This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.
We search late at night in blue screen light for detox miracles, plants and spices and better ways to breathe, mantras that come from someone else’s minds and lives. When the antidote usually lies in the open arms of someone we love, who loves us back, with nothing but that binding them. What a miraculous thing, to have the kind of love you don’t have to sleep with or be born into. Subtract the evolutionary arguments and end up with that golden soft place to turn when the more hard wired ones go bust. Friendship is admitting our secrets in the tender trust of invisible glass parentheses. It is maybe the closest to fearless we get.
If I gathered all my closest friends into a room, we would look an unlikely, motley crew. Maybe with not much in common but the many parts of me. And big hearts, leaking out in laughter. My friends are the light inside the tunnel when I don’t see a way out.
Friends we only see online, are like characters from a book or a soap opera whom you root for, celebrities, but part of our real lives, our daily selves, our inner hearts. We can sometimes be our truest this way, with people we can’t see every day. The buffer against time and space leaves no room for the veil of small talk I resist.
I have a friend who is an anesthesiologist. Iraqi born, seen so much, but so beautiful she gets that label of perfect that you wear like a stiff and privileged armor. Easier maybe, but a veil. She says we are bags of chemicals. I say we are made of stars. I guess we are somewhere nebulous in the middle. Stardust with half lives.
Sweet, earnest Annie, my first best friend, from the first day of first grade. My parents say her parents picked me for her. Such opposites in our looks. We always felt a little drawn to what the other brought to the table, but we wanted to be at that table together. Yin and yang has always been most natural. Siamese twins on Halloween in fourth grade, a giant gold sweatshirt from Kmart, on a skinny, dark, small girl with a long face, and wiry, strong, fair me, wild hair and sea eyes. Feeling we were one person.
When I was in fifth grade I was sent to the principal’s office for the first and only times. With Amanda. After an entire elementary career of perfect, she freed me from myself. And kept at it for a lifetime. The two of us, the superego and the id. She brought me to the middle, a tiny body with the spirit of a whole class of kids. Never have I met someone as curious or good at so many things, as wild and pure as a storm in August. I still feel thirsty for the way she rained. I thought she would be Broadway – Beckett at 15, Sondheim like she breathed it. But she decided to study volcanoes, and learn about the earth, its rocks and mysteries and the space that put us here. Married a frenchman and settled into a life that felt the fitting end of a book she would have written herself into. A few years ago she took my daughter for a stargaze, passing through, fresh air in our desert heat. Instantly an aunt and a memory. I would give too much now to stay up all night with her, sit on wet grass, and sing harmonies.
Kristie with her waterbed and Sun In and frosted lips and bikinis for every day of the summer. She kept entire boxes sugar cubes in her room and ate them whole. The style bar we all had to rise too, too fast, racy and aware – and with a giant clothing budget. But kind, she laughed when she was supposed to laugh, at the real things about real girls, even when her cult thought cuts against each other meant survival. My own girl brings me back to this time with no mirroring. She swims through as if the debris of fragile cracked childhood shells isn’t floating around her. A so far miracle.
All the Jens. With all the last name initials. The middle school one who I will always love and drifts away, the one who is of my closest humans right now. No last name required. Saving my soul on the daily.
My lost C, to whom I always thought I’d be sewn together. How life takes us through the shredder, cuts through the invisible spider web strings, opens our eyes to things we cannot un-see. We still wake up missing the idea of people, don’t we? Even if the idea was our own.
The ones we did sleep with.
A month ago from the back seat of the car, my sweetest heartbreak-angel-on-earth-boy asked me if I thought he would make friends in kindergarten. “Because I don’t make friends very well. They want to play Star Wars, and I want to play everything.” My heart feels sick to write it. Because maybe he is as right as he is fragile, in this strange life stacked against him in ways most friends’ are not, nothing linear or certain. But seriously, this kid’s rich inner life? It’s a light magnet. It’s a right people magnet, I tell him. Yet his built in sense of his scope in the layered world, a gentleness that gives way for everyone else’s needs, it consumes my thoughts most moments, huddled in the corner, keeping an aching watch. He thinks he doesn’t make friends well, but that I do. Both my kids think they know this. I do I guess, after learning why I need it. He needs his tribe too. I watch him with his wild, yin and yang friendships, the secret language and tangled limbs, and want him to see that he already has it.
