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You can know people and not know them.

At any given moment, things can turn a corner.

I know this is true.

Last week I had a birthday. Most birthdays are ho-hum affairs. A little extra attention from the family and a close friend but otherwise, meh.

This birthday came at me like a sudden summer cloudburst, raining down shock and awe in the form of a surprise birthday party.

On a weeknight. At a friend’s house. It was festive and fancy.

There was a Pinterest page devoted to the planning and execution of it.

Seriously, this is not the status quo for me. This, along with a few other surprise developments, are the exhibits to make the case that my life has changed dramatically in the last year. I’ve engaged with the real world one hundred fold in the last year. I’ve opened myself up to any possibility. I’ve allowed vulnerability into my life and acquiesed to offers outside my comfort zone. I’ve tried to put others before myself to be part of the “village” that we all like to talk about so much.

The results stun me at times. I’m still a fawn on wobbly legs most days, making the mistake of expecting from others what they cannot give. Some days I expect too much from the universe. On those days I see how my ego is still running the show.

The other side of this is that 100 percent engagement in real life means a major drawback in the online world. And it’s not just me. I scrolled through my blogroll (I know, that’s so 2005.) and many of my favorite, longtime blogging friends have vanished. They’ve moved on, vaporized, left behind polite but vague messages, given up, or reinvented their online persona.

While I doubt I’ll close this site, I’ve certainly scaled back. That’s fine with me. I never had the big numbers. I’ve made some amazing connections and that’s just bonus material. I need a place to write and this is it. If someone, or two, comes around and likes what they see, thank you. If not, I’m OK with that, too. I’ve learned that online engagement is an enhancement, a side dish, to the entrée of life.

And last week that entrée was a bizarre tribute to me and the community that holds me up. As bizarre as it is to even write that sentence, I accept it as the new normal.

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Moving on

I made a clean break from a long-term relationship. Not a romance. Not a binding contract. Not a coffee buddy. This was a business relationship that blossomed into a friendship. The lines blurred, making it difficult to get away.

We met in the late ’90s, when I was newly divorced, newly relocated, and in need of a pick-me-up. He was starting his career and looking for clients.

We clicked immediately, sharing the same humor, taste in music, and life philosophies. I trusted him fully with all my needs in his area of expertise. An appointment stretched for hours past the booked time as we drank coffee or beer and talked. It was the perfect relationship. He invited me to his parties and events. We knew each others’ darkest secrets. I really thought the only thing that would split us up would be my move out west.

Then, things changed, as they always do.

He jumped from one storefront location to another, citing personality conflicts. I followed. He was losing friends as well as partners, slipping slowly into a morass of his own making. I stood by him, supported him, encouraged him to stay positive. Then, he became estranged from his family for reasons that seemed trivial to me. I listened but started to feel put upon. I couldn’t get a word in most times.

It was then I realized that it had been a long time since I’d seen the breezy, funny guy I met in the late ’90s. He was moody and distant. He was slow in returning calls, late for appointments, stopped listening to my requests. His workplace was dark and empty. He excused himself repeatedly during business appointments. He was intensely angry. His hands shook when he worked. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. I slowly admitted what I’d suspected for a while: He was on something when I was paying him to perform a service. I considered that I would have to find someone new. The last time I saw him, I told him how much I cared about him, how worried I was, that he needed help to get his life back, that he deserved better.

What I didn’t say is that I would not be back, that I deserved better, too. I didn’t have the heart. As with most things, if the person isn’t well and isn’t ready to get well, then he isn’t going to listen.

The last few times I paid him for his work, I felt ripped off and angry. I questioned my loyalty and my failure to disengage from relationships turned toxic. It was time to break things off.

But how? Our suburb is like a small town. We live within blocks of each other. It could be awkward.

Not knowing any other way, I let time pass and did nothing. As I thought about my next move, the winds of fate delivered into my open hands a coupon to a similar business with glowing recommendations.

Nervous as a cheating lover, I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers. I made an appointment.

On the appointed day, I stepped into a bright place with happy people at the ready. People who remained at their work station, who did not make excuses or have suspect behavior, who engaged in polite small talk. I walked out a satisfied and peaceful customer.  My worst fears were not realized.

I think I understand better now the need for professional boundaries.

My feelings are a mix of relief, of sadness over the loss of a friend and professional relationship, and the realization that nothing lasts forever.

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PrompTuesday: a childhood friend and a cheat

A post I’ve labored over for a week vanished. It’s not really Tuesday unless you’re living in the past, which I am not most of the time, but I am desperate to forget the lost post. So, I’m jumping on San Diego Momma’s bandwagon a day late AND with a repost. Her prompt:

Describe your closest childhood friend
–from June 2009


jumper

This was my wardrobe for six years

Like many of you, I found a childhood friend on Facebook.

