I have been pondering the reasons why
I don’t have very many “regular” close friends.
When I say “close friends”, I do not mean family, or people whom I have known for years,
that I consider friends. They are always there, even when I do not see them.
The friendships I mean are sometimes fleeting, and rarely life-long:
People you meet, from outside your family circle… people who are different from you,
but who are your “soul mates” in many other ways.
Neither a perspective mate, nor romantically tied to you…you just want to spend time
with them, as often as possible. Maybe even be like them, learn from them.
My first memory of such a friend was of Mrs. Stolfis, a middle-aged woman who was our neighbor.
I was 3 or 4 years old, with no playmates. She was right across the way, and always
gave me treats, would listen to me chatter, and look on as I played with my toys.
She would speak to me in an interesting accent (Spanish, maybe Greek?).
My parents would tease me, call me “little old lady”, but let me hang out with her anyway.
My next attempt at friendship was when I was about 7 or 8 years old.
We lived in upstate NY, in a wooded area, on an old farm next to a well-to-do,
suburban Jewish family. Their daughter was named Pam, freckle-faced, dark curly hair.
She was older than I, a preteen princess, with an annoying little brother.
She had a pretty room, nice clothes, stereo, color TV, and an endless supply of treats,
like the sugared cereals I was not allowed to eat at home.
Her parents didn’t like my family, thought we were hippie trash. She didn’t care,
would sneak me in to watch cartoons, or the Brady Bunch. She was Marsha, I was Jan.
We would play dress-up, put Legg’s eggs in our shirts, pretend to have boobs.
We got lost in the woods behind my house once, because I insisted she come and see
an old stone wall where I’d seen fairies and elves. We ended up 3 miles from our homes,
behind a lake. Sweaty and freaked out, we flagged down a couple in a rowboat, who took us
across to the rec area, and a public phone.
We called our parents… hers came and whisked her away,
my mom almost 30 minutes later, surprised that she hadn’t noticed I was missing.
Pam’s parents said I wasn’t allowed to play with her ever again. But I showed up one day,
and was knocked down by her new Great Dane, who was actually a puppy, a big one.
My head hit the hard, carved surface of her front door.
She stanched the blood, put me up on pillows in her living room, in front of the TV.
When her parents came home, I was escorted out the door.
Last I recall was a stairwell phone call the day we moved out of our farm-house,
onto a bus that would take my family far away. She didn’t seem too upset…
she was almost 13, after all.
On arrival in Arizona, I was slow to make new friends.
My brothers and I would play “Cowboys and Indians” with the neighborhood kids,
but they could turn cruel at any moment, smashing our toys or hurling insults.
We were “gringos”, I was called “La Wila”.
I met a Mexican girl, I think her name was Rosemary. She was about 11, I was almost 10.
She was nice to me, when almost no Spanish-speaking kids were. She would protect me,
and invite me over to her house to play.
One time, I was in her room, and she asked me to go to the freezer and get some
Popsicles. I did as she asked, opening the refrigerator in her dimly lit kitchen.
I encountered the frozen head of a goat, or maybe it was a a pig…I was so freaked out,
I don’t recall anything but running all the way home, crying.
Needless to say, we no longer hung out.
I fell in love with a girl named Penny.
I was 11 years old, she was 12, almost 13. She looked like a grown-up to me:
Tall, lean, very fair, pretty green eyes, long, straight, honey-wheat hair.
We had moved out to the highway, near the reservation. While my brothers built dusty hide-outs
in desert washes, I was looking for new playmates who liked the things older girls did…
like listening to Queen, or Peter Frampton, wearing fingernail polish, hanging posters of teen idols
on their bedroom walls.
She would hang out with me, combing her long hair, sharing stories about boys,
letting me try on some of her pretty clothes. She came to our house,
only once. I was a little worried she would think our place was strange:
It was the only house in a largely mobile home neighborhood.
We had “eclectic” photos and art hanging on our walls, and my parents listened to
Moody Blues, Melanie, and Pink Floyd all day. She had told me she thought my folks were cool.
She must have said something to her parents about her visit, because the next day,
when I knocked on her door, looking up into her clear green eyes, she said:
“I can’t hang out with you anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because my mom says you are a peaz-ant.”
And with that, she shut the door.
My parents’ take on this, as I tearfully recounted the loss of yet another friend,
was that they were the “peaz-ants”. The word is “peasants”, thank you very much.
