I walked into class on my first day of college feeling edgy and disoriented to find Carla sitting on the other side of the room, under the window. She looked right at me and flashed me a smile. More than feeling like she was greeting a stranger I felt like she was recognizing someone she had always known and was happy to see. I walked over and sat next to her.
Her company was easy; she laughed often and loudly. We defined loyalty similarly, and agreed on what we felt was most important, even as that evolved. From that day, she set up permanent residence in my heart and now, 25 years later, still firmly holds the title of Best Friend.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12”, wrote Stephen King in Stand by Me. I asked my Dad if this could possibly be true. He nodded. “Life gets in the way” he said. “You have less time and other priorities.”
I won’t be that kind of adult, I vowed. I don’t want to ever become a person who feels she doesn’t have time for friends.
And then I got busy.
I got picky too. Arriving at a restaurant on time or an ability to make and stick to agreed upon commitments became a critical requirement. If I didn’t have time, I definitely did not have time for flaky.
In my late twenties and thirties my life revolved around moving to a new country, working in a demanding, full time job that involved building teams, and being a good wife. I didn’t have time for much else.
And then I got a divorce.
I told my friend Amit that the hardest thing as a single woman in her 40s was opening my eyes after the alarm went off and determining in those first seconds how I was going to get through the day. He proceeded to call me every morning at 7:00.
I was vexed to realize that I had somehow bought into the notion that I didn’t have time, that I had more important things to do, that friends were not a priority. If you tell yourself “it’s too hard”, that becomes reality. In other words, I voluntarily closed myself off to one of the most enriching, heart-filling, affirming parts of life.
My friend Andrea said it best: “friends, like sleep, are an essential yet undervalued aspect of our existence.”
And then my Dad got sick – fatally sick – and he didn’t have many friends come by to see him. The end of his life forced me to more carefully evaluate what I was doing with mine.
I think every day about defying Stephen King. I try to be open to the delicate serendipity of making new friends. I remind myself to embrace people for exactly who they are and watch with wonder how they show up their way, not mine.
I also go out of my way to spend time with all the friends I made back when it felt like love, back when I saw my best friend Carla’s big eyes in the light of that window. Back when the two of us spent whole afternoons hanging out on the couch laughing without it ever occurring to either of us it would one day be necessary to make more elaborate plans.