We were best pals in grade school, where we both wore our itchy wool plaid uniforms, stiff white blouses and knee socks. The two of us, along with a few others, formed a “Batman” TV show fan club. This involved tying our jacket sleeves just-so around our necks to double as super-hero capes. We made some type of “utility belt” out of paper and tape and staples. We often fought about who got to play Batgirl.

I have other hazy memories of those days:

  • Pedaling my bike home as fast as I could to beat the buzzing, flickering street lights that awakened at dusk.
  • Marveling at how her big, happy family occupied a house the same size as our family-of-four’s home.
  • Wishing I could take her freckles, which she didn’t like. I thought freckles gave a face character and depth.
  • Planning out our whole lives and how we’d play a role in each other’s future.

Then my family moved after 6th grade.

My pal and I exchanged a few letters, called each other once in a while, then our fading friendship became lost in the fast-moving currents of life.

Earlier this year, as I was sifting through big boxes containing the relics of my life  I found a packet of letters held together with a rubber band. They were from my old pal. I wondered what had become of her.

A quick search on Facebook and a mutual “friending” put us back in touch. A while afterward we agreed to meet.

As I drove to the little coffee house, I flashed back to last fall when I volunteered at a local campaign office. Turns out one of the organizers was a classmate of mine in high school. Had he not pointed it out to me, I never would have recognized him. I never would have known what happened to that well-muscled jock I rode the bus with freshman and sophomore years.  While I casually flirted with him on those bumpy rides to and from school, I knew he was out of my league. Last fall, I saw the future of a teen girl’s fantasy. It features a cranky, balding fat man.

Meeting up with the past is always a tricky business. Exciting. Scary. As my friend waited for me to arrive, I’m sure she probably tossed around in her head some highlights of our friendship: How I was like a monkey on crack. A skinny, wide-eyed monkey on crack who logged a lot of time in the principal’s office.

Facebook does allow some idea of how a person looks today, where she works, and how she votes or what books she reads. So a meet-up shouldn’t be a total shock. But virtual connections are not the same as sit-down chats over steaming mugs of coffee.

I stepped into the coffee house a few minutes early, hoping to at least place myself in a flattering way, armed with a cup of something caffeinated. It turns out she was even earlier. She’d already ordered her coffee and was engrossed in a book when I spotted her in the far corner. She was the same freckle-faced girl now living inside a grown woman’s body. Same smile. Same laugh. Same good humor and good nature. Whatever life had tossed her way, she’d caught it, dealt with it, and kept on going.

We didn’t have too much trouble starting a conversation or keeping it going. We found that we shared similar views on a number of issues. Sure, our lives took very different paths, but not in ways so divergent that we couldn’t find common ground.

I wondered if we would have remained close friends if my family had not moved.

I wondered how different I would be today.

I wondered if she still liked Batman.

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Let’s go out and play

Girl from the East has a new best friend and it’s a boy.

They secretly became best friends in preschool, unbeknownst to all the parents involved.

The first blush of spring delivered news that Girl and Boy were now best friends. I remember my surprise because I’d never seen the two of them so much as look at each other at school. I considered it a passing fancy.

A week later, Boy’s mother called and said Boy just had to have a play date with Girl. So, we scheduled one. All went well. Many more followed. Sometimes we had to peel them apart when the play date was over. We declared their friendship “adorable” and “sweet.” At preschool graduation, we figured the friendship would be forgotten; Boy and Girl were going to different elementary schools in the fall.

The phone calls started mid-September. First, from the mom saying that Boy, who was sad, had written notes and colored pictures for Girl during summer break. Then, the dad, when I bumped into him at the grocery store, told me that Boy was begging to have a play date with Girl because he was worried that he’d never see her again.

Yesterday was the second big play date of the school year for these two.

I took Boy and Girl to a nearby nature preserve tucked along a small river twisting through a neighborhood. Indian summer spread its buttery glow over the forest, scattering orange and red confetti to the wind, stirring the hunt-and-gather instinct. Red squirrels with nut-stuffed cheeks scampered over the leaf and stick carpet and clambered up tall oaks, barking at us as we passed underneath.  Ducks paddled along the lazy river’s edge, following us with hope of a food reward. Boy and Girl, oblivious, ran races along the dirt trails, stuffed their backpacks with leaves, slid through muddy patches, threw acorns in the river, teased the ducks, found a grassy hill and rolled down like logs, then discovered a playground and played hide-and-seek until the sun cast long shadows across the lot.

I snapped a lot of pictures. I smiled a lot.  I thought about why these atypical pairings grab our attention. When Girl has one of her gal pals over, I think nothing of the hugging and hand holding and proclamations of never-ending devotion. When this happens with a boy, I add a heavy dose of my own romanticism and idealism to it.

