How to Be...A Friend.

I got together with a friend from high school a month ago.  Someone I haven’t seen in about seven years but who had been one of my best friends.  At the end of a pleasant evening of catching up I found myself apologizing to her.  About six years ago when she was getting married, she’d asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding and I told her “no.”  Not because I didn’t love her.  Not because I didn’t like her fiancee.  I told her “no” because I was, at 23 still a single girl feeling mighty unlucky in love and supremely jealous that everyone but me was in a relationship or engaged.  I told her no because this would be the fourth wedding I’d been a part of in a year and frankly I was sick and tired of being the bridesmaid/reader/maid of honor and not the bride.  I was selfish and narcissistic and it’s embarrassing as hell to admit to that I behaved like that.   So I said no,  but came to the wedding, leaving before the reception because I had a show or rehearsal or something not nearly as important as a crucial day in a friend’s life, and then to top it all off--leaft a truly crappy and un-feeling gift.   And this, of course, really hurt my friend.  I can’t take back what I did--I can’t re-do it or alter my behavior and the apologies I was desperate to offer fell short when I saw the look on her face as she explained how heartbreaking it had been. Unfortunately, I can think of a lot of other times in my life that I’ve been a shitty friend.  I’ve damaged friendships.  I’ve lost people that have been important to me through negligence and selfishness and I’ve let my life and problems trump relationships. That’s become very clear this past year.  There have been times I’ve had the wherewithal to recognize how poorly I’d behaved and attempt to make things right.  Sometimes it’s worked.  Other times, not.  Always though, I regret having hurt people that I’ve cared for and have cared for me.  But I suppose the point isn’t necessarily to go back and right all the wrongs that can’t be fixed thanks to time, but to buckle down and fly right in the future.

Through all of this, miraculously, beautifully I’ve had a group of friends that have stood by me, (even if at a distance for self-preservation) despite my not always reciprocal friendship.  And if it’s true that leading by example is the best way for people to learn, then I have had a freaking awesome group of teachers.  Particularly in the past year--a year that proved the most difficult and the most growth-inducing of my life.

There’s the friend who was the Will to my Grace.  Who found himself pushed to the side when I started dating the guy I’d eventually marry.  Who vocalized over and over his concerns that this was moving too fast, that something wasn’t quite right, that he was worried about me.  Who I shoved to the side because he refused to tell me what I longed to hear.  But you know what?  After a strained six years of “friendship” he was there when I called to tell him my marriage was in trouble.  He sat across from me at the Mexican restaurant drinking tequila and eating chips with me and listening as I cried about everything that had happened.  And he was one of the few people who passed very little judgement on my husband, focusing instead on lifting me back up and offering friendship and forgiveness over all that had happened.

There’s my high school friend who moved cross country after sophomore year.  Whose friendship has been long distance for over ten years.  But who I can count on for a call on my birthday, on holidays and when too much time has passed and it’s time for a two hour catch up call.  Who I have a pick-up-where-we-left-off type relationship where we end the phone call sending love back and forth not only to each other but to each other’s families.

Then there’s the girl that huddled with me in a corner cubicle of the CLIMB Theatre offices as I toiled over whether or not to quit my very first job out of college.   Who I didn’t know from Adam but who trouble-shot my problems and made me laugh until my stomach hurt.  Who a couple of years later showed up at my door knocking repeatedly and shouting “I know you’re in there!” when I was in a deep, depressive funk and not interacting with the outside world.  Who has proven repeatedly to be there in the most literal sense possible---who understands and lives the definition of friend.

And most recently there’s the friend who took time off work to help me move my entire life to the East Coast.  Who agreed to an eighteen hour road trip in a jam packed 12 foot rental truck with two needy cats and emotional ol’ me.  Who did so with enthusiasm, sensitivity and an amazing sense of adventure and sense of humor.  Who navigated brilliantly and kept me calm even when driving over narrow Pennsylvania bridges in pitch black night.  Who calmed both my cats and me when we squawked.  Who asked the front desk person at the hotel if we could just get ten minutes in the hot tub after twelve hours of driving even though the pool had long since closed.  Who marched right up to a group of drunk construction workers in search of a swiss army knife to open our desperately needed bottle of wine.  Who spent the evening we arrived after a wicked long driving trip unpacking my entire kitchen and helping me organize my new life here.  Who did a daily “emotion” check in and offered support, encouragement and love as I made the transition.  Who battled a wicked sinus infection for the entire trip and really only got two good vacation days before she had to turn around and fly home.  If that’s not a flippin’ friend-I don’t know what is.

And don’t get me wrong--this is just scraping the surface.  I’m a damn lucky girl with all the amazing people I have surrounding me.  There’s the super couple who have held my hand the last six months as I made the leap to NYC.  Who showed up with flowers and pizza and beer and welcoming arms the night I moved here.  Who’ve made what can be a super difficult transition easier and exciting and filled with love.   There’s the couple that are headed this way in the fall.  Brilliant, inspiring artists and salt of the earth people with two of the biggest hearts on the planet.  Who leave me voicemails that I save forever because they are so filled with love, affirmation and high-pitched squeals--how could I not? There’s the friend I met as a nanny who got me through one of the worst losses of my life and has stayed by my side even though I’m lousy about calling her back and can never go to her tap shows.  There’s a person that I wasn’t sure I’d find friendship with but who has been a constant presence the last couple of months, more than willing to offer an ear, support and gentle perspective on all the change occurring in my life.  There’s family members who I would choose to have as friends were we not already linked by blood.  There’s my sweet, lovely, inspiring friend from my life in London who I can meet up with in Times Square ten years later and fill my heart swell with gratitude that she’s in my life, people from my time in Hawaii that held my hand as I walked through an excruciatingly hard time, people from my time in undergrad that I see pictures of and tear up over reminiscing about some of my favorite times in my life, knowing that we too could pick up where we left off and realizing that sometimes that knowledge is all you need to keep a friendship alive.  And finally, there’s my best friend who gets a separate post unto herself for all the crap she’s endured putting up with me as a best friend.

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to learn the very simple lesson that in order to have a friend you have to be one.  That the phone works both ways.  That you need to show up in someone’s life if you expect them to show up in yours.  And that I have failed far too often on these accounts.  That the friendship I’ve been shown is the type of friend I want to be.  And mostly that sometimes the best way to make up for acting shitty in the past is to be good in the present.  God knows I’ve got enough people leading me by example.

Thanks, friends.