What they don’t know, is that angsty youth when being discriminating made me lonely, on the insides no one could see. It took thirty eight years to realize I was an extrovert. Gasp. “Maybe I wasn’t always this way”, I tell him. Maybe it took the world opening up in grown up ways, to change me. The shyness, mine, fallen away. But I get his, and inhabit it. I have a gnarl rooted fear of throwing birthday parties for my kids. I would be okay if everyone on my own guest list couldn’t make it. But not for them. One of my worst phobias. And this little boy who asks when he does get invited: “How many people do you think will be there, mommy? Three?” Because he always wishes it. It’s his way. But we grow into new ones, new people, opposites, compliments, if we are lucky enough, soulmates we can only imagine. He tells me I am “his best friend in the whole cosmos.” He will always be mine, even when he leaves me, even when it is a ghost of a memory of six year old need-wanting me, always choosing me at his side.
I photographed a woman last week who had made a successful and full life for herself – equal parts luck and grit and ingenuity. We talked about our shared unquiet minds, struggles with feeding ourselves in all the ways, and finding that quiet space buried within that is truly who we are. “Be your own friend,” she told me. And I am, finally. Or I’m showing up frazzled and attentive, answering my own early morning phone calls, being the kind voice in the mirror, trying.
You have to make peace with that silent self at three am. On those tornado-mind days when everything solid has vaporized, with the loss of markers and foundation, when we lose that lighthouse of “love” that we think we need to find our way back, or when sometimes, things go so right that you need to be pulled down to earth with a humble tether. Our first friends must be ourselves. Keep a picture of your childhood self, therapists tell us, and just try to say those dark twisty undermining things to that pure moon face staring back with hope. I can’t do it. Remember that our kids see how hard or soft we are with ourselves, as much as they feel the love we heap on them. And that we are their first friends. In the end, and in any beginning we fight for, we are our own mirrors, we are left with ourselves to give as love. We can give back only what we have, and accept what we believe we deserve. Be who you need.
I did not reach out to you, and call you friend, so that you could fix me. I reached out because you are broken too. You know me without words or explanations. I showed you my darkness, and you did not judge me. I showed you what I was afraid of and you did not use it to hurt me. Broken things seek out broken things, because that is where they know they are safe….. and if we lean against each other, your tangled soul and mine, we are stronger than those who have never fought the wind at all.
One time I totally shit in my pants heading back from IKEA. Traffic was at a stand still and I MacGyvered a plastic bag under me and then SHIT…IN…MY…PANTS. When I got home I threw away the jeans and undies I was wearing and then called a friend. It was one of those moments I knew my friend Ana would laugh so hard she may pee in her pants, since she has done this before as well.
One year I went up to a club with my friend Lisa and we asked who was hosting the private party inside. We heard the name “Stom” and assuming it was a last name, she was Lisa Stom and I was Elaine Stom. They let us in laughing and confused. Later that night we noticed everyone were amazing dancers, and I was dancing with one of the guys with a broom thinking I was pretty amazing myself. In the bathroom someone told me it was “Stomps” party…you know the dance group…STOMP? So I told Lisa Stomp what had happened.
One day my grandma passed away who was like my best friend, and my friend Jeff took a cab over at 3 in the morning to help me put my pictures together for the funeral.
And one summer I broke my leg and foot pregnant with my second son and my friend Amy bought me a present to open everytime I felt sad. She did this for me. Then my friend Lisa flew to see me and did a belly cast for me whie I was 35 weeks pregnant in 2 real casts. Wow, that is the definition of love. I wanted a damn belly cast instead of the other 2 and she was going to help me. The bad and the worst and the good happen.
