Monday, July 28, 2014

A Visit From My Best Friend -- Opposite Lives, Intertwined

I have been friends with my best friend since we were four and went to the same nursery school, at Church in the Highlands. Ok, maybe it's more fair to say that we have known each other since we were four -- we were friendly in elementary school but not super close, and when I moved into a house where our backyards touched in the corners, two houses kitty corner from each other in a neighborhood where if you sneezed eight different households yelled "Godblessyou!," we were destined to become better friends. Even though at first she and her sister were vewy vewy qwiet in their backyard so I wouldn't hear them playing and hop the fence to come join them. I was a somewhat whiny and annoying child so I get it, but it probably wasn't necessary to keep a giant plastic lobster in the blowup kiddie pool and throw it at me to try to scare me away. Really.

We became best friends when we were 15. So while we've known each other for far longer, the deep connection and lasting best friendship that we share really started when we were 15, going on our first "solo date" to a movie in Greenburgh, and then I think to dinner at Pizza & Brew. I could have the order wrong. I have no idea what movie we saw, and I could probably look it up in the box of journals I have that date back to age five, but no doubt it was some kind of romantic comedy, possibly starring John Cusack, as it was around 1990 or so. We hit it off, discovered that being best friends AND neighbors was a total boon, and have been completely intertwined in each others' lives ever since.

And when I say intertwined, I really mean it, because after a difficult childhood and adolescence plagued with late stage Lyme Disease, an insidious foe that stole so many experiences from my best friend, she went to my graduation party from college and met her now-husband, now-father-of-her-children, my good friend from college. And now there is this very strange melding of worlds where my friend who taught me how to drive in exchange for early cooking efforts my senior year, my friend whose band I supported at bars in Geneseo (doing covers of Moxy Fruvous and They Might Be Giants), my friend who insisted that the world HAD to end in five years or less, that humanity was headed down a very dark path, is now married to my best friend. Very strange. Three little humans exist because of this connection, which blows my mind.

Our lives have never really been in sync. I went off to college, as far away to as good a school as I could within the state university system, and she went away and promptly came back after her illness thwarted her efforts to live a typical young adult life. I had my first serious boyfriend, she worked steadily toward her goal of an elementary education certification while she lived at home. Summers we would meet up and do all the same things -- parties at various houses when parents were away, badminton in the street at odd hours and late night canasta on the porch with the boys we once had huge crushes on and were now fun friends. (We were wild, man, WILD.) Then I met Voldemort, and things got a little complicated. She knew far before I was willing to realize that this was not a good thing, that this man was very bad for me, that I was entering into something damaging. Despite the pretty sheltered existence that she had thus far led, she was far more savvy about what made a good relationship than I was. Throughout that whole mess she tried to help me see that I deserved better, and our biggest (and really, only) fight came during my wedding planning, where admittedly I was incredibly self-absorbed (probably because focusing on the planning was far more enjoyable than focusing on what I had agreed to and my day to day life of insults and cut-downs and fear and self-loathing for accepting all this). It was horrible, it was the only time we screamed and cried and truly fought with each other and I was terrified I would lose this friendship that meant everything to me. I apologized, I accepted the quota of wedding-talk per conversation, I vowed to be a better listener. She was in the midst of building a healthy relationship with her new boyfriend while I was patently self-destructing on that end. I went directly from my parents' house to an apartment shared with He Who Must Not Be Named, and she set up an adorable apartment several miles from home, a tiny attic space that she decorated beautifully but that was wholly, entirely HERS. She had independence and a teaching job she loved and a boyfriend in medical school and space of her own, and I suffocated in my inability to trust myself to do anything alone.

We stayed friends through my long marriage, the one where people cried not out of joy (but disguised it that way) at the wedding, where my father gave me a marriage counseling book for a wedding present, where I ended up moving 7 hours away and in-person visits became fewer and fewer with my best friend and phone conversations were carefully timed to be when Voldemort wasn't home, because by this time he was openly vile as of course I deserved to be spoken to like an idiot and anyone close to me would surely know this too. When the shit hit the fan and I knew I needed to get a divorce, my best friend did not hide her excitement that I could finally be free of this hideous situation, and also did not hide her fear that I wouldn't actually leave. I did, though, and so a year after she married her boyfriend, my college friend who was now far more significant to my best friend, I got a divorce.

