When I was a child, say first or second grade, the story goes that when the weekend came, I would turn plaintive: “Who can I play with?” I would ask my mom. We’d tick down my short list of friends – I remember their first names: Melanie, Sarah, Shelley, Amanda. I was reflecting on this at 5:00 this morning as I tried to eek out a few more minutes of shut-eye while Pearl called for me: Naa-na! ( For the record, Aviva’s question seems to be more “What can I do?” Maybe more on that another day.)
I reviewed my friend situation – as a young girl, then later in elementary school (lots of playing alone, singing the Annie soundtrack and looking up words in the English-Spanish dictionary), junior high (more of that), high school (I remember feeling lonelier with the people I hung out with than the lonely I felt alone). Then came eighteen and first love, the one with the Honda 700 on the back country roads. Summer jobs – barista, before we called it that, nanny, telemarketer. College first in L.A. County and then New York City, possibly two of the world’s loneliest places if you have a propensity for that kind of thing.
Yesterday, after a rainy, cocoon-like day at home preparing for my class and napping with the fam (all four of us! Bliss!), I finally ventured out with Pearl around 4pm to City Market. Greg had done a big shop in the morning with both kids, but we still needed a few things. On my way there, it occurred to me that I might bump into some people I knew. Sure enough, I saw a coaching client (by the bananas, the ravioli, and the checkout line), Aviva’s first babysitter who is now expecting her second child, a colleague from UVM who is doing amazing work in the LGBTQ&A community, and our old neighbors from South Winooski with their four-year old, also expecting their second child. Sometimes all those encounters exhaust me; I admit to the occasional “didn’t see you” tactic that I’m guessing we all employ on occasion. But this day, I welcomed the quick middle-of-the-market catch-ups a gift.
Lying in bed this morning, I found myself wondering, when did I wind up with so many friends? I have always kept a kind of inventory in my head of my friends – who they are, where they are, what our connection is. It’s a way of holding myself in the context of people I love who love me back, no matter how lousy or too-busy we are about keeping in close touch. Roxane in Tucson, Leticia in San Francisco, Amy in Bloomington, Chloe in Roslindale, Kate in Belfast, Lisa in Charlottesville, Sasha in Brooklyn, Sarah in Seattle, Susa, Jessi, Deb, Sherry, Joanna, Alissa, Kate, Janice, Jennifer, Rebecca – amazingly, the list goes on. I say amazingly because I never imagined I’d have so many friends. I hold each name for a moment, like a prayer bead. Round and round, soothing and grounding and reassuring me that I’m known.
My mind’s eye sees concentric circles of friends. There’s me in the center of my own little life, surrounded by Greg, Aviva, Pearl and Juke. Next out are my parents and sisters. Then come the circles, like orbits – the innermost, the more distant. Community. The people who make me feel like I live on the set of Cheers where everybody knows my name. Is this simply what happens when you stay long enough in one place? Venture out the door and I’m surrounded by my immediate neighbors, past and current – and no doubt, future – colleagues. Women from various prenatal, post-natal, and every-natal-in-between yoga classes. Babies and toddlers and big kids everywhere – the next generations of friends and neighbors happening before our very eyes.
It’s lovely. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s humbling and emboldening. Are there times when I don’t want to reach out, connect, share, catch up? More than not, sometimes it seems. I’m still an introvert in disguise. But then I do. And I am known. Loved. Respected. Supported. And in return, I know, I witness, I love and respect and admire so many people around here from my next-door neighbors to my innermost clutch of girlfriends to Doug at Speeder’s on Church Street. “Have Fun,” he calls, as you walk out with your coffee. Have fun, I call to you – friend, stranger, reader, whoever you are. Somebody knows.