But what makes it funnier, easier and more bearable is a friend.
how things sometimes go; a friend down the road loses her mama. i begin stock for soup i plan to bring them. poop hits fan in my extended family, and the stock hits the road with me, turns to quite a nice chicken rice soup with lots of dill, and feeds my own heartbroken loved ones. grieving friend, who i have not brought soup or love to yet, calls the day i am home and unable to leave my jammies, and wants to bring some of the flowers that folks have brought in respect for her mama, as they are going out of town for spring break, and she can’t stand the thought of them dying alone in her house. i am embarrassed to accept flowers from a woman who has just lost her mother but do, because of course. and they remind me that beauty stays and beauty wins.
also i scratch “america” on my favorite simon and garfunkle album because of playing it 37 times in a row and feel so sad, but then discover the loveliest poster hidden inside the album cover all this time. also the boys ruined the new greek slippers i loved so much by noticing the poofs look a lot like spider man. so now they are spider man slippers and that is not nearly as fun.
all this to say that i looked down on my coffee table and saw these slices of life…how we should love something carefully or we might scratch it up, but also there are surprises found even in disappointment. how things grow and gift us and leave just the same. that things as magnificent as owls leave behind treasures if you’re looking. that something that is quaint and quirky to you can be basic and expected to someone else, and you gotta just keep doing your thing. oh, and we’re never even. intentions meant for someone might very well actually be meant for some one else. so maybe don’t keep so much score, and say thank you, and mean it. take grace as it comes, you know?
I was lying in my bed, heart pounding faster than I have felt it before and at the same time I felt it had stopped. I had just been in to see my baby. Only I couldn’t see him. All I saw was a mess of tubes and wires. Maybe there was a baby under there , but was it mine? I couldn’t see his face, and I couldn’t look away from the forehead IV.
I was still paralyzed from the spinal and bedridden when they wheeled me in. I wanted to tell them, “I can’t see, please move me closer”, but out of place and insecure I said nothing. Suddenly overwhelmed looking at him, the words stuck in my throat and stole my breath, “I don’t want this, get me out, I can’t be his mom” but all I whispered was, “I see him, can we go now?”
She messaged just as the nurse got me back to my room – “Katrina he is beautiful. And he is so lucky to have you for his mom.”
“There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger, and live just a little bit better.” Unknown Author
As my kids hit double digits, and are now beyond, it seems like this life is a never-ending list of things to do—church, school, sports. There is madness in our days. Time spent with friends is a remedy to that. It slows life down, even if only for a moment. The laughter, exploring, closeness, and connection—all fill the space in our hearts left unfilled during the chaos of our days. And even when those moments pass and we go back to the craziness, gratitude and love remain.
i don’t fit in here
people talk weird
the boy sitting in front of me has a rat tail
our soundtrack on mixed tapes
maybe it won’t be so bad
roller skating on friday nights
H.A.G.S. and K.I.T
the days move too fast
until we say goodbye
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
―Bob MarleyThe friendships that have been cultivated in my life are my life vest. I am forever grateful.
Our children break down walls. Walls that I have built since I could remember, since I was but a small child. Friendship to be honest makes me feel naked… vulnerable. I am a bit introverted in nature and the need for companionship exists, it does… but the need to have a wide circle of connections-for me anyway, does not. So, having six children and this grand family, I really find that the need for relationships outside of my family isn’t as important in some ways. I know this might not be “normal.” I am not “normal.” I don’t even know that I wish to be “normal.” Sometimes though, this does create guilt. It creates a sense of longing or that I am lacking. It makes me hopeful that my children grow up to crave the connections I don’t. The kind of connections that can not come easily to me.