Here’s the thing: Boy-girl play dates are so much easier to referee, at least for this mother of two daughters. They just — play. There’s no squabbling over who gets to wear the sparkly princess tiara during dress up or who gets the Malibu Barbie when they’re playing doll house.

This little slice of sweetness between Boy and Girl is different for me and it’s been a joy to watch. It’s a reminder that there are moments of pure bliss in life, when your legs will take you anywhere, when your eyes are open to everything, when wonder and adventure await around every bend in the path.

Go outside and play with your best friend.

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Sister, do you know my name?*


sisters

via creativecommons.org

I do not have a sister.

Not by blood. Not through marriage. Not even through friendship.

I have one brother who has never married. We are not close.

My husband is an only child.

I once had a friend with whom I was so close we often referred to each other as sisters. In childhood we promised we’d always be there for one another for the happy times, the big moments, the darkest hours. We were, for the most part, there for each other through childhood, teen years, college, careers, marriages, babies, divorces, rebounds, and the little things in between.  But as we hurtled toward midlife, our lives grew more complex and distant. She began to turn more to her biological sister. There were issues of a personal nature that, I guess, were best kept within the bounds of bloodlines.

Until recently, I fully blamed her for the loss. Now I know I’m responsible, too.

I don’t understand the responsibility of having a sister, of being a sister to a woman.

I fantasized about having a real sister. I begged my parents to have another baby, hoping the next one would be a girl. But my parents assured me that two was enough. I imagined a world much like the Brady Bunch girls, coated in pink frosting and slumber parties and silly little fights over borrowed headbands and shoes.

I was insanely jealous of my friends who had older sisters who could teach them how to wear makeup or smoke a cigarette properly or how to act on a date.

When I went to college, I left my neighborhood friends behind and never replaced them. I didn’t pledge sororities. I joined a few clubs but never found any kindred spirits in any of the women I met on campus.  I spent most of my adult life seeking and maintaining relationships with the opposite sex. I was at different times a girlfriend, a fiancee, a wife.

I’ve also been the woman who more easily befriended the men than the women at work. Friendships with the opposite sex are a delicate dance on a very thin line. It is the rare spouse who tolerates 2 a.m. phone calls from “she who is just a friend’” or appreciates letters sent by “he who moved away but we still keep in touch.” Those friendships rode away on a tide of jealousy.

My mother does not have sisters. She has sisters-in-law, but they are not close. What I saw of her friendships during my childhood were a string of women who seemed extremist in whatever path they were following. The alliances seemed short-lived and ended dramatically.  Mostly, I had no idea what my mother did with her friendships. It was a part of her life I didn’t see.

I’m much better about friendships today. I make the effort. Through career, common interests and motherhood, I’m blessed with a bounty of wonderful women friends. But are any of them a “sister” to me?

I have two daughters.

They are sisters. They delight in this. They call each other “sister” and “sissy.” Nothing thrills me more than to see the two of them holding hands or entwined on the couch under blankets watching a Disney movie or one sitting still while the other paints her toenails. They already are miles ahead of me in understanding the sisterhood.

Are women without sisters missing out on something? Am I yearning for something that is over-rated?

Is is through the mother-daughter experience or luck of the sibling lottery that we learn how to forge these relationships?

I’d like to know what you think.

* Post title taken from a sweet song written by one of my favorite bands, The White Stripes.

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Roots

This post may appear to be funny, based on this:

But, it’s really not so much. 

Because it represents this person who’s no longer in my life. This person who was once such a huge part of my life we may as well have been married. A best friend, like a sister kind of person. A talk-to-on-the-phone-every-day kind of person. A person who leaves a big, gaping hole in your life when she is no longer in it.

I have written about her struggles and how it has affected me. Maybe I’ve blabbed too much to the Internet. (We all know how well Ms. Internet keeps secrets.)

The friendship has been over for a while, but I was too busy paddling against the current on the River DeNiAl. When I finally fell overboard and the shock of reality woke me up, I went through a whole range of emotions: anxiety, anger, mourning and finally acceptance.

After her own personal efforts to seek help failed, family and friends intervened. After two months, it was apparent our efforts were less than effective. She had played us. She had outwitted us all, the dimwits that we are, I guess.

This outwitting really stung and hurt. However, it appears cosmic justice has banged her gavel. Just desserts have been served on a cold, hard platter. By this time, I have learned how to live without her. No e-mail. No phone calls. I’ve had one exchange of mail, which included a small card featuring the above odd carrot character and this message:

The cure of an ill is not to sit still,
or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire.

Rudyard Kipling