We are not alone

June has been a good month, mainly because I spent it with so many good friends. There were playdates and BBQs, strawberry festivals and coffee meet-ups, vacations and reunions. I didn’t quite manage to see *all* of my good friends that reside in the US, but a darned good portion of them made appearances in the last four weeks.

I’d planned to write this month about friendship, about the ways our lives take shape when we walk this world in the company of others. As a military spouse, I’m going to have to get used to saying a lot of goodbyes, to finding friendships and carrying them with me over long distances. My life may end up being in constant motion, but the affection and companionship of those I choose to call my friends will serve as a steadying influence wherever my feet happen to land.

But, I’m going to cheat, a bit, for this blog post. Below you’ll find a post I wrote in the summer of 2009 for an old blog I no longer update. It’s a love note about five of the many dear friends I had the good fortune to see in the past few weeks. My sentiments still stand. May we all walk with such kindred spirits by our sides.

You People, my people

I don’t tend to think of myself as the kind of person who travels in a pack. I’ve never been on a sports team, I wouldn’t dream of joining a sorority, I’m not even in any clubs or organizations where I might be tempted to sport a button proclaiming ‘I heart something,’ whatever that something (alpacas, Shakespeare, bungee jumping) might be.

But there is one pack that I somehow have managed to join. We don’t have matching sweatshirts or secret handshakes, we’ve never charged ourselves dues and we wouldn’t dream of anything so crass as a membership card, and yet our bond to one another is as tightly wound as any society of women might hope to be. I’m talking about my girls, otherwise known as You People, the Wickeds, the Old Ladies (and their Babies). Together, we’re six women who were English majors at the College of Wooster in Ohio in the late nineties. And together we were, for all of last weekend, for the first time since my wedding in 2005.

Ask each one of us how the six of us became the six of us and you are likely to get six different answers. I can say that it didn’t happen until the senior year of five of us (junior year for the baby in our group) and that it was some combination of coming back from semesters abroad in Britain, three of us in one dorm and three of us in another, working on the staff of the student newspaper, and studying English literature. But the only thing on that list shared by all six of us is the final item. But somehow, that was enough, and without ever setting out to make it so, we were a group, sharing everything from meals to heartaches to late night walks through a slumbering campus.

It would be tempting to stay stuck there, remembering how we were when we lived lives incredibly similar. For roughly nine months, we were never farther than a mile from one another, attending the same classes, writing papers on the same topics, surrounded by the same 1,600 people, seeing the leaves on the same trees turn from green to gold to brown to green. It could have ended there, a precious college memory that springs to mind now and then, punctuated by the thought of ‘whatever happened to?’ I’ve certainly had other female friendships that faded once time and place moved on, women I’ve continued to care for in an abstract way, without any of the tangibles that make a friendship a living, breathing part of your daily life.

But You People hasn’t faded. I won’t claim we’re as tight as we were in our college bubble, but thanks to the Internet, to email, to phone calls, to gatherings, to tenacity, we’ve managed to continue to make each other’s existence a real, solid thing in each of our lives. Within months of graduation, we had scattered across the entire country, a perpetual motion that, 12 years on, has continued to bounce us closer and farther apart geographically as we chase after our degrees and jobs and lovers. We form cliques within our cliques, drawing close to the friend or friends who lives nearest, or understands the current pain of graduate school, or is least likely to judge us when a love turns sour, or golden.

Collectively, we keep tabs on each other, sending out flurries of group emails every few weeks or months. Sometimes, the messages are deeply personal, revealing a struggle or an illness or a frustration that propels the rest of us into comfort mode, offering responses laden with advice and support. We’ll also write of what books we’re reading, or politicians we’re following, or vacations we’re taking. Better still, we’ll write of the more mundane details, the silly thing someone said at work that morning or the soap our dog decided was a doggy treat or our disbelief that a favorite television show’s final episode last night was such crap.

When we’re lucky, when we’re really, really lucky, we find a way to see one another in person. It happens in groups of two or threes probably a few times a year. A gathering of all six of us is something to be planned months in advance, circled in red three times on the calendar, and guarded with ferocity against the many obstacles in its way. We’ve had four weddings, and I think three separate weekends together, counting last week at a home in Pittsburgh. And one of those, a trip to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky when we were still in our early 20s, is generally regarded as a near disaster, although we can still all belly laugh when we recall the quote list we kept of our comments that weekend.

Our lives keep changing, and so our friendship will keep changing. We may be a group, but we aren’t carbon copies of one another. We are lesbian and straight, married and single, mothers and sworn never-mothers. Despite our identical undergraduate degrees, we’ve gone on to very different careers. We range from deep Christian faith to atheist, and tend to be liberal, although we embrace a broad spectrum of ideas of what being a liberal means. We get angry with each other, hurt by one another, laugh at and with one another. But most of all — and this is why we’ve survived so many incarnations of ourselves — we love each other.

Love. It’s an easy word to bat around yet an incredibly difficult emotion to truly experience. Love is not a word I use lightly. There may be five other answers as to why we are all still friends, but I’ll take this one. The girls might call me sappy for coming to this conclusion, but then, long ago, they dubbed me ‘Little Happy One’, so they probably won’t be that surprised. It’s love for them that makes me want to know what’s happening in their lives, to care whether they are travelling to Africa or quitting their job or trying for a baby or hoping to get a date. It’s love from them that has helped me to survive family squabbles, loneliness 4,000 miles away and my own fears of becoming a mother. They may not have always been at my side to squeeze my hand or give me that hug I so desperately needed, but sometimes, knowing that they would if they could is actually enough. I won’t ever wear a button that proclaims ‘I heart You People’, but I do wear an imaginary one, secretly, pinned somewhere inside, close to my real heart.