The hardest part of friendship AND parenting however is we lead by example. They are always watching- and being the lone wolf might seem normal to them now, but I wonder how they will perceive this all when they are older. Will they see their mother as this lonely creature? Will they wish for giant parties with guests upon guests? Will they need constant contact or crave the touch and hospitality of others just as much as I don’t? Will they wish their mother was more fluent in small talk and went to the PTO meetings and bunco nights like their friend’s Moms did? I can’t answer any of this, and that does scare me. I express myself with words and find myself more comfortable in the world of social media than I do in my children’s classrooms and at their friend’s birthday parties. And part of me longs for that one flesh and blood, diehard, part of your tribe and down for your cause kind of girlfriend. I might even disassemble that wall for the right person. But for now… for as long as I can think of, my children will have a mother that loves them and their father so fiercely she just doesn’t have the space in her heart for much else.
“She is a friend of my mind…The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.
— Toni Morrison
I can still see her walking along the periphery of the playground, deep in thought, while the rest of the children played in the middle. I should have realized back then that it could be autism. She could walk and run and had a great vocabulary. She just didn’t seem to want or need interaction with other children – she was only content by herself. I asked the therapist who had already helped her reach so many other milestones, “How do you teach desire? How can we teach her to want friends? Surely there must be a way to do this.”
The answer came in the form of a younger sister, who was patient and intuitive and kind. As soon as she was old enough to recognize that her sister had a special interest in forest animals, she used it to try to make a connection. I can still remember standing perfectly still in the hallway, crying, the first time it worked – as if my standing there, not moving, would keep it all from coming undone.
It wasn’t long before these girls had formed an imaginary world they created together – a world that was safe because it was filled with squirrels and hamsters and rabbits instead of princesses and dolls. They practiced sharing and make-believe. They sang chipmunk songs. They made each other laugh. They loved. This is how the walls came down and together – magically – two sisters formed a friendship.
Then it came. That gentle realignment onto the path back to myself. It started with a dinner. I hadn’t seen my friend since before the birth of my daughter and our lives are worlds apart…still, it didn’t matter. Those shared and formative experiences from a lifetime ago will always connect us. I was at once at home and at peace; sharing my new life with an old friend and seeing each other as we are. With this visit I started to see my way. I was still so lost, but I remembered what it felt like to be whole. Then came another friend, one whose struggles mirror my own, one to whom I could not veil my state of mind. Finding that camaraderie and compassion was my way back. With these simple interactions of deep friendships I felt renewed. Not quite a full return to self, but on my way…like a warm spring thunderstorm, washing away the grime of winter to make way for a bright new season.
We raised our babies side by side. We laughed together at the indignities of parenting. We muddled through playgroups and preschool and tag-teamed the toddler birthday parties. I poured my life out to you in candid detail, because it was so refreshing to be heard. You restored a sense of self in me, that motherhood had hidden.
Then, two years ago, my life imploded. It was all too much. For you, for our small town, for me. It broke me wide open. I had people to lean on- Thank God- people for whom I will forever be grateful. I had expected that I could lean on you. Instead you retreated into the crowd. I don’t know you anymore. Like so many people, you still assume that you know me.
My children stopped asking about you a long time ago. It’s so jarring to me that we meant so much to each other and now we’re nothing more than photos of our shared memories on a shelf in my garage. Those photos are the only evidence that we ever had a friendship. I’m not even sure I believe that we did. I’ve had to reevaluate my definition.
I see you sometimes in passing and each time, we act as strangers. Your children have grown long and lost their rounded cheeks and I ache for the days when I loved them like niece and nephew. I wonder if you think about my girls. My daughters have grown into beautiful little humans, and I pray that they will find true friendship. I pray that they will never have the pain of reaching out in a time of need, only to have their hands slapped away.
I’m nearing my thirty-fifth year on this earth, and I am still learning. I work daily at not becoming too hard and guarded. I’m trying for gratitude. Bitterness sometimes seeps in. It’s so scary to hold myself and all my cracks up for people to examine, but it’s that or withdraw because I don’t know how to be anything other than real. Deep down, I still believe in honest connection, even though I know I stand a good chance of losing it.
I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.