Making friends is a thing I used to be really good at. I mean, really good. I was unafraid to walk up to total strangers and ask if they wanted to be my friend. I would dig a little until I discovered one or two things we had in common. Sometimes, to be honest, I just pretended to be into something they were into, even if I wasn\’t so I could be their friend. Sports of any kind come to mind. The point was to make a new friend and worry about the details later. I genuinely liked people. I still do.
As a child, I attracted a lot of sad, misfit-type people. I think my natural openness to be literally everyone\’s friend radiated out and drew folks needing exactly that: a friend. In elementary school, I vividly recall befriending a girl called Cathy who wore an enormous blue coat. She would put that thing on, pull the hood up over her head (hiding it completely) and scrunch down against the back wall of the school every single recess. I saw her there daily on my rounds of the playground. I would walk by slowly, trying to scope out exactly what was going on with her. If you spoke to her, she would either stay silent or emit a weird little squeak of greeting from inside her massive coat. Other kids would run by her, jumping over her feet and essentially treating her like an extension of the building, like a pillar or a fountain without any water in it. She waited until everyone else lined up when the bell rang, so she didn\’t have to talk to anybody.
I was concerned. Clearly, she needed my expert intervention. I would stroll past her, say hello, wait for the squeak and then go about my business on the playground. Days went by and I got nothing more from her than that one quiet sound. One day I sat down next to her, my back against the building, arms holding my knees close to my body, just like hers. I cannot, this many years later, remember at all what I said to her to introduce the idea of becoming friends. I do remember when she finally took her hood down and looked at me in wonderment. I was not one to give up, so she probably ignored me for a long time before she surrendered to my barrage of words and questions. Sometimes you have to talk to yourself for a long time to convince someone else to talk to you.
After that first one sided conversation, we would play together by running out on the playground or onto the green field shrieking. Have some compassion, it was 1972. She set the tone and as soon as her capacity for other people had reached its limit, we would run double time back to the relative safety of the side of the building. She would huddle under her coat, breathing hard and laughing a little bit. It was weird, but companionable too. I considered it a victory.
If you are getting the idea that I was a bossy, kind of obnoxious kid, you would be right. I marshaled the forces of humanity in pretty much every space I encountered. I asked people personal questions and told them way too much information about myself and my life. A lot of it was not strictly true but I wanted to appear much more interesting than I actually was so the lying part seemed necessary. That probably helped make friends with the more unlikely people in my orbit, the lying part. I did not find it at odds with my personal moral code. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do, right? I was only elaborating, after all.
In this time, I have found it harder to make friends. With deconstruction, the natural fertile field of church has disappeared. I am un-moored, not sure how to make my way to other people who might be in the market for a friend. I no longer fancy myself to be anybody\’s savior; it is more like I am wanting others to walk alongside in the dusty road of doubt and uncertainty. Someone to stop and get coffee with and complain about all the things I have to do and how I have no time to write. So they can scold me and push me back to writing. Someone to be the person who sits against the wall with me and waits for me to take off my hood and smile.