shifted to the Sims, artificial intelligence, and SimLit, and my friend grew restless. I have a dread fear of boring people, and I learned in early childhood that it’s not always possible to talk about special interests with others because they find the topics boring and the details overwhelming. So, I made the effort to talk about things of mutual interest, and so, while it doesn’t fit my rather high and specific ideal, this friendship still offers me enjoyment. I’m used to keeping my special interests to myself.

For my friend, though, this friendship doesn’t come close to her ideal or her expectations. Its limitations frustrate her, and she’s in the process of letting it go. She would like a friendship that fits her expectations for the “normal” progression of a friendship: Meeting each other’s partners; having meals at each other’s houses; doing things together on weekends.

Those requirements don’t work for me. I become confused and overwhelmed when I’m with my boyfriend and another that I’m close to: there’s just too much for me to process, and I don’t enjoy it. I don’t want to have others over. My home’s my sanctuary, and I count on being able to keep the space filled with only the feelings and thoughts of my boyfriend and myself. And my weekends are taken with restoring my energy from the busy week, doing my online teaching activities, taking care of all the household tasks that wait for the weekend, and playing (which means, cello, writing, gardening, video games, and daydreaming).

What I liked about our friendship was that it didn’t fit “normal” expectations: it was special, and it fit me, and for a while, it fit both of us.

My coworkers spend time in the evenings and on weekends with their friends. Since I know that work takes as much of their capacity as it does mine (around 90-100%, more, if they are mothers of young children), I wonder how they are able to manage this. From what I gather, it’s because, for the most part, their time with their friends in leisure hours refreshes, fulfills, and engages them. It’s not a hardship or sacrifice: it’s a treat. In a few cases, some may get together with friends because it’s expected, and then regret it later because they’re tired and drained–but for the most part, they seem to enjoy it and it adds something to their lives.

I’ve tried this–honestly, earnestly, sincerely, arduously, and prodigiously. I’ve had times when I’ve invited people over for supper or afternoon tea, held small house parties, tried to get together with others for hikes or outings (which, somehow, I’ve never been able to find takers for), and even accepted a few of the few-and-far-between invitations I’ve received. It’s left me exhausted and more than unhappy.

The requirements for this type of “normal” friendship do not fit me and detract from my ability to function, handle all the aspects of my life, and be happy.

Friendship has been a life-long puzzle for me. My mom tells a story about my social interactions in preschool: I would welcome every new child, showing them around the room, explaining when we could use the toys, describing the schedule, letting them know some of the less obvious rules, enthusing about the delicious graham crackers and warning about the overly sweet apple juice. The new children would think that, in me, they had found their new best friend. After showing them around, I would head off alone for one my favorite activities (either painting on the easel or working on the tracks for the train set). My mom said that this behavior confused the children, who expected that I would play with them. When I first heard this story and reflected on my own thoughts and feelings during those times, I remember feeling that we were a community. In my mind, we were all friends, and I wanted everyone to belong. And once everyone felt welcome, then I wanted us to be free to do what we wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was to paint, without interruption and without having to talk.

I had friends in kindergarten and first grade whom I played with and walked home from school with. After we moved to a new town when I was in second grade, I could never figure out the social rules and remained on the outside until I made few good friends in junior high and high school. During those lonely days in elementary school, I thought about friendship a lot. I studied Joan Walsh Anglund’s book A Friend is Someone Who Likes You. The only part of it that really made sense to me was the part about how sometimes a tree could be your friend; for all of my life, trees have been some of my best friends.

I didn’t, and still don’t, equate “someone who likes you” with friendship. Yes, I want my friends to like me. But not everyone who likes me is my friend. I have had former bosses and retired coworkers come up to me and say, “You are one of my favorite people!” It has always puzzled me, as much as it’s gratified me. If I’m a favorite person of theirs, why aren’t we friends?

I have “friendliness” down: It’s how I treat everyone, and this brings me great happiness. I am still much like that child in preschool who wants everyone–literally everyone and every living thing on the planet–to feel that they belong, they are valued, they are part of the community.

Friendship, I’m still learning about.

There was a time last year, after a few intensive years of striving to find an approach towards developing and maintaining friendship that fit me, when I decided “I don’t do friendship.” I do friendliness. I had read an article from the New York Times called “Friendship’s Dark Side: ‘We Need a Common Enemy” which reviewed studies on friendship, emphasizing its exclusive nature. During the time I read it, I was in the process of being excluded in the office. Early morning gossip, before I arrived, drew together some of the coworkers at the expense of leaving me outside the circle. One of my coworkers, who’d been a close work partner for over ten years, stopped initiating greetings and conversations. I still greeted her–because of my commitment to friendliness and cordiality, but as the lines of connection between her and another coworker grew taut, those between the two of us were snipped.

It’s possible to see this almost physically. When I walk into a gossip session happening in the office across the hall, I can see lines of light and energy stretched tight between the circle of gossipers. It shimmers and glows the more energetically they talk about someone else, actually feeding off of the energy of meanness and exclusion. This brings them closer.

I’m not willing to engage in that, though I can see how much pleasure and emotional satisfaction it brings them, like a feel-good drug for their brains and a social cement for their relationships.

For me, that’s not friendship. Or if it might be called that, I’m not willing to pay the price.

So what is friendship?

One of my online friends, Mike (@Shishwik at ESO), shared this definition with me:

“Friendship is a quest, a goal, and a lifelong commitment. For me it begins when I desire to know someone, for whatever reason. If the feeling is mutual then I willingly learn about that person, the whys and hows if you will. Once I know the person I can begin to understand the reasons behind the whys and hows. Once understanding is attained, love happens. Through love we become better people and closer to our true purpose here on Earth in my opinion: Truth, Beauty, and Kindness. What is brotherly love if not friendship? “

–Mike/@Shishwik

Substitute “sibling love” for “brotherly love”, and most of this definition works for me! I don’t expect or require my friends to make a lifelong commitment: I realize that circumstances, needs, and life-demands change, and so I am happy to let go of the friendship when the other person realizes that it no longer fits or satisfies them. However, when I examine my own feelings, I realize that I do make a lifelong commitment towards my friends. I’d welcome back any of the friends who were once, but are no longer, in my life, and, in fact, I still count erstwhile friends as friends.

The part of the definition which resonates most strongly with me is that it rests on understanding and the feelings of goodwill–the love–that flow from that. This love is caritas, αγάπη, core to the type of friendliness which welcomes others into the circle. This inclusive friendship views the world and the cosmos as one community, of which we are all parts. There is always room for one more.

This is friendship. One of the aspects I love most about this definition is that it leaves room for online friendships to qualify–and that’s a subject for a future post!

<< Previous | Next >>

Spectrum: Remarkable

Something remarkable has happened since I began this project. As I’ve incorporated into my self-expression all those snipped-off mannerisms, behaviors, gestures, vocalizations, and actions, that others had told me throughout my life weren’t acceptable for a “socialized person,” I have become integrated and whole.

I cannot hide my weirdness, no matter how I try, and the more I tried, the more confusing and uncomfortable it seemed to be to others, while making me unhappy to boot.

So look at this: When I talk, I might look away. I realize you might look away, too, following my darting gaze, thinking that I am looking behind you at something that I spotted. But when my gaze returns to you, you’ll realize, if you’re smart (and I’m finding most people are smart, and accepting, too), that I was just chasing my thoughts, and you will realize, once you get to know me, that this is one of my mannerisms.

If I begin to bounce on the soles of my feet when I get excited about what we’re talking about, if I start to swing my arms or clasp my fingers, you might smile or be surprised the first time. But as you get to know me, you’ll realize that this is what I do, and that moving like this helps me to focus and serves, actually, to calm me down so I can engage more fully in our conversation.

You’ll know, once you get to know me, that if you ask me about a special interest (currently, ESO, for example, and perennially, gardening or birds), I will talk as long as you will listen. But I promise that I will do my best to watch for signs that you need to leave or that you’re getting bored, and because I know I might miss those signs, I promise, too, that I will check in with you and understand when you’re done before I’ve said all that’s waiting to be said.

You’ll also know that I won’t volunteer much about myself, my interests, or my life without being asked. I will miss your cues when it’s my turn to talk, and if I do see them, I might say something that seems off-the-wall or off-topic, even though, in my mind, it’s not. I will do this whether I allow myself to be myself or whether I camouflage because this is simply something that is challenging for me. I’m missing the synapses to make these connections in communication.

But in realizing all of this, and in venturing to be myself anyway, I am finding so much joy. This opens me up to the gifts that my neurodiversity brings me, too, things like….

  • the way dust motes dance in the sunlight
  • the play of sunlight across a bare wall
  • refracted light in clouds
  • the shimmer of dried leaves as the wind stirs them on stalk
  • a flush of birds rising from the treeline
  • the swoop of a falcon
  • the interplay of harmony in a Mozart quartet
  • the buzz of cello tones through the spaces in my bones
  • the hours of living, fully immersed, in a video game, a novel, or a quartet
  • patterns, everywhere and in everything

I’ve allowed my expression at home, too, to be more natural, and it’s brought greater harmony, for my boyfriend fell in love with me back in my quirkiest days, and he is similar enough to me, neurologically, that he, too, enjoys word play based in sound (echolalia), funny gestures and bouncing-on-soles-of-the-feet, swinging arms, and getting lost in music.

One of the most surprising, and happiest, discoveries I’ve made is that, as I’ve stopped trying to “do friendship” in the way that’s recommended by all the experts I’ve ever read and everyone I’ve ever talked to or asked about this, including family, friends, and counselors, and have started to approach friendship in my own way, people are responding to me and seeking me out for a friend.

This is something I’ve noticed before in my life: when I try to “make friends” or focus on friendship, I end up feeling lonely and like a failure. I seem to make no progress, feeling confused and lacking.

But when I put aside “making friends” as a goal, when I allow myself to enjoy myself and my life, I find myself feeling very full, very alive, and attracting others who, yes, want me for a friend.

I have to do it my way (for no other way makes sense to me), which means I am simply open to respond to anyone who likes me (while being smart and responsible with boundaries and recognizing my own limitations and requirements).

My first intentions with this project were to explore in writing all the quirks and idiosyncrasies I’d shunted off from myself. But in my life outside of my writing, I have begun to stitch them back into the fabric that is me, and so now, I don’t need to write about all of these moments that had been stored away in the “Doesn’t Make Sense” folder–because now, these moments and scenes make sense to me. Now, they’re part of me. I’m on my way to expressing my full-spectrum life.

<< Previous | Next >>

GloPoWriMo: Day 25

letter0120

Care and Feeding

Warning: Though independent
and resourceful,
this being requires
tender consideration.

Left to her own devices
she will be fine.

But expose her to
harsh environments,
large groups of people,
and rooms without
windows

And she will wither.

It helps to
listen to her,
too, when she
has a need to share
thoughts, dreams,
wishes, inspirations.

This being requires
copious amounts
of time outdoors,
preferably in a garden
or other natural setting.
In a pinch,
a rooftop
will do.

Provide for her
these minimal
considerations
and you will be
rewarded
with a friend
who can cook
sweet applesauce,
brew aromatic coffee,
and smile with
a grin that reaches
her eyes.

Daily Prompt:  “Write a poem that takes the form of a warning label . . . for yourself!” from the Na/GloPoWriMo site.

<< Previous | Next >>

img_4455

Lighthouse: Cookie Jar

cookiejar01

Back then, I had a strategy for coping with information that challenged my concept of reality: I played along as if everything were normal. Al Gore, an extra-T change-agent? Sure! Makes perfect sense! Galactic cosmic rays manipulated to seed clouds? Of course! That odd-looking poodle a space dog? Right!

Then later, when I was alone, the incomprehensibility of the absurd crashed in on me.

cookiejar04

I had wanted my pregnancy to be a time of integration, but it became, instead, a walk along the line of cognitive dissonance, the path which has traced the perimeter of my lifetime journey. I’ve made my home in the space between realities. Back then, the liminal moments caught me unawares. It was only later, after decades of listening to Santi’s music, hearing Naavre’s stories, feeling Sept’s touch, that I developed a taste for the space between what we know and what is possible.

cookiejar06

I took long walks every chance I could.

Facing the deep silence below the surface of a leaf, past the blue sky, under the meniscus of the pond brought me back to all I’ve ever known as true, and that silence remained the same even while my understanding of possibility rearranged itself for the forty-ninth time.

cookiejar03

This life served as a bridge for me between the small patch of toiled ground that circumscribed my parents’ life, and even the lives of my college friends, and the broad fields of conception which formed home for Sept, his family, and comrades.

cookiejar05

I began to sense the rare chance I’d been given–I’d always longed to escape the boring, confined life that seemed to wait for me when I was a child.

cookiejar02

Taking the escape shook up reality. So be it. The comfort of definition is overrated–I know this now, and I sensed it then, even when the undefined overwhelmed me with novelty.

cookiejar07

My walks often led upriver to the Culpepper. We weren’t expecting any refugees at the time. Xirra sought sanctuary for them in other regions for a while, so as not to draw attention to our efforts. But still, the message had gotten out through the underground. A street artist who went by the name The Concertmaster coded messages in yellow paint woven through murals in public spaces throughout the cities and towns. Yellow was our color, and those who knew the key could read the signs pointing our way. So even when we weren’t expecting anyone, we were prepared for anyone to show up.

cookiejar08

For this reason, I often dropped by the café, just in case. I always felt safe there, even considering the hostile climate of the broader society. For one thing, our town was hidden in our forgotten, insular valley, and for another, at the Culpepper, I was always surrounded by the regulars, marked by their yellow clothing or accessories as our friends and allies.

cookiejar10

One afternoon, I was joking around with our friends Masami, Caleb, and Zaidi, a recently arrived rebel-in-disguise, when an elegant extra-T woman entered. She held a white ceramic jar in the crook of her arm.

Kiyakja nanalī in’i EOo xiliyu, Mallory-ttei,” she said to me. I didn’t recognize the greeting. All I could understand was “in’i EOo” which implies a sense of belonging. “Nice to meet you,” she continued.

Sintaliyu dastaliyu,” I replied, using the standard rebel greeting: peaceful day. “It’s nice to meet you, too!” I waited for more.

cookiejar11

She set down the ceramic jar on the counter and opened the lid, releasing the scent of vanilla and chocolate. The jar was filled with freshly baked cookies.

“I hope you’re fine with chocolate?”

“I adore chocolate! Did you pick these up at the cookie store?” I said, forgetting my training in the confusion.

Zaidi cleared his throat. “These look home-baked,” he said, standing close behind us.

cookiejar12

“What?” said the woman. “Yes, these were made at home.”

“Well, they smell absolutely delicious.”

“Really? Thank you!”

cookiejar14

The barista handed me the pain au chocolate I’d ordered. I glanced at the confusing cookies.

cookiejar13

How much did she know? Were the cookies a coincidence? Why was she here, and what was my role, my duty?

cookiejar15

She followed me to the tables and sat across from me. I closed my eyes for a moment to think through my cover. How much did she know about me? Did she know Sept, Xirra, Ritu?

So far, all the extra-Ts I’d met, except for the two children we encountered at the park in Willow Creek, were connected, through family, the crash, the refugee project, or the rebel movement.

Chana, who’s married to Ulysses, an extra-T rebel, sat with us. I felt personally safe with her, Masami, and Zaidi there, but I also felt how much was at stake.

cookiejar16

“Oh, what am I doing?” The woman laughed. “Marching in with a cookie jar… It’s like my awkward youth all over again! Let me start over. Hello, I’m Navi 4CE, and I have two children who’ve been talking about you non-stop.”

“Two kids?” I realized at once she was referring to the children from the park at Willow Creek. “Oh! Shintu and Refi? You’re their mom? How are they? They’re adorable! So smart. And sweet.”

“They take after Azure. In adorability and smarts both.”

cookiejar17

“Azure. Is that their father?” I imagined someone like Sept. Wouldn’t it be something if they were cousins?

“Their mother. Parked her rocket incorrectly in the backyard of my first serious workplace. Being a rookie fluent in her language, I was given the honor of driving off this beautiful stranger. She, for her part, offered to buy me a drink in her favorite pub if I ditched the next shift. I ended up ditching quite a lot more for the privilege of sharing my life with her, but nothing I’d change for what we built together.”

I smiled. It was a beautiful story. “Are you and Azure from different places, then? Different planets?”

“Yes, Mallory, I was thinking you might ask that. I’m from the Lanterns, she from Willow Creek downtown. To think I studied in that very town for three years, but it took a wormhole for us to meet… life tricks you that way.”

I felt such a connection with Navi at that statement. I wanted to share my life story with her, right then, and I was close to saying something about Sept and how life’s tricks had led me onto this fine path that traversed the infinite and the mundane, but before I could say anything Chana interrupted.

“Oh! This scone is divine!” she said. “Do you think they got it from the cookie store?”

cookiejar18

Navi looked up from her hands. “This store you speak of sounds really interesting! If they have half the atmosphere you’ve got here, I should definitely pick Zure up someday and check it out. Maybe bring the kids, too.”

“It’s metaphorical,” I replied, flustered. How to explain the cookie store? And why had Chana brought it up? I only know her warning put me on edge. “It’s like a saying,” I said, making up the first thing I could think of. “It’s slang here for really good, delicious. ‘Oh, this coffee is divine! Did you get it at the cookie store?'” I laughed, lamely.

“Fascinating. I’ll have to settle for Shintu’s creations, then. And, I almost forgot! Refiltre was asking about a girl who they met that was with you in the park back then. Your daughter has stricken quite the impression. ‘Lightriver-of-melodies,’ Refi said, and I felt like she could still see the music.”

