I talk as I walk to the voice on the other end which is a tad weakened as it traverses the eight thousand miles from India to make its way to me. I strain to listen, filling in missed syllables knowing the words she would have used from our years of association. By the time I am on my fourth walk around the grassy oval, I realize I am smiling. I feel joy. I feel the excitement just as I would be sitting next to her while she laid out her plans for a post-menopausal future.
I imagine us sitting on the porch ruminating on life, a good twenty years from now in a log cabin at the foothills of a mountain, a greenhouse, and a vegetable patch. There is a hammock in an all-glass sunroom that looks out into the hills with an east-facing home and views of the lake. There’s a porch in the back of the house to end the day with wine and birdsong.
The image disappears as quickly as it forms. I am no stranger to intense relationships. I thrive on them. I give all of myself and I expect it in turn. I have learned the hard way that sometimes you only can give, the receiver can choose to withhold, to dole out parts of their selves in ways that leave you wanting for more. It can drain you, this waiting, this hoping, this wanting.
When I was little, I lost people because I moved. I moved because my parents moved. Each year, I would start at a new place, a new school, new friends. I became adept at merging, adapting, and being a wallflower. I reveled in how well I could be invisible. It was my superpower.
My first BFF so to speak was when I was a young woman in my late teens. We were in our first jobs working on COBOL projects in India to avoid the cataclysm that the millennium could bring. We shared a tiny room in a hostel. We worked out of adjacent cubes. We were with each other day and night.
We shared a lot of each other’s lives. Mostly, for me though, I shared because I thought sharing meant she owned something of me that no one else did. When I lost her eventually two decades later, the loss felt worse than death. I had seen death before. There is a finality to death that is absent in heartbreak. I mourned her a lot longer than I mourned my father.
I had other friends. We bonded over being immigrants, aliens in a strange land, our roots yanked out of familiar soil and transplanted into arid ones. We thirsted for familiarity, for food, for language, for cultural nuance that did not need a translation.
I lost some good friends to motherhood while I mourned the children I could not seem to make. Finally, my children came and along with them, mommy friends, but these days, I share a lot lesser. The losing is getting to be a bit stale. I cherish the bits of me I no longer give away.
I classify my life in people, girlfriends to be precise.
Each of these people has waltzed their way into my life and heart. Some have left, their absence fading with each passing year, with no ill will, no memorable event to mark the fraying of bonds. Some left my life abruptly, the fraying apparent to both of us. We have circled, watched with bated breath, and let out a collective sigh of relief at the end, as we picked up, dusted off, cried a whole lot, and moved on.
I miss them. I miss them all. I miss the notion of a best friend forever. The ache in me is permanent, a pain that flares up at the sight of a bangle, a bandini kurti, a set of earthen cups unique to Hyderabad, a photo of the two of us that flutters out while I am searching for something else.
I sit with the pain and, the memories. I let it wash over me. Friendship, like grief, has stages.
The woman on the phone call, from the morning, is an old friend. I read my first book – The Land of Far Beyond, an abridged version of The Pilgrim’s Progress in her living room, as the light from the afternoon faded into dusk. We talked about the book. I was in third grade and she in fifth. A mutual love for books forged our friendship.
I moved away. I moved back. We kept in touch on and off over the years, her presence like that of a distant relative. Over the past few years, we have grown closer, the technology bridging distances in ways we could not have foreseen. Our conversations are irreverent. We cackle with glee at juvenile jokes. We revel in joys like watching bread rise or finding the exact kind of cherry that grew in her backyard. We end our calls with “I love you.”
Sometimes, just sometimes, we talk about regrets, for not having been there during the darkest periods in each other’s lives. These conversations are somber, respectful, the way we talk about the dead. There are no tears, no words of comfort, no solace. There is a stark kind of understanding and an acknowledgment of the road we have each been on.
It scares me, this rekindling of friendship. I thought I had made peace with my no-BFF state. I had reconciled to watching from the sidelines as my peers posted happy beach pictures and margarita nights. I watched as the women I know went on spa dates, painted nails together, and discussed books. I have listened with envy as they moved in and out of each other’s lives, planned trips together, and posted pictures of their children playing happily. I still miss having a friend who lives nearby.
Much like the other things in my life, platonic female friendship, the kind I crave is elusive. When it appears, as it does now, it reminds me of mirages, the shiny promise of things that disappear when you approach them. I temper my hope with the notes I had written to myself post earlier friendship breakups. I tell myself over and over that it is okay to hold out hope for a beautiful and rewarding relationship. If nothing, I will have the memories, even if those come back to haunt me.