My friend and I are sitting on the couch, wrapped in warm, cozy blankets. It’s fall, you know, and the air is cool and damp, and the breeze outside has an icy bite. In my house, the heater is running and I have a cup of hot tea in hand, but the chill has moved to the inside, and these blankets, well, they just aren’t cutting it tonight.
My friend appears to be toasty and snug; she is comfortable, I hope, and I am glad that she has nodded off to sleep. I can hear her breathing, slowly, steadily. I can see the rise and fall of her chest, and it brings me a fleeting sense of peace. The rhythm is even, measured, and the sounds are soft, like waves washing over the sand. My friend is sick, and I am hoping that we can savor the moments of a peaceful evening together. I am praying that it was not selfish to ask her to stay with us just one more night.
When I reflect on who I was thirteen years ago, when we first met, I’m surprised that she has stuck with me this long. I mean, thirteen years. We have both changed so much in that time. For one thing, we have aged. Wow, have we aged. And we’ve gained wisdom, too. She became a master of getting what she wanted when no one was looking, and I learned a lot about friendship from her.
In thirteen years, we have celebrated many milestones together. I remember when I was pregnant with my first baby boy; she watched me model maternity clothes in my bedroom and helped me decide what to keep. She never had children herself, but she seemed fascinated by my growing belly and the baby clothes everywhere and the mural being painted on the nursery walls.
When I brought that sweet baby home from the hospital, she was waiting for me at the door. She shared in my joy. She always wanted me to be happy. She snuggled with my baby and even napped with him once in a while. I felt safe when she was with him. I knew she would protect him from harm. I knew she would protect us all.
A couple of years later, she greeted me again after my second son was born. She loved to watch that baby squirm and squeal. She loved to share snacks with him, and he enjoyed that, too. It was a little conspiracy that they shared, breaking mom’s rules; I remember that it made my son erupt in giggles, the kind of giggles that pull the laughter right up from your own belly, too.
As the boys got older, they would sometimes be mischievous. She kept a close eye on them and would always let me know when trouble loomed. Sometimes, when they played outside, she would stand at the window and watch. She worried about them more than I did. She was petite and pretty, and she appeared harmless to strangers, but her temper was explosive. It wouldn’t have been wise to challenge her. I’m glad that no one ever did.
When I became a mother, my time was more limited, naturally. Some of my friends just couldn’t handle that, but she understood. She compensated by spending more time with all of us. She started mothering my kids, too, teaching them compassion and responsibility. Looking back, I know that I neglected her at times, but she forgave me. She never held a grudge. Her heart was much more generous than mine.
I have many special memories with her, but they are lovely, simple moments. She never vacationed with us or ate at restaurants, although I’m sure she would have enjoyed a well-cooked steak. Instead, she loved spending time with my kids and my nephews. She took pleasure in being outdoors and running with friends. She enjoyed hosting parties with me; she wanted to welcome everyone at the door. I think she seemed most content when we just curled up with the family to watch t.v. Looking back, she was happy most of the time, much more than most of the people I know. And she never made me feel like I was competing with anyone. My messy hair and comfy sweats were perfectly acceptable to her. In fact, she would tip her head and look at me with a quizzical expression if I decided to dress up for a change.
I remember taking long walks with her, but not as often as she would have liked. We both needed the escape of getting out of the house, away from the chaos. We could be silent together. We could soak up the fresh air and the beauty of the outdoors without even saying a word. She reminded me that friendships don’t have to be noisy.
Sometimes, though, I needed to talk. A few times I needed to grieve. Many times I needed to vent. Whatever the reason, she listened. She heard me. She got me.
And she never, ever told my secrets.
I tried to fill her needs, but I was also the one who created all of the rules in our relationship. I was the one with the limits and the expectations. Her love was always without boundaries. Sure, she appreciated a kind gesture here and there, but she was content with an ordinary routine and a simple pat on the back. She didn’t ask for much. She didn’t need a thank you note. She didn’t want the best brand of anything. She was satisfied with enough. I think that I could learn from her in that regard.
I always knew that she loved me even though she wasn’t one to express herself in words. I knew that she loved me because she always wanted to be where I was. That’s how you show love, you know. You show up for people. You know you truly love someone when you just want to be where they are.
So tonight, I am taking a little time out of my busy life to be where she is, here on the couch, swaddled in a blanket. I gently stroke her back, and I can feel the bones that were once concealed by fat and fluff. Most friends don’t realize when they are spending their last night together, but we both know. In the morning, I will hold her in my arms until her breathing stops and her pain evaporates like mist.
It’s chilly here this evening, but I hear the furnace running and my mug of tea feels hot against my hand. I’m wrapped up in a blanket, snuggling closely with my friend, but the warmth just won’t take hold. I understand it.
It’s hard to warm a chill that’s on the inside.
It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend.