I cannot for the life of me imagine a scenario in which I would consider living in the South again. But the one aspect occasionally tugging me backward is my friends. I miss having real friends, my Chosen Tribe.
I have made other friends since we moved to Boulder. Jodi and I are quite blessed with the depth of community we’ve managed to create in a relatively short amount of time. And I’m sincerely grateful, but it’s not the same. Here, I have what I’ve begun calling ‘appointment friends.’ There, I have people who are simply a part of my life, no appointment necessary.
The catch is I think the ‘part of my life’ friendship is one that can only be built in your 30s. A wise woman once told me, ‘you solidify in your 30s.’ I think it’s true, and maybe certain friendships made during that time solidify with you, become intrinsic and unshakable. By the time the four of us met each other, we all had some combination of relationships, marriage, kids and/or careers, but we were in the early stages of each.
The Bean Counter was an accountant, not yet a CPA, recently divorced (it was honestly years before I knew her ex-husband by any name except, “the Defendant,” and as I type this, I still can’t recall it) and blazing a trail of independence the Labor Coach would soon emulate.
When I met the Labor Coach, she was newly engaged to who is now her husband of almost fifteen years. Shortly thereafter, almost by happenstance really, we spent a particularly raucous New Year’s Eve together that resulted in her informing me, laughingly, “I have too much shit on you now for you to not be my friend.” She wasn’t entirely wrong, and I, newly out of law school where probity is in short supply, found her audacity refreshing. Later, she would be right beside me as the Divine Miss M came into the world. The very next year, she had two of her own, including That Blonde who was destined to become one of M’s best friends.
Last, we met the Dancer, who was at the time a dance instructor at a liberal arts college. We weren’t complete until she offered us the gift of her graceful dance steps, which the rest of us are sorely lacking, ironically combined with her Eeyore persona. Plus, when I figured out she was mostly a Democrat (a rarity in the South and in our group), I latched onto her. She’d just had Fat Baby and her older child, J-man, would eventually give M a run for her money in the areas of wit and candor.
We have – the four of us – seen each other at our highest highs and our lowest lows. We’ve been together to celebrate our greatest accomplishments and also dragged each other out of individual rock bottoms. Sounds trite, I know, but we have never, ever been perfect – not as individuals and not toward each other. We’ve laughed – oh, have we ever laughed – but we’ve also cried, fought for each other and with each other, loved each other’s children when they were decidedly unlovable, sat in recovery rooms and doctor’s offices waiting for medical pronouncements, taken advantage and taken for granted, lashed out and held on. And we don’t mind, we’re none of us going anywhere, except obviously geographically. That part wouldn’t matter so much, except that it does.
2015 has sent me reeling a couple of times and it has made the absence of my tribe striking. When I was struggling to hold my head above water through most of February and half of March, there was nowhere to turn. I have friends here but to talk to anyone I have to more or less make appointments for coffee, lunch or whatever. And as people with careers and teenagers, that’s nearly impossible – for them and for me.
Whereas, with my tribe, we don’t have to put our lives on hold in order to get together. We don’t have to stop what we’re doing, we’re not each other’s ‘company.’ Plus, we can read between each other’s lines, for better or worse.
If I had been there instead of here this year, I’d have called the Labor Coach many times and said, I need to come by after I pick up M. I’d go over and walk in without knocking on the damn door (such an odd privilege to miss), M would disappear upstairs or wherever with That Blonde, and I’d vomit out everything going on inside my head while the Labor Coach continued fixing dinner, or cleaning house, maybe even scrubbing toilets.
We don’t have to provide context for whatever we’re saying. They already know every part of me. I don’t have to start at the beginning, I can start in the middle or the present, and they can follow along. And we don’t have to filter. We can rattle off our most vile thoughts, irrational fears, heinous wishes, secret desires, the things that scare us about the world and about ourselves. I could say something horrendous about my wayward child – because teenagers! – and they wouldn’t even bat an eye because they know I love her more than breathing, even if occasionally she makes me want to hold my breath.
And we don’t always have to talk. One particularly difficult Christmas season, the Bean Counter came over while I had work scattered all over the dining room table furiously trying to meet a deadline. There was no fuss – she didn’t have to ask and I didn’t have to explain. She hung out in the living room with the Divine, doing I don’t even know what, possibly nothing. She needed somewhere to just be and I needed to continue working, and that’s what we did for the day.
None of that is available now, and the truth is, it probably never will be again. I’m past the stage in life when those friendships are created. I don’t even have that kind of space available anymore and I’m not particularly interested in making it, to be honest.
I love living here. Truly. I can’t imagine ever leaving. But a place isn’t a person, or in this case, people, and there is always a part of me that feels lonely.
I knew then, even when the Bean Counter was poking us in the eye with her honesty or I was choking on the Labor Coach’s obscene levels of optimism, how unbelievably fortunate we were, how all the planets had to have aligned juuuuust so for us to be created. If you’re lucky – really lucky – you find those friendships that solidify with you at just the right time, and you won’t even realize it’s happening. It will become the mark against which you will compare every other subsequent friendship, and against which it will always pale.