“Oh, Santi!” I wanted to explain that she wasn’t my daughter then, that I was just delivering her to a safe place, but that she was my daughter now. I held my tongue, stuck between What-could-I-say, what-couldn’t-I-say?

“Santi? I had a friend with a similar name living next door when I was small. Vanté, short for vateanticé. Santi must be very important for you, too.”

“Yes. She is,” I said, resting in that simple truth. “She’s my adopted daughter, as you can guess by appearances. I can’t imagine ever having been without her, anymore, nor not having her as part of my future! I guess it’s true what they say, about how children change you. And I guess I’m about to be changed again!” I laughed, patting my pregnant belly. “Can I get you anything?” I asked. I was starving, again.

“I’m good. And I wish you’ll never have to imagine anything less than happiness.”

cookiejar19

It was a kind wish. I looked into this woman’s face, so full of good cheer and benevolence.

Chana looked concerned, as if a thousand alarms were sounding, so I kept my feelings of friendliness reined in, but what I really wanted to do was to share my life story with Navi, and then to invite her back home, so she might meet Sept and Santi and share spaghetti with us for supper.

Chana whispered something to Justine, another of Ritu’s colleagues, and when I returned with a second pastry, Justine claimed the spot beside me with a clenched grin.

cookiejar20

“Did I say something odd?” Navi asked.

“Oh! Not at all!” I replied. “I was just thinking of your kind wish. I am happy, very, and so I wonder if that is why I do spend time imagining the possibility of ‘less-than.’ When one has happiness, one has something to lose, that’s what I’ve discovered. These aren’t the safest times to be living in, after all, are they?”

“I don’t have it very bad myself,” said Navi, “having been a part of the community for so long, but the kids… there have been incidents that could have ended really bad. As in scary bad. And there’s this feeling all the time, in the back of my head, and I just–sorry. I shouldn’t. To you of all people.”

“Oh, you can tell me anything,” I said, feeling both my genuine goodwill, and its shadow of guilt, as I realized that I, at that moment, felt constrained against reciprocating a confidence. “I don’t believe in coincidence anymore,” I said. “There was a reason for Santi and I to be at the park the same time that your kids wandered into that AAC riot. It wasn’t a gesture that I take lightly. Fate tapped us on the shoulder, that day, I’m sure.”

“Mallory. Mallory. Mallory,” said Justine.

“What?”

“Can I get you something from the cookie store?”

cookiejar21

“No! I’m fine!” I said.

She chuckled. “Play it safe, dear,” she said, as she left.

cookiejar22

We watched Justine join Chana and Masami in the reading room. They clustered together, whispering.

“I should really get going myself,” said Navi.

I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon with her and arrange to meet up again soon, with the kids and Sept and Azure.

cookiejar23

“Tell Shintu and Refi hello from me!”

“Yes, I will. Same goes for Santi–send her my warmest regards. Until next time!”

“And thank you for the cookies!” I called as she walked towards the exit.

cookiejar24

I had so much to tell Sept when I got home. Zaidi had already called him, and so had Chana, to tell him about this unknown extra-T bearing a jar of homemade cookies.

cookiejar25

“It was Shintu and Refiltre’s mom!” I told him. “Remember the kids Santi and I met at the park? I really like her, Sept. I wish we could be friends.”

“Then maybe we should become friends with them,” Sept asked.

“Everyone was so nervous around her,” I said. “They didn’t know her. They acted so strange, like an extra-T who wasn’t one of us was someone to be feared.”

“What did your feelings tell you about her?” Sept asked.

“That she’s a lovely, beautiful, kind, and generous person.”

“Then I’m sure she is all that,” said Sept. “I think it would be splendid for us to become friends! All of us.”

cookiejar26

Sept made it simple. She may have been a stranger. She may have used a greeting that wasn’t the standard rebel salutation, but if, in my heart, I felt she was good, then she was a friend already.

cookiejar27

<< Previous | Next >>

Author’s note: The beautiful Navi 4CE is indeed Shintu and Refiltre’s mom, whom we met in Up a Creek! They all come from For_Eorz’s stories, which I highly recommend! For_Eorz wrote this with me, providing all of Navi’s contributions to the conversation and lots of plot elements!

Whisper 1.20

whisbi2401

I’ve started writing. I love it! I can’t even describe the feeling. I tune into his channel within me, where all these stories stream, and I watch the words appear, form sentences, flow into paragraphs, and before I know it, I have a chapter, then two, then a novel! I don’t even know where these stories come from, but somehow, they all seem to relate to me and what I know of one person’s conflicted attempts at discovering meaning when surrounded by confusion, mystery, and magic.

