— on the death of a friend, and other departures
My partner of five years and I broke up. It’s heart-wrenching, but I’ve walked away from other sweethearts when I had to. And from several unbalanced friendships, including a couple of beloved drunkards and charlatans, drug-addicts, and thieves, When 16, I walked away from my parents, one at a time, though we have long since returned to one another. An only child, I am in my born element when left on my own. Always busy, always intent, I am seldom lonely.
But, lonesome? Yes. I do feel lonesome.
I’ve long been a social creature, with multiple circles of companions and associates in several personal and professional spheres — music, theater, advertising. I’ve had wonderful friends, and we visited one another frequently. There were parties to go to, intimate teatimes or suppers together. I was domestically partnered several times, married once. Those unions made mutual our several circles. The friendships grew in number; communities merged and rippled prettily around us.
Concurrent to all this happy bustling, the Bay Area, where I still live, grew more and more expensive. The arts community became more desperate and cliquish. Many artists, including important collaborators and friends of mine, gave up or moved away. My four closest female friends left San Francisco for good, one at a time. Three out of the four were artists I had made work with. All four of them were anchor people for me. Four times I wept as though someone had died.
I stayed put. I was married in those years, living in the East Bay. The marriage became my anchor. And then the marriage was over. Our friends chose between us, as people will. My circles became one small, sparkling ring of pals, centered around a married couple I’d known for years. Theirs was a second home for me, and a deep consolation through the harrowing of my divorce, although somehow this couple managed to remain close with me and the ex-husband separately, magically preserving the boundaries of consideration and kindness for all concerned.
I was closest to one of the couple. I had known him longest, and we were twinned in temperament. Born two months apart, we were generationally consonant, loved dogs, were alternately contemplative and boisterous, thoughtful and impulsive, lovers of beauty, makers and appreciators of theater, poetry and music. We spoke loudly and laughed louder, were iconoclastic in our studies, sociable to an extreme, curious about people and the world, embracing of the new, and contrariwise, were unattractively snobbish and wary of strangers.
It took my friend two and a half years to perish from cancer, his husband caring for him all the while, devoted to every detail of home-care, helping our darling make excruciating decisions, coaching him through treatments and surgeries and dying.
It was a brutal, ugly time. It was a time of delicacy, of love and gracefulness. I’ve noticed that even the worst of us are generally on our best behavior during big, human events. At weddings, for example, we set aside our awfulness, effervescing well-wishes and hope. Terminal illness, too, shines up the bright in folks. I saw my friend’s community of loved ones, colleagues, students, and acquaintances rise from every little corner of his life, converging as one heart around his care. Even praying for him.
As for myself, I did not pray for him. I did for him. As he grew increasingly compromised, my free attention tended toward lending a hand with the practical matters of his daily life, his husband’s too. My own partner had open-heart-surgery during this time, and I looked after him while he recovered. My aging parents, long divorced, each experienced domestic displacement in their separate states, and I helped them find decent, affordable housing.
During the course of all this, my robust and rollicking life got smaller. I stopped creating. I minimized my work in advertising, too, until financial pressure forced me back into the game. I was swiftly traveling internationally on crushing production schedules. My heartbeat would awaken me, night after night, racing so hard and fast I wondered if it might give out. I was frightened a lot of the time.
After my friend died, his husband and I could scarcely look at one another without crying. It was as if we were the only ones who knew what had happened to all of us. And maybe that was true.
Then my ex-husband joined their household as a roommate. I don’t like the ex much, although we had declared a truce while our friend was ill. Nonetheless, when the ex took hold of that house, I lost my place of refuge, my last social center. And although I had been responsible for the calendar of helpers and visitors moving in and out of it in the last months of our beloved’s dying, I no longer felt safe there.
That bright, small circle was shattered twice.
It’s coming on two years since my friend died.
His partner has fallen in love again. He has a new man in his life and they are pretty darned adorable together, adoring one another. I am glad for him, glad that his love light is brightening again. But — they’re busy. They’re making something new.
This development, along with my break-up, has brought into focus my lonesomeness. Lively lass, though I be.
Friends are precious. We all know it. Yet, when a great friend of many years dies, no one knows to help you. Even after such a large community has gathered round the event. People don’t call. People don’t bring food by. There is no bereavement leave, no professional or social courtesy afforded. There is nothing but the grind of grief. And the labor one must do to survive it.
If my friend had been my brother or sister, my lover, husband, father, mother, grandfather, great-great grand-aunt, or a third cousin five-times removed, I might have received a sympathy card from someone. But, no.
One is bewildered. Bewildered. One fends for oneself in the woods.
So, yes, my dead friend’s widower recently found someone to share life with. Widowers and widows may find new husbands and wives, eventually. The disfigurement of grief drops away. The cheek flushes. Wellness returns. People are glad when the bereaved find love anew, when that spot gets colored in. We see them re-enter the fold of ordinary life and society, and we don’t have to worry about them any more. It’s a relief.
A Friend, however, is not the role of Husband or Relation. Friendship takes no understudy. In six months or five years, I am not going to be bringing a new one around, any more than I will bring round a new mother after my present mother dies.
And no one hopes or expects me to replace my friend. It doesn’t cross one’s mind. There’s no common ceremonial consecration for friendship by blood or ritual. There is no hope-chest for a friend, no tramp-stamp commemorative, no ring for their nose or hand, no flowers on Friend’s Day, no candy.
Because, friendship is the candy.
It’s flowers everlasting.
Friendship out-weathers all marriages, parents and children, withstands all downturns, diseases, fuck-ups, and catastrophes. The Friend is that companion who knows one best and worst and longest, who witnesses and smiles — really smiles, and warmly — at one’s little victories. That union knows no fences. It’s oxygen.
I think there’s only one little world in the whole of galaxies which produces oxygen. Life-giving, rare air. Birds fly in it. There’s no help for its loss.
— — April 2, 2019, Amanda Moody