Reading the FT yesterday morning, as I am wont to do on my Saturdays, I read this article by Susie Boyt, a columnist I follow closely and enjoy immensely. There are people we read in the press that we falsely believe we know by virtue of reading their online persona each week. But I feel certain if Susie and I met for tea at Fortnum’s’ we’d have plenty to talk about. The staff would be tapping their heels and waiting by the doors to close and we’d still be chatting about the length of dresses, fluffy cakes, life changing books and the essence of what makes a good friend.
Today she writes about friendship and her words rang a true bell. I am one of those people for whom friends are on the A list, the cake rather than the icing. Friends for me sit in the very centre of my life rather than dancing around the periphery. One of the tragedies of an expat existence is that you are always far from friends, dear ones, with whom you would like a daily existence, a regular phone chat, a weekly coffee rather than a day or two every year or two.
The hardship of being so far from friends in one thing but the other sadness wells from the fact of having to say goodbye to new and wonderful friendships so frequently. With each move, I say “No.” I will not join my heart to another, I will not fall in love with a new friend, I will not get too close. And then, because we are human, we do. And then comes another goodbye. But with each move there are less goodbyes, once bitten twice shy. I am wary of too much love, these days.
This summer I will be going home to Canada after a break of two years. I will be, once again, with my sisterhood, but I am carving up time into portions to spend with them. Is this the way to live friendship? Have a choice? They have all got their lives, they are busy and here I fly in, swoop down into their lives from my life far away and demand time with them, while I can only afford a day or two.
Like oil and water the true friends float up to the surface and make each moment one to cherish. But I keep collecting these wonderful friends and if I were to make a friendship map of the world they would be scattered like chicken pox scars on a child’s back.
I have had friends leave me, like a scorned lover and it hurts as much as ending a love affair would. There are 5 times in my life that I have been dropped like hot coal into the fire, and each time it is because I have inadvertently hurt someone too sensitive to have perspective. I argue with myself that these were never true friends, that I was mistaken, had it wrong, all along. If they would end our friendship over a silly slight, what were they to me? Still it hurts, because I never knew.
We collect people as we go through our chapters, and the more moves we make the more we collect, carefully, wrap in the softest of memories and carry in our pockets. Sometimes I long for my white picket fence and my friend round the corner, always there, living with me my days and me with hers.