Now that I think of myself as a writer, it helps me accept the other weird aspects of my life.

For example, though I know in my heart that I love Dante, my body can’t forget he’s a ghost, so every time I see him, I shudder.

whisbi2403

I wonder what it might be like to love someone who didn’t make my stomach turn at first sight. So when Frank calls me for a date, I say yes.

I start feeling excited as I ride my bike to the park where we’re going to meet. I remember back to our first and, until now, only date, right after Dante became a ghost. I was still heartbroken then. Frank was so sweet to understand and not to pressure me and to wait until I was ready. That was so long ago. And he kept waiting. And, who knows? Maybe I’m finally ready!

whisbi2402

Oh, when I see Frank reading while he’s waiting for me, it hits me how old he’s become. His hair is gray and his back is stooped.

Time speeds too quickly, scooping up the living in its net. I heard that Rainflower Ivy passed. Last I saw him was that weird morning at the beach, when he was dressed like a clown while he was searching emptiness for meaning. I hope he found what he was looking for before he left this plane. Thinking of Rain makes me wonder about Frank. How much longer does he have? I make myself a promise to make the most of every moment.

whisbi2404

We have a great time. The park is gorgeous, snuggled in a muffler of fog, and Frank and I both feel a little high from being outside where it’s so beautiful.

I tell Frank about this neat comic book I’ve been reading about a cat with super powers. I don’t think he’s listening.

whisbi2405

“What were you saying?” he asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “I was just feeling plugged into the world-building of this comic book I was reading.”

whisbi2406

“I’ve been reading about monarch butterflies,” he says. “Have you been keeping up?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “I ordered a whole bunch of milkweed seeds for the kind that’s native here, and I’ve been planting them everywhere I go.”

“You, too?” he asks. “I thought I was the only one planting milkweed here!”

whisbi2407

We get hungry, so I suggest we head back to my place and I’ll whip up some spaghetti.

Driving back in his car, he’s smiling and humming to himself. I fall silent. I think how if we’d gotten together years ago, this would be our normal, driving through the valley, planting milkweed seeds together, having long conversations where we float in and out of paying attention. Companionable silence.

But it doesn’t feel right. Not now, not in my daydream. Something’s missing for me.

whisbi2408

When we get home, Frank points at the Snowman gnome.

“Look! Snow’s got a friend! It’s winter and summer, like you and me!”

whisbi2409

He rocks in the chair while I prepare our supper. I’m glad my gnome has a new friend. I’m glad I’ve got Frank for a friend, too. I don’t really need more from him.

whisbi2410

He asks me over to the gym the next day. I feel happy to see him.

“We’ve got so much in common,” I tell him, after he tells me about an old oak he discovered out by the gypsy wagon. “You’re a great friend.”

whisbi2415

Annie Nix invites me over that night. I haven’t seen her for a while, and I’m surprised at first by her gray hair. But a few moments of talking, and it’s just like it’s always been between us: kindred spirits who read each other like open books.

“I hear you and Frank are dating,” she says.

“Oh, we’ve gone out a few times,” I say. “But they’re more buddy dates.”

“Buddy dates?” she laughs. “Well, that’s what I was pretty much figuring. Your heart’s still taken?”

I confess to her that it is. She’s not surprised.

“You’re like me, Cath. You’ve got a one-love heart. Once your heart’s given–or stolen, doesn’t matter which–that’s it. Nobody else stands a chance. That’s how I felt the first time Mike and I kissed. And I could tell, looking at you whenever you and Dante were together, that’s how you felt, too. He’s still got you, huh?”

whisbi2416

I think about what Annie said while I ride my bike home. It’s the truth. It’s not like Dante was the first guy I ever spent time with. Chauncey and I sort of dated. I dated a few guys in college. And I’ve had a lot of guy friends. Seems like I usually make friends with a guy first, and then, once we’re best friends, I’m just not interested in romance. I want the friendship without the complications.

But Dante. I fell in love with him before we became friends. Then, after we got close, we were just in love, so any friendship that developed was wrapped in love’s mantle. I never really even found him attractive, even before he was a ghost. I’ve just loved him.

I still love him, and it doesn’t feel like it’s ever fading, and there’s no way I can love another in that way while I still love him. My body may shudder, but my heart beats for him.

“Do you got a cell phone with you in that place you go when you’re not here?” I ask him, next time he comes by.

“No,” he says. “I don’t think it works that way. Why?”

