On friends that put you back together, Part I

We all like to act like we have our shit together. Yes, I write these pieces that feel raw and like I’m opening my heart and exposing its wounds for everyone to see. But even that is curated. In real, real life, I usually appear to have my shit together. If I’m heading somewhere, I arrive on time, well dressed, hair done, back straight, and speaking the Queen’s English. If I’m expecting guests, I plan an itinerary for the weekend. I put away my laundry. I cook. I make sure the house is spic and span. In one case, back in 2015, my apartment was so perfect with not a single thing out of place, that my poor friend, visiting from the UK for the first time, asked if I had rented a special flat for the weekend. I was simultaneously insulted and flattered – why would I fake-stage my living quarters? But was it really that perfect that it looked fake-staged? I still don’t know which emotion I should feel more.

So last December, when I arrived in Boston back from work (my current client is in New York blah blah) elated at the beginning of the Christmas break,  I planned to put my facade on before my friends showed up.  But I was exhausted. I walked past the books and papers on the kitchen counter. I looked away from the unpacked boxes in the living room. I got to my bedroom, took one look at the mountain of clothes to be folded and put away, and wanted to cry. Instead, I pushed the clothes to one side and napped.

I woke up in time to pick O* up from the airport, and S* up from South Station. I brought them home, apologizing for the mess. I tried to make it about the apartment – I’ve just been so busy, I said. They said nothing, and took it all in stride. Sure we can sleep on an air mattress. It’s no big deal that you still have a couple of hours of work to do. They entertained each other even though they’d barely met each other before, and when I finally got off the phone, tired and even more irritated than before I got on, they were understanding.

But are you okay? S asked me when O went to the bathroom. I’m fine, I said, shakily. She looked at me, and at the apartment, and back at me. She knew all about Let Us Pray, and didn’t have to be brought up to speed. How are you doing? She rephrased the question. I didn’t cry – not then. I really am fine, I responded. I switched the topic back to her new married life and she allowed me to, thankfully.

Cue the next morning, while S was busy elsewhere. So, how are things with you? O asked. Are you okay? I gave her the highlights of the past three months. We hadn’t talked in ages. We caught up on my life, then her life, then mine again. But how are you now? She asked when she had heard everything. I smiled and said I was fine.

I wasn’t breaking down in front of them, but something was broken. It was clear by the space – it’s a direct map to my state. And over the three days they were with me, S and O took charge. S cooked her signature comfort dish, left me a giant bowl for my freezer. O cut up the mountain of fruit and veggies I had bought the week before from the farmers’ market but had been too tired, or depressed, to process. We made smoothies and juices and a fruit salad – and still had fruit left over. They humored me when I insisted on tiny portion-size bowls for the pepper we blended – so I wouldn’t have to cut into frozen pepper when it was time to make stew. They humored me when I insisted on the round bowls instead of the rectangular, even though it made no material difference. There was a tenuous balance, an unspoken understanding. Fragile, handle with care.

The next morning, when we were done cooking, they tackled my room. Within three hours, clothes had been sorted, organized, folded, hung.  Coats were put away. Sheets were stored. Gloves, bras, work clothes, everything found its place.

On the surface, the mess had been about the recent move and work travel and having been too busy for myself. In reality, it was about depression and heartbreak, and finally finding what you thought you wanted, only to not be what they wanted (more on that later). My girlfriends understood the spoken pain and unspoken anguish. The trip had been planned before everything became unrecognizable, back when I was still optimistic and giddy and happy. They came to town as planned and found a broken mess and no itinerary – heck the fact that their trips overlapped and they weren’t the same friend circle was probably testament to my state of mind. They went with the flow and tolerated the cold at the Common and gamely cooked their own dinner at Q, my favorite hot pot restaurant.

They came to visit for fun, and we did have fun. And, in those three days, by the time they left on Christmas Eve’s Eve, they had put me back together again.

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