Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Friends, part 2

Continued from prior post.

Not every woman has a friend from high school who remains a friend in adulthood. It's not always an easy transition. JWM stores memories that I'd sometimes rather erase. She knows some serious dirt on me - some really embarrassing stories that make me cringe (but, truth be told, it's a two-way street and I could dish on her, too). Sometimes I wish she'd forget some of that dirt (especially when she reminds me of it - I keep those high school yearbooks in a box on a closet shelf for a reason!). But she also remembers some moments that defined me and shaped my adult life. She was there for the milestones: the prom, graduation, leaving for college, falling in love, the wedding, the birth of my children. And I was there for hers, too. There are precious few people in my life who can recall stories and the accompanying laughter or tears with just a word or two. JWM is that friend.

So. It's my junior year of high school. I've moved to a new place, again. I'm starting school in a new school, again.

(I'll interrupt the story a moment to make an aside. There are a couple of other significant friends I had that year, but I'm not including stories about them because when those friendships ended - on the same day - it was really, really horrible and painful and I'd just as soon not go there, and honestly, I don't care anything about them as adults. I don't know or care where or what they are doing, or even if they're alive. So if you're reading this and wondering about B.S. and E.S., here's their mention. Bitches.)

Where were we? Oh, yes, I met my friend J.W.M. We circled each other for a while, having a class in common and both invovled with theater, and it was good. That first year in Michigan, we weren't as close as we became later (only because I was wasting my time with those bitches mentioned above, plus I was extremely boy-crazy that year), but we were comfortable friends, and by my birthday we were good enough friends that she bought me a present. And I bought her one, too.

We grew closer my senior year, and even double dated to the prom. We stayed in touch through college, and she even visited me in Memphis a few times (riding along with my parents) and we met in Chicago, too, where she met my then-boyfriend Craig for the first time. When I returned for the summers, we spent as much time as possible together, going out, staying in, having a great time (and even hanging out with a rock band back in the day). When I moved into my first apartment in Memphis, she came to visit, braving the horrible Memphis August heat. A little over a year later, she returned to attend my first wedding shower (again, driving down with my mom). And a few more months later, she visited again, this time to be a bridesmaid.

JWM's life got complicated after that. Around the time she finished college, she had a pretty significant romantic relationship that ended very badly. That man was bad news, and he treated her like garbage. (And I'm being kind. Bastard.) She made some bad decisions about the relationship, but his behavior was inexcusable. Eventually she really, really understood that, and she made a decision: she was moving to Memphis.

She moved into our guest room for a few months, while she found her feet in my city. She found work and an apartment and made friends and went on some dates. We spent a lot of time together, and life was grand. I don't, however, want to paint a picture that is all roses and love and unicorns. We sometimes had, um, issues. We had gotten very good at being long-distance friends, only reuniting for weeks or months out of the year. We were great correspondents. We were amazing at talking on the phone. Sometimes the immediacy of living near each other was hard. And each of us made decisions that the other didn't necessarily like. The transition from school friends to adult friends was not always graceful, but it was made.

But we made it through. I had a baby and she's the godmother. She threw an awesome baby shower that makes me grin to remember it.

She got married the same month my daughter turned a year old. It was my turn to be a bridesmaid. The man she married was difficult. When they were dating, they had come close to breaking up several times, and honestly, when they decided to get married I was shocked. She must have known that the relationship was less-than-ideal when she asked me, the evening before she got married, "Am I making a mistake?"

What could I say? I was a complete and total coward and mumbled, "You're only making legal what your heart already has decided," or some complete crap like that. The marriage was short and rocky and over in a year.

We spent a lot of time together the summer of 1999. My second child was a newborn, I had quit my job, and she was going through what one goes through when one's first marriage ends. He didn't make the divorce easy. But one morning in December she drove to my house looking jubilant. Her divorce was final. It was over.