“I thought maybe you could call me, maybe.”

He chuckles with his laugh that echoes.

whisbi2411

I’ve started complimenting him on his ghastliness. He loves it because it’s so silly, and it helps me acknowledge the shivery way he makes my body feel when I first catch sight of him.

He’s started scaring me. It’s not a mean scare, though. It’s funny. It’s playful and flirtatious, and I find it utterly charming.

One night, he tells me, “Let me take you for a ride. Meet me out at the bench.”

I grab my salad and head out. When I get there, bench is rising up into the air and shaking and spinning, and Dante’s nowhere to be seen.

“Dante?” I call. “Where are you?”

He laughs with a wooden sound. “In here!” he says, muffled. “Get on!”

The bench lowers for a moment, and I sit on it. Then, while Dante laughs in splinters, it floats.

whisbi2412

He gives me a wild ride. Sometimes, the bench spins. Sometimes, it shakes. Sometimes, he floats it so sweet. All the time, he’s laughing like lumber.

whisbi2413

“That was fun!” I say when he finally sets the bench down and slides out.

“I’m bushed!” he says.

I follow him into the bedroom, and he falls fast asleep. Lying next to him, I’m happy and satisfied. So, it’s not a normal romance, but we’ve made it our own. We’re figuring it out, and I think I can live with it.

whisbi2414

<< Previous | Next >>

Wonder 32

Charlie

3201

When I met Miranda at the Blue Velvet, she seemed distant. Wistful.

We’d decided to ditch class after algebra. It was our next-to-last day of school. I finally ran out of sick days, vacation days, and excuse days, so I went to class. I was enjoying the morning lectures. Then after algebra, Miranda stopped me in the hall.

“Let’s take off,” she said.

“I’m all out of excuses!” I replied.

“Does it matter?” she asked. We talked it over. My grades were cinched–A’s in every class. Miranda was pulling A’s, too.

“Besides,” she continued, “you aren’t coming to school tomorrow, are you?”

I wasn’t. It was my birthday and my day of graduating from the program. I was planning to stay home, finish up a few projects, help out around the house, and get ready for the party. Miranda was invited.

“It’s our last chance to ditch,” she pleaded.”Let’s do it!”

So we did. I was glad. But when I saw how thoughtful and sad she looked, I started to think maybe she was having second thoughts.

“Glad we came?” I asked her. “It beats The Vast and Endless Tiresome History of Policies and Politicians, doesn’t it?”

She giggled. We had crazy names for all our classes, but our name for world history was the best.

3202

“Remember when we first met?” I asked her.

“I do,” she said. Was she blushing?

“That was so fun!” I said. “Me and Jake the Gardener were playing chess and you came right up and pointed out that it was mate in five.”

“I didn’t want you to fall into the trap,” she said.

1402

“I knew then you’d be one of my best friends for life!” I said. I thought it would make her happy to hear that. I mean, here we are, getting ready to graduate, and I wanted her to know that our friendship would outlast that. It started before we were in school, and it would continue after.

But when she heard me say that, her smile froze, and she took a few steps back, stretching the distance between us.

3203

I thought we had a great time. We never made it into the Blue Velvet. We stood out front and talked all afternoon.

While I was painting that evening, I contemplated friendship. My friends are diverse: Jake the Gardener, Hugo Villareal, Yuki, Max V. Next to my family, Miranda’s probably my best friend. She has a lot of qualities that I like–she loves sports, she’s cheerful. I can talk to her about all my ideas, and she really listens. She never talks about herself much, but I guess some people are like that.

3204

I’ve always enjoyed having friends, but at the same time, I don’t really feel like I need them. If I need to talk to somebody, I’ll talk to somebody, and it doesn’t matter to me so much if it’s the barista at the neighborhood espresso house or if it’s Max or my tia. Everybody is interesting. Everybody is fun to talk to.

3205

My whole life, I’ve been encouraged to be friendly with everybody and depend on nobody–except myself.

That’s the example that Tia Berry and Mãe set. They depend on each other, sure, but it’s almost like they’re two halves of one person–a sister team. I always felt it was the two sisters and me. They gave me so much independence growing up that now that I’m at a place where I can take care of myself, I feel that I’m a unit of one, complete and whole in me.

3206

Tomorrow, I’ll grow up for good. I’ll graduate from school, I’ll finish the program, I’ll take this independence out into the world and see what I can do with it. I wonder who I’ll take with me.

