“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
Last night I dreamed I was alone and couldn’t find anyone to talk to. It’s common for me to have unpleasant dreams that don’t reach the “nightmare” threshold, but nonetheless leave me sad. I decided instead moping through my day, I would call my best — only — close friend. I needed commiseration. I needed a laugh. I knew we would make each other feel better.
I used the cell phone so I wouldn’t have to look up her number. I used to commit all the important phone numbers in my life to memory, but since cell phones and telephones with built-in contact lists, I don’t know anything by heart. I let the phone remember it for me.
It was only 10 in the morning, so she hadn’t gotten out of bed yet. It was almost like a real visit.
“Nobody but you likes me,” I said. You’re my only friend. I tried to make a new friend. She dumped me because she said we were too different to be friends. The worst of it was that she was right. I never said it, but whenever we tried to talk, I wanted to whack her over the head. She said the dumbest things. It’s possible I’m unfit for relationships. .”
“I don’t have any other real friends either,” she said. “I know a lot of people, but they all want something. You’re my friend.”
“I read books about people with demonic powers,” I commented. If it had been anyone else, the change of subject might have derailed the conversation, but she followed right along. “It’s good I don’t have any. I’d get annoyed and start killing everyone who annoys me. These days, that’s almost everyone except you.”
She laughed. “How come there are so many stupid people around? There must be millions of mothers trying to figure out how they produced such dumb kids.”
I realized that I have lost both the willingness to be mindlessly pleasant plus my ability to conduct such conversations. Is it that because I’m older and crankier? Because I don’t care if I please people? Back in those younger years, I wanted everyone to like me. I needed approval. Now I don’t expect everyone to like me and I don’t need approval. I’m pretty good at approving or disapproving myself.
Now, after five minutes with a fake smile on my face, I feel a migraine coming on. Soon, the only people on earth who will speak to me will be my husband, my immediate family, and my friend and those really irritating people who call to sell subscriptions I don’t want. Oh, right, that’s the way it already is.
Is this how it is for everyone as we get on in years? I’ve started to avoid people because they ask things like “How are you?” but don’t want an answer. Not a real answer. They want me to say “I’m fine.” So I say “I’m fine” and accompany it with a big smile to forestall further probing.
Heaven forbid I offer a real answer. They will then tell me not to worry, God will take care of me, or worse yet, “You’re strong, you’ll be fine.”
I cannot tell you how much it annoys me when people hand me these lines. I’m sure that God will take care of me, but He isn’t going to pay my bills. The Lord works in many ways, mysterious and otherwise, but he leaves the day-to-day details to us. To me.
And as for “You’re strong, you’ll be fine.” I remember when we were on the verge of losing the house. I can’t say how many times I heard those lines. It’s a code that means “It’s your problem, not mine.” The people who say it always say it with a warm and phony smile. While I was wondering if we would end up living in our car; I got a lot of ”You’ll be fine.” It was a cheap way out. Fewer than a handful of people asked “What can I do to help?”
In the end, I was fine. Hard times show you who your friends are. And aren’t. Life has a way of sorting things out.
We get older and become ourselves. We drop our happy faces. We want to be with people who accept us for what we value in ourselves, things inevitably different than what society says they should be.
Society sets a high value on things. Pretty things. Expensive things. Success is gauged by the price of cars or the elegance of homes. My car isn’t expensive; my house is nothing special, though I like it well enough. What I like about me is that I am utterly loyal, devoted to friends and family, reasonably smart and have a moral compass that never fails unless I refuse to heed it.
The gap between societal values and my values is huge. I don’t think I can bridge it. I can’t pretend to like people. I want from my friends the same things that I offer … including a sense of humor and the ability to talk in complete sentences.
I’m asking for too much. Most people are apparently content with polite chit-chat. Having experienced real friendship, I can’t accept less.
C. and I have been friends for more than 40 years. Through bad times, good times, painful divorces, remarriage, moves and life changes. We’ve wept and celebrated and always made each other smile. Up and down, riding the hills and valleys of life, we’ve hung together. We’ve nursed each other through illness and loss.
When life is bleak and we wonder how we can go on, we make each other laugh and the world’s a brighter place. We plan to hang together for at least couple more decades. We still have a lot of laughing to do.
A Time to Talk
by Robert Frost
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, ‘What is it?’
No, not as there is a time talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
- 5 Things Fake People Do (thoughtcatalog.com)