Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Urban Family

Several years ago, when I was exiting a four-year relationship, I experienced that swift and utterly inevitable consequence of ending a long-term relationship littered with friends who have only known you to be one-half of a couple: the excommunication from certain group activities. Very quickly, my list of people I would consider friends whittled itself down. This is a natural life process- there are certain people who are in your life circumstantially. It doesn't belittle the weight of the friendship at the time, but it does make you consider what kinds of people are gonna be there for the long haul.

I think, because of this circumstance and also because I lost touch with so many people when I high-tailed it to Florida for three years after college graduation, that I had this ingrained fear that most adult friendships are transient. Dependent on circumstance and temporal. And I think, because of this, I perhaps haven't valued my friendships quite as much as I should have. This has been brought to my attention a lot recently. Several of my friends have gone to bat for me in circumstances that they surely didn't have to get involved in, much less offer the support and care that they did. I don't know why I got it in my head that you had already made all the lifelong friends you were going to make early on. This is categorically untrue.

Because, the fact is, my friends make up the bulk of my life here in Baltimore. Where I never wanted to be in the first place. They have become a family of sorts, a network of support and love. And, even more surprising to me, they don't always wait for me to reach out to them. Their presence is consistent, constant, and welcome. Persistent even, at times, as well it should be. When I am truly upset, I have a very nasty habit of hermiting myself away which leads to this cycle of feeling sorry for myself because I am alone. This is bass-akwards.

My mom told me that I never have to be alone if I don't want to be, and she's absolutely right. At any given moment, I am fortunate enough to have friends I can call who will show up, listen, laugh, answer the phone or a text, or otherwise be present. And I'd do the same for them.

I think this is part of what I feared so much about being single in my late twenties- I had this horrific and deep phobia that all of my friends would move, get married, or otherwise extricate themselves from my life and, little by little, my friendships would be pared down and I would find myself utterly alone. This has proved itself to be completely untrue. In fact, if anything, my circles of friends continue to grow (in strength and in breadth) the more I invest in my life here in Baltimore.

A lot of it goes back to the Butternut Squash Soup Incident of 2009. I was in a definitive low. Things were Not Going Well across the board. I was Not Happy. And the only thing I could think of to remedy a thousand broken situations was to move. I wanted out of Baltimore, out of the messes I had found myself in, away from a history of indecisiveness and apprehension. I started looking for jobs and apartments in New York, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Berlin. I looked into work visas to catapult me abroad. I wanted Out.

And then Jaunt made a batch of butternut squash soup and gave me a stack of Tupperware bowls of it. Some for eating immediately, some for freezing. Jaunt made this delicious soup, purposefully made too much too much of it, and gave me the leftovers so that I would have meals for the future. I don't even think it took any mental strategizing on her part; it was simply a facet of this life she had in Baltimore. Buy ingredients, make soup, give leftovers to friends for future lunches and dinners. This is life; and this is what you do when you are a part of it.

And I realized that if I moved, I would be starting over. Again. With no neighbors to make me soup. I would be, for all intents and purposes, truly alone. Possibly in a foreign country. Sure, I'd make new friends and have new adventures. But how long would it be before someone gave me soup? It took me two years in Baltimore before someone did that. Did I want to leave all of the networks of community I had started here in Baltimore to wipe the slate clean and work, again, on building a life from the ground up somewhere else?

The logic seemed- and was- skewed. I was trying to escape Baltimore because I was seeking change and looking for things that I thought I couldn't find. Mainly- community, belonging, purpose. Right. Under. My. Nose.

A year later, I've...shall we say....re-evaluated several things in my life. And realized that I have no desire to move again, at least not in the near future. I've built a life here, a community, a network of caring, hilarious individuals who not only make me soup, but cupcakes, pieces of art, mixed CDs, artfully mixed martinis, and a plethora of other richness that makes everyday feel special in some small way. I have friends who teach me yoga, who help me run races, get me job interviews, sit next to me in chuch, and tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself when I occasionally start down the path of pity-party. I have friends who tell me when I'm out of line, when I'm beating dead horses, when I'm so far off-track I'm not even in the park anymore.

I finally have the life I always wanted, only it doesn't look a damn thing like this THING I had in mind so many years before. I'm never alone, not really, unless I choose to be. There's soup in my freezer, companionship a short walk in pretty much any direction. I have neighbors from whom I can borrow eggs. Or, on one occasion, lime juice. I have the kind of friends who tell me, point blank, "This is what your friendship means to me," and it's my job, then, to reciprocate and contribute and give and give as much love as I am getting in return. Because that's the clincher with adult friendships- when circumstance no longer binds you together, it takes effort and energy to keep the wheels turning. If it's too much effort, too much energy, the thing will fizzle itself out. But, for the right people (the ones who are life-long,) it's never too much and it doesn't even feel like effort half the time. It's just what you do. You show up. You answer the phone. You make soup and share it.

(This also isn't to say that I don't have life-long friends that "go wayyyyyyyyyyy back." Snap; frenemies from ages 13-18, long-distance admirers of one another's work from ages 18-23, and then bffffffffs from then on; is getting married this spring and I am a bridesmaid in her wedding. Our friendship began, in a very twisted sort of way, when she kissed a boy who was the love of my life for three months in 1995. I hated her. I coveted her white blonde hair. I kind of thought she was totally cool. We became friends when we had to play tennis together in high school. She is totally as cool as I suspected. Mr. Spaz and I go 'way back as well: my high school exboyfriend who became one of my closest friends and then married my college best friend. Double insurance that both of them will forever be a part of my life. There are others, too. Several friends from college who, despite our geographical distances, stay close in my life. A couple of true lifelong friends from grad school. Again with geographical distances. But, again, it doesn't matter.)

And, of course, I'm thankful for all of the debauchery that goes on. My friends-all of them- are, truly, partners-in-crime. Our history reflects a lot of late-nights and distilleries consumed. Especially, for some reason, the last six months or so. Good God, this was an epic summer. Which reminds me: it's Halloween weekend and Catalano's fiance is out of town. More history to be made. (And, subsequently, photos to be hidden away, never to be posted on Facebook or blogs or any sort of public sphere.)

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