And so I kept trying….
There were many others. The tough girl Lisa, who I hung out with in junior high,
who called me “short-cake”, was bigger and older-looking than all of us,
and would flash her massive boobs behind the gym to any boy who asked.
She would protect me from bullies… I would try to be her conscience.
There was Cherie, my neighborhood friend, with ginger-hair, Wrangler jeans,
and cowgirl ways. She had a poster of Woodstock on her wall, listened to rock, pop and
country music. She made me try chewing tobacco one day, but didn’t tell me not to swallow it.
As I gagged in horror, she laughed at me. Our friendship fizzled away.
There was Tammy, whom I spent most of my mid-teens with. Sleepovers in her trailer,
which was resplendent with modern, mid-western comforts, junk food, 45 records we listened to
non-stop (oldies all the way up to The Go-Gos). She taught me about how to apply
make-up, and what kind of maxi-pads to wear. She also introduced me to shoplifting.
When I finally got caught, I didn’t “narc” on her, so she went home, and I did community service.
Our friendship slowly slid away after graduation, when she married young.
There was Judi, the first friend I met who was a Virgo like me, who was an artist too (we met in art class).
She listened to AC/DC with me, taught me to smoke menthols, and how to drive
(since I scared the shit out of my parents).
She was very good at meeting boys…pretty, petite, even with her huge glasses on.
She tried to hook me up, but I was pretty dismal at the dating scene.
She became pregnant, left school just shy of graduation, and moved to Phoenix,
where I spent 2 weeks with her and her room-mate in the sweltering heat.
They were gone most of the time at work. I went back home.
Later, in Junior College…
I gained a room-mate, who later became my closest friend of young adulthood.
Angie… my wild, hard-rockin’, swearin’, drinkin’, best buddy.
She was a single mom, balancing college with an assistant-manager job, and a raucous nightlife.
She taught me to not give an F, to party until the break of dawn, and still show up at
school and work, ready to go. She was my reluctant friend at first…I was too much
a hippie kid, she was a few years older and much more street-wise.
We had fall-down fights, we tripped together, we mourned and got over boyfriends together.
We moved about three times, and finally called it quits when she transferred to Flagstaff.
She was going to university up there, and I was considering following, when she got pregnant,
and married a lumberjack. She did not have time for college life, and I didn’t end up moving
to Flagstaff. She moved on, but we still keep in touch via Facebook, and see each other
maybe once every five years.
Adult friendships sometimes linger, long before we realize they are over.
There was Jen, my hippie soul-mate friend, who was my employee when I managed a gift
and smoke shop, back in the early 90’s. She was my long-time friend, even when she
herself had children, moved to Flagstaff, came back to Tucson, went away, etc., for years.
We eventually found each other again, and spent some good times together.
I designed tattoos for her, and she watched my little girl when I went to a concert in
Phoenix, since it was almost a year since I’d lost my boyfriend. I hadn’t been out of the house
for many months, and she encouraged my freedom and independence as a new single mom.
Over the years, she reinvented herself, over and over, while I stayed pretty much the same.
I became a teacher, while she traveled the world, met famous musicians and artists,
volunteered in Jamaica and in Peru, delved into photo-journalism and activism.
She went back to college, became a special counselor of psychiatry.
She had introduced me to yoga years before, and was now also a yoga teacher.
We didn’t hang out so much anymore. Her boys grew up and left home, while
I raised my only child to her teen years. Gradually, our friendship grew apart.
She still lives up the street. We stop and chat sometimes when out walking our dogs.
So why all of the fleeting friendships?
Why have I not found that one confidant, a female soul-mate, the person I can be
myself with, while I accept them for being who they are?
That decades-long type of friend, who I can still call up, meet any time,
drink coffee or dance with? The one who has been through the tough times and the good times
with me, and I with her?
If my history of friendships shows anything telling, it is that I am lousy at cultivating
and keeping friends. I can accept the changes, but I end up fading into the background.
Sometimes I feel that my value as a friend has been taken for granted…but maybe, perhaps,
I didn’t fight very hard to keep it going either.
Before I was a friend, I was a loner…and have been a loner longer than
the sum-total of any of my friendships, throughout my lifetime.
Perhaps fleeting friendships are my destiny.
Maybe some part of me expects them to be.
Author, age 11. Photo by J. Douglas Noyce.