Then she started having babies. I met Bryce as she began making her beautiful family. When she tried for her first, I jokingly called her Babyzilla as she was as obsessed with pregnancy and babymaking as I had been with wedding planning, although there was no sad, denial-ridden subtext to her joyous planning. And sure enough, she got pregnant after a few months or so and had a gorgeous pregnancy with her first son. I hosted the baby shower at my mom's house, still kitty-corner from her mom's house, and I was so happy to do it. I was newly divorced and 30 and dating a man who actually treated me with respect and love and friendship, and the specter of "will this be me someday?" was definitely in the room, but not in a way that interfered with my joy at hanging out with my very pregnant friend and hearing her baby's heartbeat on the doppler.

Then the babies kept coming. She became pregnant with her second son quickly (and not so much with the planning) following her first, and the weekend I came to visit her when her new baby was still fresh and smelling like milk and happiness and I'd been dating Bryce for three years, and he'd already shared with me that babymaking would be difficult given his past experience with low sperm counts, and I suspected I would be problematic in that arena too, and I was already stealthily reading my first book on infertility to acquaint myself with the process, Conception Chronicles, a funny and not-too-overwhelming start to the infertility library I would later acquire. I decided, late at night after a day of snorting fresh baby smell and playing with her 18 month old first son, to draft the letter that would be my proposal to Bryce. A treatise on marriage to convince the engineer who had been so badly burnt in the past. I wanted to be married, I wanted to start our babymaking gauntlet, I really, really wanted what my best friend had in that moment. I was jealous. Not in an ugly way (that would come later, fleetingly) but in a motivational way. I'd always wanted what she had in that arena, and now that I could witness it first hand (hold it, smell it...) I wanted it.

Life has made it difficult for us to see each other since all these changes took place. She lives further downstate in the Hudson Valley, 5 hours away from me up here in Rochester. She now has three children. She cried when she called me to tell me she was pregnant a third time, because at this point I was horribly unsuccessful in the infertility arena and she was afraid it would cause a problem, which it didn't in any lasting way, other than a silence after she complained about having to get a minivan and I had to say quietly, "I think maybe you should complain about that to someone else," because I just can't commiserate on having to buy a different car because of an overabundance of children, and quite frankly I would LOVE to have to buy a minivan. I am still trying incredibly hard to make ONE, just ONE baby materialize. Her ability to get pregnant easily, now TOO easily, was in direct opposition to my complete inability to get pregnant.We decided after last year, when we had our first visit in 2 1/2 years, that we couldn't let more than six months go without seeing each other, and we've held pretty well to that agreement, despite sick children and horrid cycles gone wrong and further complications from opposite ends of the family spectrum. January and July, not exactly six months but close enough. We always aim for once a season but between her busy schedule balancing three children 7 and under, my busy schedule of balancing teaching and infertility treatment, that's hard to manage.

She just came for a visit this past weekend, and it was wonderful. We walked a lot, ate a lot, laughed a lot, talked a lot. Her coming to visit me is like a mini vacation, although when she visits me she's only here for 24 hours because it's too hard to be away from the babies, we have a lot of uninterrupted time. My house is very, very quiet in comparison to hers. She can read a book at night and in the morning without any children hopping out of bed or waking her up or needing, needing, needing. We can talk interrupted and not in spurts of "escaping." She loves the quiet. She loves the lack of chaos.

Conversely, when I visit her, I love the chaos. I don't mind playing plasma cars in the basement (even as my heels are run over time and time again and my exaggerated reaction just encourages more reckless rear-ending of my Achilles tendon with higher pitched giggles from the offending drivers...), I don't mind having a pileup of children on me as we watch a movie, I don't mind that the movie is animated and there is popcorn EVERYWHERE. I don't mind that a certain two (now three)-year-old girl talks to me through the space between the door and the floor the ENTIRE time I shower, begging me to let her in and shoving potato-people drawings under the door for me because she must be in there, somehow, someway, even just on paper. It's crazy, and there's always someone touching or pinching or flinging something gross somewhere. Someone's always not feeling well, things get broken, tears are inevitable. There is never any silence, until maybe 11:00 and then it just feels WEIRD in contrast to the high level of activity earlier in the day. When I came to visit last time, in January, she said, "Does it make you want to have children a little less to be here with all this?" and I started to cry. "No," I said, "It makes me want kids even more. The activity, the love, the hugs, the wiping away of tears, it's all just such beautiful chaos, and I want it. Although," I laughed through my tears, "I don't think I want three. One or two sounds just fine to me!" Ha, ha... but it's true. Three is a little too much activity for me. There is just so much difference between our two households.

