Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"But then fall comes..."

 


“But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” 
― Stephen King'Salem's Lot

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Wedding, A Toast, and Thirty-One Years of Friendship


On Saturday night, my oldest friend got married.

We have been friends for every minute of our thirty-one years, and this was a big day.

All day on Saturday we sat in a massive suite in a beautiful hotel and we did the things that girls do on the day of a wedding. We donned robes with our initials on them and there was hair and makeup and cocktails and special cake that you can only find in one particular bakery in one particular Pittsburgh neighborhood. And there was laughing and fun and heels and a big white dress and four navy dresses and an aisle to walk down and a big party to go to and a room filled with people who have known me and who have known her for all of our lives.

And somewhere in the middle of that party the DJ called me up to make my speech. 

And this is what I said:
Rachel:
I am sitting cross-legged on the floor looking through old pictures. Turning pages of photo albums, some yellowed with age, the pictures curled at the sides from years and years of handling, and some brand new, the pictures printed and delivered to my house only days ago.
And as it sometimes happens, the past and present seem to collapse together and in that moment I see us both as we were and as we are. As baby girls and as grown women.
And these are the pictures that tell our story.
We’re newborn babies, sitting in strollers in my back-yard, pushed side-by-side by my mom and yours.
We’re two. We are eating popcorn and holding hands and running through Storybook Forest wearing raincoats with the hoods pulled up, mine blue and green, yours pink and purple.
We’re five, and we dragged those itchy yellow lounge chairs into the pool at Parkway like we always did even though the lifeguards got mad. And then the whistle blew for adult swim and we sat on dry chairs, wrapped in towels, eating French fries from the snack bar and I know that yours were probably the only parents there that day because mine never let me eat French fries from the snack bar at Parkway.
We’re nine and sitting on the floor of your room surrounded by magazines while Michael Jackson’s Bad blares from the record player. Your mom yells up the stairs asking us what we want for lunch and Ben tries to get in but you slam the door shut and yell that we’re having girl time and we fall into fits of hysterical laughter and leap up to jump on the bed as Smooth Criminal starts playing.
We’re twelve and we buy dresses together for my bat mitzvah. Mine is a sailor suit and yours is white with red flowers and they come with hats and for some inexplicable reason we think hats are a smashing idea. And the weekend of the big event we sprawl on the floor of my bathroom and we shave our legs together for the first time with pink razors and men’s shaving cream and we make a huge mess because that’s just what you do when you’re twelve and it’s bat mitzvah season.
We’re almost thirteen and we’re sitting cross-legged on your bed and in between us is the brochure for my fancy new school in Florida because that’s where my family is moving at the end of the year. And your mom talks and talks about all the amazing things the school has, like two swimming pools and ceramics classes, because I’m sure that’s what my mom told her to do. But we look at each other and we know it’s really not that amazing at all.
We’re sixteen and I’m back in Pittsburgh for a visit. We get hot chocolate and we meet up with more friends and we go upstreet and walk around like we own the place because we kind of do.
We’re twenty-four and on the very same early morning study schedule for the New York bar exam so we start our days with a 6am g-chat about criminal law, New York practice, our respective early morning trips to Dunkin Donuts, the size of our coffees (large), the kind of donuts we picked (usually with sprinkles), and what we’ll do when it’s all finally over.
We’re twenty-six and we’re New York City girls and our weeks consist of work, e-mails about work, Steeler bars on Sundays, and dinner and Dancing With the Stars on Monday nights at your 50th Street apartment while we talk about whether people at your office know that you and Brian are dating and when we think David will propose.
We’re twenty-seven and when David does propose late one Thursday night I call and wake you up out of a sound sleep with the news. And seven months later you’re standing next to me when I get married in the very same room where we danced at your bat mitzvah fourteen years before.
We’re twenty-eight and I force you to train for a half-marathon with me and you show how good of a friend you are by not actually killing me when I end up with a stress fracture and you end up having to run the whole thing by yourself.
We’re thirty and we go to Tiffany so you can try on engagement rings and we follow that up with celebratory pizza. And a few weeks later when my phone rings and I see that it’s you I know exactly what you are calling to tell me.
And today.
Today we are thirty-one. Today is thirty-one years, six months, and ten days of friendship. Today starts a new chapter in our story that started way back at a BBYO convention when our moms were twelve. And today, it’s an exquisite privilege to watch my best friend, my forever friend, start a brand new beginning and step into a future of possibility with the one who has filled her life with love.
So here’s to you, and here’s to us. To all the years that are behind us, and to the ones – maybe the very best ones - that still lie ahead.

