To All The Women I Love. Period.
I have this novel stuck inside of me. It would be a grand saga about friendship and love, friendship as the ultimate love. I’ve written bits and pieces, scenes where a fireplace and silence were involved, or a walk through the woods on autumn fire, or nights with pajamas and endless talks.
I remember meeting again with Consu, for the first time after we spent one year side by side in the brown mountains of New Mexico. We sat one evening, not having seen each other for so many years we couldn’t even count them. We started talking and next thing we knew, the sun was rising through the trees. This episode has been one of the standards against which I have measured all my friendships to date. It anchored in me the utter conviction that life and its meanders could not keep my friends and me apart. If I look hard, I don’t think I have ever had a friendship that did not turn my world around, be it one spin or a whole revolution. I was never one with many long or complicated relationships with men, but my friendships have made up for the drama and the intensity one expects from aborted or tumultuous love stories. Now that I am forty and some, I have, if not grown wiser, at least reflected upon what prompted those friendships to be what they were, and are.
I have had girlfriends as long as I can remember. I have but few memories of my early childhood and they more or less all involve throes of friendships broken, for an hour, a day or a lifetime. Or, for that matter, of friendships so strong that I had to twist around the lyrics of love songs to make them fit the feelings I experienced. There are too few songs about friendship, by the way.
My friendships range from women older than I am (mother figures turned friends, aunts, random encounters), to women who are way younger than I am (recalling my younger years?), with everything in between. The we-met-on-the-internet friend. The three-weeks-in-the-same-class friend. The oh-so-different friend. The wtf-are-you-doing-with-this-woman friend. The I-cant-believe-this-is-happening friend. The I’m-talking-about-eternity friend. The I’m-not-a-feminist friend. The I-wish-I-had-known-you-earlier friend. The I-am-calling-you-mine friend. It is with women friends that I have first experienced and recognized true love.
And this is what brings me here, writing this (in lieu of that novel I might write one day, or as an introduction, who knows…). I came across Rachel Vorona Cote’s post about The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends. She touches upon what I realized not so long ago was the most difficult thing about loving female friends when you’re a woman and straight: the lack of specific vocabulary. Or rather, the way vocabulary is tainted in so many ways when you’re trying to express friendship. And this in as many languages as I speak. Italian comes really close with its “Ti voglio bene” (I wish you well, of sorts) which is the I love you for friends. But still.
I have loved men, chosen one to be my husband, and it was never hard to recount those stories, their lows and highs, the broken or beating hearts. I can say I love my children to bits, to the bone, or until I die, and never will anyone doubt the depth of my feelings where they are concerned. When I try to explain the way my stomach turns when I fight with a friend, the cold sweat when I don’t hear from her in a day or a year, the incredible feeling of anticipation I experience when I know I’m going to see her again, most people don’t get it. I get those looks, you know… What is it in this society that prevents me from expressing my being in love with anyone I wish, be it my husband, my children or indeed, my women friends?
It took me forty years and some to come to terms with this. If I have. To realize that the intensity I feel is not so much shaped by who the receiver is but by none other than myself. I don’t know how to love in any other way than completely. And frankly, I don’t make any difference in how strong my feelings are depending on whether the person I love is a man, a woman or my children. I have never felt any sexual desire for a woman, and yet I love my friends down to the deepest place in my body. I still mourn friendships from 20 years ago, the way others mourn their first lover, friendships broken up by some turn of fate or, as Rachel puts it, by my being too involved in myself. I haven’t even had half of those stories or half their intensity with men. Friendship is what makes me tick, what makes me go forward, what makes me live. Plain and simple.
And yet there are no words, no imagery that do not instantly slip into some awkward story I am a bit self-conscious about when I have to or even want to talk about it. When I was 10, I was a child, and that served as an excuse, fleeting childhood. When I was 15, an adolescent, tortuous adolescence, excuse again. When I was 25, it became a bit harder, but still, youth is always an excuse. At 40 and some, it is plain complicated to express. The thing is, one would think the flames tone down with the number of years, as we grow more composed. Well no. This is the one thing in me I can say has not changed one bit. I still fall in and out of friendship as if I were 10, only with as many more reasons to do so as the number of my years and the count of my gray hairs. And the intensity does not dwindle, on the contrary, it strengthens as if some urgency had been built in the making of friendships as time passes. And I still have no suitable words, just borrowed words.
The hardest thing, I find, is the first time I say I love you and wait to see what the revelation prompts in my friend’s eyes. I have seen scared looks, I have experienced blankness and silence, and thankfully, I have also had the chance to hear the same words in return. I still find it unfair that saying those words can be misinterpreted for anything else than what they exactly mean: a feeling so deep that it is the foundation of who I am, of what shapes me and of my understanding of the world.
So, to all the women I love, thank you for letting me love you the way I do. And, I love you. Period.