Last time my best friend visited me up here, I was getting ready to do the donor egg cycle. I was happy and trepidatious all at once. We talked about fears and hopes, and I started to cry as she was saying goodbye, because I let it slip, "You have to come back soon, for my baby shower!" I was crying because I hoped desperately it would happen, and I was terrified it wouldn't, and I was so devastated by the losses we'd endured so far between the constant negative and then the short lived moments of hope that were stolen from us at an early stage. This time, I was full of gallows humor about it all, even though I have more hope in the donor sperm transfer than anything we've done before but it is still tempered by this feeling of hopelessness. She was also disturbed by my increase in negative talk about my body, because she's used to me dancing around with my belly exposed and patting it and chuckling about my big belly in a loving way. I tried to explain, tried to make it clear it's double-edged, that my belly is more giant than ever (although she swears she doesn't think it's clear that I'm bigger, and she doesn't bullshit, so maybe that's true?), but also my body sucks on many levels and so I'm angry about it, AT it, period. She has hope for me, and scolded me that I can't get in this negative body-talk habit because when I do have babies, not if but when, I can't talk that way around them.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I know we'll see each other if not in the fall (difficult with school starting and I'm really, REALLY hoping to be in my first trimester in the fall), then January. I didn't cry. I didn't make any baby shower comments, because I can't bring myself to do it. I can barely see that anymore. I waved goodbye as she made her way back to her beautiful chaos, her home that is as opposite to mine as you can possibly get, well-rested from the childless silence and peace our home has to offer.

I am seriously looking forward to the day when she comes for my baby shower, when she and I are both mommies, when turning 40 means the same thing to both of us instead of just another birthday to her and a scary further complication to my babymaking efforts for me. I am looking forward to both of us parenting at the same time, although her children will be older, some significantly so. We have proved that you don't have to be in the same place in life to be best best friends, that if you can listen and be compassionate and understand when phone calls are tough due to children yelling in the background or an inability to stop sobbing, you can be all over the spectrum of life and still have a great connection. It takes effort and planning and a sense of humor, but it's possible.

Here we are! Together again...although I tricked her into holding the camera so my head didn't look ginormously bigger than hers...

A hideously unflattering photo of me, but I am eating her head in this picture and it just shows the silliness that is inherent in our friendship. 
Last day! We are about to walk almost five and a half miles after this picture. We would be really proud of ourselves if not for the big plate of blueberry pancakes and bacon right before this picture. 


  1. Oh, I love old friends. She sounds so wonderful and the shared history and the shared memories you have are priceless. I don't have any good friends from my elementary school days, but my college girlfriends are like that. It's hard, too, to see them achieve so easily what's been so difficult for me. But they're the ones who are rooting for me the loudest and for that I'm eternally grateful.

    1. She is super wonderful! It's funny, because really we weren't such great friends in elementary, but later it cemented. It's great to have such good cheerleaders and I'm glad your college girlfriends are that for you!

  2. I really liked this post. It seems like sometimes relationships with friends who have what you want can be so painful that it is easier to distance yourself than to embrace the friendship and all that it entails. I am glad you haven't let infertility take this friendship from you! She sounds like a great friend and I love the story of how your friendship evolved over time.

    1. Argh! My comments are not publishing! Thanks, Kelsey! It definitely could have been difficult to have a very-fertile friend when I was facing such infertility, but I think we've handled it really well. She IS a great friend and it was so fun to go down memory lane and tell the story of how we met! I told her that this blog is 90% a love letter to Bryce, but that this post was my love letter to her. :)

  3. I have to add that my friend remembered the movie--it WASN'T John Cusack! It was "The Butcher's Wife," a movie that if I watched it today might be extraordinarily campy, but I will always remember the "split apart" concept. And Demi Moore's horrible lowcountry accent. Also, it was her bridal shower that was at my house, the baby shower was at her mom's house. When you've been friends for so long and we have become so seasoned in our years, these details go the way of the Dodo! :)