Endings

A long time ago I had a friend, and last weekend she died.

I met her in college. She was beautiful, smart, confident, outgoing. Popular. She and I were in a lot of the same classes – we were both studying math, although she was also taking EE classes at MIT. She was witty and perceptive, and more than happy to include me in invitations and activities. Some of her friends became my friends. She taught me to play bridge, which became an extraordinary time waster throughout my college years and after.

She tried to teach me to drink. I had always known I wasn’t much of a drinker, but she confirmed it. I remember one time telling her I was very drunk, and she held up a matchbook to my face.

“Can you read that?”

I could.

“Then you’re not drunk.”

I was pretty sure she was wrong about that; but different people have different tolerances. I tried, but there was no keeping up. One night I tried too hard and ended up unconscious in a public bathroom. (The bar’s only women’s bathroom. I was not popular.) She stayed on my couch overnight that night, and made sure I was okay in the morning. She could be incredibly solicitous and kind, with her time as well as her heart.

Our falling-out was both stupid and inevitable. We were both emotionally needy people, and neither of us really knew how to talk about that. She disappeared from my life overnight. I tried. I am sure she felt she tried. Seven months later letters were exchanged, and it became clear that the situation was irresolvable. I was not gracious about it. I am not, about such things. I’m sorry for that, even though I came to understand, over time, that our friendship would have ended at some point. That one argument was symbolic of larger differences.

Over the years I came to forgive her. Did she need my forgiveness? I’m guessing she didn’t think so. But forgiveness is never for other people. I loved her very much. She was, for a time, the closest friend I had. She had such light inside of her, and she shared it with me for a while.

She used to tell me I had to put her in my book. That’s always a funny thing to hear, because I put everyone in my book. Nobody is a single character, but everyone I have brushed against in my life becomes character.

She is in Jessica, smart and quick and impolitic. She is in Ted, caring and loyal and living fiercely in the moment. She is even in Greg, who has never really felt worthy of anything he has been given.

So there you are, dear. You are in my book.

Last month my husband lost an old friend. In and out of rehab, insisting brutally to the people closest to him that he wanted to be left alone. In the end, that’s what happened. My friend, in contrast, was not left alone. She was in a place she had long loved, and with friends. She lay down for a nap and did not wake up.

The cause isn’t known…but there are parallels to my husband’s friend, and it’s impossible not to wonder. She was fifty. My age. Healthy fifty-year-olds do not simply not wake up.

Or maybe we need for there to be a cause, because that way it somehow makes sense. When it comes right down to it, though, having it make sense changes nothing. The why doesn’t matter. At this point, it’s what we remember that matters.

She was a gift to me, and she will always be in my book. All of her. And she won’t end, not for me. And it’s not enough.

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A Misconception

There is a pretty massive, long-standing cultural myth, which goes something like this: Any woman can get as many men as she wants at any point in time, therefore women are the ones gatekeeping/regulating the sexual activity of (heterosexual) men.

This is patent, demonstrable bullshit, and I am a case in point.

Despite the fact that I was called ugly in high school (once to my face by a boy who was supposed to be a friend), I’m not especially ugly. I’m not going to be making my debut on the silver screen anytime soon; but I don’t break mirrors even now, and I didn’t when I was younger.

Liz at 25

Liz at 25: Excitingly Average

Some things that I was are: socially awkward, self-conscious, and rather odd. I was a nice enough kid (I think I still am, really); and boys loved to talk to me. Usually to complain about their girlfriends. I was friendzoned to the extreme. As a result, I had some really marvelous friends who happened to be boys…and yes, I did in fact sometimes develop an interest in them. Which never went anywhere, because, as I mentioned above, they just didn’t look at me that way.

I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter why. Was I jealous of some of my other friends, who seemed to have no trouble finding people to date? Yes. Did I sometimes resent boys in general for not recognizing that I was a potential partner? Of course.

Did I hoot, holler, abuse, fantasize about violence, or otherwise act out because I was alone? Of course I didn’t. Because despite my loneliness, I was never a psychotic asshole. I recognized what I was going through as part of the human condition. Not everybody becomes Miss America when you take her glasses off and do her hair.

What I’ve observed is this: There is a subset of people – male, female, and all gradations in between – who just don’t have trouble finding partners. They’re not necessarily especially beautiful, but there is something about them that makes them appeal to a wide variety of other humans.

The vast majority of us, though, exist in the Excitingly Average category. We do find partners, we do fall in love, we do pair off and have children; but in general we spend large chunks of our young lives completely devoid of romance.

And that’s okay.

The problem arises when we start to believe that the world owes us more than that – that the people who are blithely not attracted to us owe us more than that. And you know what? Nobody owes us a damn thing. Attraction isn’t something you can just switch on. It’s not a conscious decision. If someone isn’t attracted to you, are you doing anything wrong? No, you’re not – and neither are they. They owe you nothing. The universe owes you nothing.

The weirdest part about this women-have-it-all myth is that there’s a huge media segment that is very clear it’s bullshit: women’s magazines. They depend on women feeling ugly and alone, looking for a quick fix to become the incredibly irresistible person that they would of course become if only they weren’t doing God-only-knows-what wrong. They produce these magazines because they have a market, and that market is the huge number of women who have bought into the myth that “normal” women can, in fact, get as many men as they want at any point in time.

Which just goes to show: If an absurd cultural myth is persisting, you know there’s money behind it.