Back when our moms pushed us in strollers

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To Begin As We Mean To Go On


There is a little color mixed in with the still-vivid green of my suburban trees, the air is starting to get cold, and getting around Manhattan is a veritable nightmare because the UN General Assembly is in town, along with its secret service agents, motorcades, and roadblocks. Not being a fan of pumpkin spice lattes - blasphemy, I know - these are my most obvious signs that fall has arrived.

Long my favorite season, I have had some reservations this year about the melting of summer into fall, but now that it's here, I'm ready to embrace it in all of its spicy, crispy aired glory.

Another sign of the coming of fall is that beginning tomorrow night, we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of four successive weeks of holidays, the most important and holiest month of the Jewish calendar.

Tomorrow morning we are driving to Pittsburgh to spend this holiday with family, and tomorrow night, as the sun sets, I will light candles with my mom and with Sister K, and we will welcome these weeks, ready to observe and to come out the other side of the month eager to start again, to begin as we mean to go on.

As I wrote last year around this time, these are family times, times of reflection, and times of celebration.

Wishing everyone who celebrates a shana tova, a meaningful holiday, and a sweet new year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Friends We Have Loved and Lost


I remember writing the story of my own friendship break-up

It was the end of last summer, and I had just come home from a Jersey Shore vacation with my family. It was on that vacation, and in the two days following, that I realized that my friendship, one I had loved and cherished and depended on since the first week of my freshman year of college, was no more. Even though the evidence of its demise had been piling up for some time, the final realization that what we had was no longer reached up and slapped me on the face so hard that for the first time, I understood what whiplash must feel like.

So I did the thing I do when I'm not sure what else to do. I went to my computer, opened a new post on my blog, and I wrote. As I wrote I discovered wells of grief hidden inside of me that I hadn't been entirely aware of, and I typed words on a keyboard wet with tears I barely realized were falling. And when I was finished, I pressed publish, too drained even to proof-read what I had written. 

Lots of people read that piece. So many, in fact, that it became the second most popular piece I have ever published on my blog. Despite all of that, it would be months before I could go back to read my own words.

So I understand. I understand how much energy it takes, and how painful it is to re-visit the stories of the friends that we loved and lost. To rip open our hearts and to write words about the relationships that once occupied a central place in our lives, but that are no longer.

And that is what makes the anthology My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends so remarkable. Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, founders of The HerStories Project and editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship, the book explores the loss of female friendship. 

Thirty-five women have bared their souls to tell their stories of breaking up with a friend that they had once assumed would be in their lives forever, and although each story is different, similar strains run through them all.

The book makes us understand that female friendship is complex and mysterious, and that the wounds left over from the loss of a female friend are long-lasting, painful and deep. Many of the women told stories from long ago, but it is still fresh pain that seeps through their words, as if the friendship had just ended days before. We learn from these stories that female friendship has the power to give us joy, closeness and connection, but also to cause a pain and loss that is unparalleled in the human experience. 

In her incredible essay Going Without Sugar, Cheryl Suchors writes, "I wasn't divorcing, but we have no language for the collapse of a friendship. No civil or legal understanding exists to encircle, protect or declare its existence. No public ceremonies seal the relationship or shore it up when rocks pierce the hull and we have to swim for shore, the sound of wreckage and cold seawater filling our ears."

I kept going back to these words over and over again, unable to get them out of my head. These sentences sum up more than anything the message of the book; that a friendship between women is so much like a romantic relationship - soul deep, involving powerful love, a shared history and a connection that seems unbreakable. But there exists no framework around which we end a friendship; no formal vocabulary to use to declare that someone once so central to our lives no longer occupies the space that only they could fill. So the friendship ends and we feel lonely and adrift and filled with a pain that may dull over time but that never truly goes away.

Maybe the friendships that we lose weren't ever meant to last forever. Some of the essays in the book explore the idea that certain people were meant only for certain seasons of our lives, and some friendships we lose may even come back to us one day, but that doesn't make their loss any easier to navigate. It doesn't make us question ourselves any less, or keep us from wondering if there was anything that we could have done to hold the friendship together, even if we know there was nothing.

But what we can do, and what these brave and talented women have done, is to share our stories. To tell our tales of friendship, love and loss, so that no one has to walk the path of lost friendship alone. 

When you read this book you will see yourself in these pages. I did. Knowing that others have weathered the loss of a cherished friend as I have hasn't taken away all the pain and confusion of my loss, but it has reminded me that I am not the only one who felt the particular brand of sorrow that swims in the wake of a friendship lost, whether you are being left or you are the one doing the leaving.

The wisdom of these thirty-five women and the power of their stories will stick with you long after you have closed the book, and will remind you that even though circumstances may differ, in the crucible that is friendship loss, you are never, ever alone.

Thank you so much, Jessica and Stephanie, for the privilege of reading this book and reviewing it here. I loved every single word.

Thursday, September 18, 2014