The next spring, she wanted me to meet someone. She'd met him (I don't remember how) and he was nice and EMPLOYED! and STRAIGHT! and seemed to be pretty great. I checked him out and he didn't seem even a little toxic. Cute, smart, interesting, witty, even. And smitten. He was going to love her. Things looked good from my vantage point, and I gave her the thumbs up.
Good thing I did, because Earth Day that year brought them a bit of a surprise. She called me about ten seconds after the second line appeared on the pregnancy test. She was going to have the baby, and the father-to-be couldn't be happier. I, too, was delighted. Delighted that she was happy. Delighted that she had met a man who knew how to be a man. Delighted that she would be a mom.

The next few months were hard for JWM; she had morning, noon, and night sickness. Her gall bladder went bad. Pregnancy was a physical nightmare. But there was a wedding, too, that summer, and a real honeymoon, and the newlyweds were happy and in love. The end of her pregnancy got dicey, with toxemia rearing its unwelcome head, and she didn't get the birth she wanted, but she got a healthy baby and a proud papa and she was okay.

Our friendship, however, was growing a bit distant. By choice or by chance, every time I tried to call or visit after the baby was born, she was sleeping or occupied and not taking visitors. I wanted to be there for my friend but I wasn't able to. Unbeknownst to me, she was having a very hard time with breastfeeding and really needed help. I wish I'd tried harder to be there and support her. I wish she'd called me and asked for support. But that's not how it happened*.

She and her husband decided that spring (2001) to move away from Memphis. He had never liked Memphis, and the summers were hard for my Michigan-native best friend. I was sorry to see her go, but things had gotten strained, at least in my mind, and we hardly saw each other anymore anyway, despite living only a few blocks apart.

Fortunately, we already had practice at being long-distance friends. Remember? We were really good at that for a long time. And it was like riding a bike - we're still good at it! We've seen each other about once a year (when we visited Michigan or she came to Memphis) and we've had a great time. We talk on the phone for at least an hour a month. She had another baby, a lovely little girl who was born in a victorious homebirth. This time she was prepared for breastfeeding difficulties and sailed through her second child's infancy. And she's expecting a third in just a few weeks!

Being apart, however, has its drawbacks. She has expressed that her biggest regret in having moved is missing the opportunity to watch her goddaughter turn from child to woman. And since she and her family moved when their firstborn was months old, I've not gotten to see her parent. It still sometimes seems unreal to me that she is a mother, because I've not witnessed it. Like anyone with children, sometimes she needs to interrupt our telephone conversation to give attention to one of her children. I listen closely at those times for a hint of what kind of mother she is. So far, my take is that she's sensible and sensitive. Which sounds lovely, and not really a bit surprising. She loves language and I'm sure she will transmit that love to her children.

She's the first friend that I knew, with every fiber of my being, would still be my friend when we're old. We joked, ages ago, about being old ladies and living together with a bunch of cats. It's still not hard for me to imagine. And maybe we'll even start that garage band she's been wanting to start.


*I wrote this before receiving an email from JWM. I had written to make sure it was okay to blog about her, and to check to see if anything was off-limits. Her response was very interesting, and she told her side of that story, unprompted. It's very interesting to me that we actually saw it more similarly than I had thought. If we're lucky she'll comment. (hint hint)


furrjenn said...

Writing a blog post about a 20-(gulp)-year-old friendship challenges the writer. It must be like making a toast to a couple at a significant wedding anniversary: How does one sum up and yet paint a picture of two entwined lives? The "cliche" must have been invented this way, because its so hady to use verbal symbolism to stnad for those feelings and experiences that people share and know but have difficulty verbalizing.

So, Kaleigh, I am enjoying your posts this week. Some of them are filling holes in your history, or reminding me of them. I am flattered that I have a post of my very own! (But, like, duh, could you write about friendship without mentioning me? Shuh!) Getting perspective (albeit in this small context) about our friendship is something we've never really done before. I'm glad you did. You really are important to me, like a brick that hold up parts of my life. I love you. Very much.

So, like, when are y'all hauling your butts up to NY to visit already? Christ! I am turning 35 this year, y'know? A couple more years and I may not be lucid enough to recognize any of you...

furrjenn said...

I am so happy you remmembered it was me who got you Louder Than Bombs! I think of you whenever I play that CD!

Kaleigh said...

I don't think we're going to get up there this year, but I promise to try very very hard to get there next year. If we start saving now, we can do it.