3207

<< Previous | Next >>

Skill U: 7.6

Honey Walker | Van Windenburg Estate

Week Seven, Day Six – Senior Year

Editor’s Note: Honey’s journal entries are numbered according to week and day of the week. As she does not keep daily entries, gaps appear in the numbering. Please see the Table of Contents for the full listing of entries.

seven-five17

Kaylee and I have been hanging out a lot during my free time–and, surprisingly, even though I’ve got this professional internship, I seem to have a lot of free time!

seven-five16

I’m still upset about what happened the last time we went out. It started out as such a great day! We were going to the ruins, and Kaylee asked if I wanted to have anybody join us, so of course I thought maybe my best friend, Darin, would want to come with.

Kaylee and I were having so much fun, talking about music and working out and taking photos, and then, I noticed that Darin was just standing behind us, glaring at me.

seven-five15

Next thing I know, he’s screaming in my ear!

“Why did you even invite me if you don’t want to be with me?” he yells.

He’s saying all these horrible things about how I’m ignoring him, and I don’t care, and I’m a worthless friend. I just sort of shut down inside and closed off, so I don’t even remember everything that he said. But it was awful. I can’t believe the names he called me–I just can’t even write them. It was too horrid.

seven-five14

I’ve never been yelled at before in my life–not like that, at least, not such a personal and direct attack from someone I loved and trusted–so I didn’t really know how to handle it or how to process it.

I just pretended that it didn’t happen and went right back to my conversation with Kaylee. Dominic Fyres joined us, all friendly and happy.

seven-five13

And then Darin lets loose again, really cutting into me.

He starts accusing me of being heartless, and two-faced, and not having any morals, and not caring about the feelings of others, and throwing in every curse word you can think of. I was just floored. I’m still so shook up. I thought we were best friends!

seven-five11

“I’m sorry to have wandered in on this,” Dominic says, “but maybe there’s something I can do to help. Seems like the two of you could use a little intervention. Are you OK being talked to like this, Honey?”

seven-five12

And I realized, no! No, I was not OK with being talked to like that–not by my best friend and not by anybody. And what was worse was that Darin seemed to be feeling great, as if he were actually enjoying this! He was smiling!

seven-five10

It was as if he had enjoyed hurting me and was getting pleasure from my feeling upset, wounded, and angry.

I’m so glad that Dominic was there.

He said, “You know, Honey, you don’t have to just stand there and take it. Speak up, girl. Let him know how you feel.”

seven-five09

“How do I feel?” I said. “You want to know how I feel?”

I’m kind of embarrassed now about what I told him. I said I felt like a violin bow that had had all its strings broken when it had been played in a moment of passion–and for why? The music wasn’t even good.

Darin smiled the whole time.

seven-five07

“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry I yelled.”

He went on to say that Kaylee and I were so wrapped up in our conversation that he felt left out.

“We hadn’t meant to ignore you!” I said.

“I know,” he admitted. “I just want you all to myself sometimes.”

seven-five06

When I think about it, I realize that pretty much every time Darin and I are together, it’s just the two of us. We get into these deep conversations, and the world around us disappears, and it’s just him and me–alone in this bubble of idea and thought.

This was maybe the first time when he’d been with me when I was enjoying talking with someone else. Even the times when he was with my parents, he was usually just talking alone with my dad, or hanging out by himself in the garden.

We managed to patch things up OK that afternoon. I told a corny joke about violins and dark rosin that he found hilarious.

But I felt weird when I left.

seven-five08

The Villareals’ home, with Max and Hugo studying peacefully in the living room, felt like a sanctuary to return to.

Even though Max and his dad will sometimes yell or say hurtful things, we understand that Max is just letting off steam, and that Jacques has got some imbalances, so he doesn’t always mean what he says.

With Darin, he meant what he said. I’ve got a feeling that maybe he even means all those hurtful things he said–or at least, his intention to hurt me was real. He really doesn’t want to have to share me as a friend.

seven-five04

I’m not sure I can handle that. I like having him as a best friend–or I did, because of all the ideas that we share. But now, I’m not so sure.

If he makes some kind of ultimatum, or if he continues to hurt me, rather than to honestly express his feelings in a way that doesn’t inflict harm, I might need to let our friendship go.

That would be sad, but I’ve got a lot of other friends, ones who are willing to share me with others and ones who can express their feelings without hurting or blaming me.

seven-five03

It’s strange–I feel like I’m learning some really basic social skills right now, things that a lot of teens learn in high school.

I realize that I’ve spent the last three years so focused on college, my education, and music that I really didn’t get a lot of other life experience.

I’m having to make up for that now.

<< Previous | Next >>