Those Three Little Words…

My best friend knows I haven’t been well for months, not necessarily because of a decline in physical health (although that also wavers frequently). She knows me well enough to ask, “How are you?” during the moments in between the minutes in between the hours in between the days upon days that I feel most unwilling to let life continue to determine my days. But those three little words crunch dread into my spine and spit it back up again through my throat. I don’t know how to answer honestly without transferring the weighty load of the grim thoughts between my ears into the lighter space between hers. Because what a precious thing, to have a lightness between one’s ears — something I couldn’t even know to appreciate until after the layers of desolation had accumulated to an irreversible heaviness in between my own ears. And why would I want to tarnish such a precious lightness, especially that of my best friend, my closest companion, beacon of support. To return the favor of her doting concern with the burden of my own worries would deconstruct the balanced relationality of a healthy friendship in my mind.

So when I see those little three words, “How are you?” I try to hack through the jumble of words in my brain that could produce a response halfway between the truth and something less worrisome. But I usually just stare at the blinking vertical line on the screen, waiting, signaling for my keyboard’s response.

I stare until I’m resolved to ignore her words and flap down my laptop screen or let my phone’s attention close into blackness. I ignore her until she brings up a topic in the safe zone of general without personal discussion. I exhale the breath that I’d been holding for days and enthusiastically assert my opinion concerning our mutual friend’s choice of flamboyant sweaters or Instagram captions that make us cringe.

And when we say good night and she says those three little words, “I love you,” I don’t hesistate to respond with the same three little words. I can’t take her concern nor kindness nor compassion nor energy because I know I can’t give those back to her, but I know I can at least give back love. I know I still have that in me. And I know I can do that for her.

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