Monday, September 22, 2014

The Friends We Have Loved and Lost

I remember writing the story of my own friendship break-up

It was the end of last summer, and I had just come home from a Jersey Shore vacation with my family. It was on that vacation, and in the two days following, that I realized that my friendship, one I had loved and cherished and depended on since the first week of my freshman year of college, was no more. Even though the evidence of its demise had been piling up for some time, the final realization that what we had was no longer reached up and slapped me on the face so hard that for the first time, I understood what whiplash must feel like.

So I did the thing I do when I'm not sure what else to do. I went to my computer, opened a new post on my blog, and I wrote. As I wrote I discovered wells of grief hidden inside of me that I hadn't been entirely aware of, and I typed words on a keyboard wet with tears I barely realized were falling. And when I was finished, I pressed publish, too drained even to proof-read what I had written. 

Lots of people read that piece. So many, in fact, that it became the second most popular piece I have ever published on my blog. Despite all of that, it would be months before I could go back to read my own words.

So I understand. I understand how much energy it takes, and how painful it is to re-visit the stories of the friends that we loved and lost. To rip open our hearts and to write words about the relationships that once occupied a central place in our lives, but that are no longer.

And that is what makes the anthology My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends so remarkable. Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, founders of The HerStories Project and editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship, the book explores the loss of female friendship. 

Thirty-five women have bared their souls to tell their stories of breaking up with a friend that they had once assumed would be in their lives forever, and although each story is different, similar strains run through them all.

The book makes us understand that female friendship is complex and mysterious, and that the wounds left over from the loss of a female friend are long-lasting, painful and deep. Many of the women told stories from long ago, but it is still fresh pain that seeps through their words, as if the friendship had just ended days before. We learn from these stories that female friendship has the power to give us joy, closeness and connection, but also to cause a pain and loss that is unparalleled in the human experience. 

In her incredible essay Going Without Sugar, Cheryl Suchors writes, "I wasn't divorcing, but we have no language for the collapse of a friendship. No civil or legal understanding exists to encircle, protect or declare its existence. No public ceremonies seal the relationship or shore it up when rocks pierce the hull and we have to swim for shore, the sound of wreckage and cold seawater filling our ears."

I kept going back to these words over and over again, unable to get them out of my head. These sentences sum up more than anything the message of the book; that a friendship between women is so much like a romantic relationship - soul deep, involving powerful love, a shared history and a connection that seems unbreakable. But there exists no framework around which we end a friendship; no formal vocabulary to use to declare that someone once so central to our lives no longer occupies the space that only they could fill. So the friendship ends and we feel lonely and adrift and filled with a pain that may dull over time but that never truly goes away.

Maybe the friendships that we lose weren't ever meant to last forever. Some of the essays in the book explore the idea that certain people were meant only for certain seasons of our lives, and some friendships we lose may even come back to us one day, but that doesn't make their loss any easier to navigate. It doesn't make us question ourselves any less, or keep us from wondering if there was anything that we could have done to hold the friendship together, even if we know there was nothing.

But what we can do, and what these brave and talented women have done, is to share our stories. To tell our tales of friendship, love and loss, so that no one has to walk the path of lost friendship alone. 

When you read this book you will see yourself in these pages. I did. Knowing that others have weathered the loss of a cherished friend as I have hasn't taken away all the pain and confusion of my loss, but it has reminded me that I am not the only one who felt the particular brand of sorrow that swims in the wake of a friendship lost, whether you are being left or you are the one doing the leaving.

The wisdom of these thirty-five women and the power of their stories will stick with you long after you have closed the book, and will remind you that even though circumstances may differ, in the crucible that is friendship loss, you are never, ever alone.

Thank you so much, Jessica and Stephanie, for the privilege of reading this book and reviewing it here. I loved every single word.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For Them, I'm Grateful

When I started writing and blogging almost three years ago I thought it going to be a mostly solitary affair. As a lifelong introvert with a passion for writing, I thought that writing was something that one most often does alone, and that was the way I liked it. The idea of toiling away in a semi-lit room with just myself, my thoughts and my computer was appealing to me, and even seemed a little romantic.

Yes, I was writing to be read, but mostly, I was writing for myself. I was writing because writing has always been my favorite form of expression. It has always been the way that I order my thoughts, make sense of the world, and make other people understand me. I have never been very good at talking through what was in my head, but give me a pen or put me in front of a computer, and as if by magic, it all appears on the page or the screen.

So I started blogging. I started writing down all of those thoughts in a place that has become a kind of time capsule. A place where I document my life, the good and the bad. A place I will be able to return to over the years and remember exactly how it was when I moved to the suburbs. When I finished a half marathon and then another one. When really bad things happened in the world. When history was made. When my family grew. And blogging fit me like the proverbial glove.

But blogging is not at all the solitary activity that I once thought it would be.

Because once I started taking it seriously, I found an entire community of people who do what I do. Who write down their thoughts and put them out into the world for anyone and everyone to read. And I become a part of this community. And it became a part of me.

The women I have met since I started blogging are smart, thoughtful and hugely talented, and they opened their arms to me and drew me into their mysterious and wonderful world. They read my writing, and I read theirs. I learned about them and they learned about me.  And they become my friends; friends just as real and true as any I have ever made in my life.

Their friendship has made me think, and has made me happy. And more than anything, it has made me brave. Brave enough to keep sharing pieces of myself. To keep telling my story. Because their friendship has also made me understand that there is a power in telling our stories and in sharing that connection with another person. Because, more often than not, there is someone else out there who has already walked the road we are walking; who can take our hand and show us the way.

These women have shown me the way.

Some of these friendships have stayed online with conversations on blogs, and e-mails, and promises to meet if we ever find ourselves in the same city at the same time. And some of them have jumped from the digital world to the real world, with phone calls and text messages and dinners with long, winding conversations. But all of them are special, and all are important.

And for them, I'm grateful.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall Weekends, Merel Style

Deck. Sweatshirts. Sweatpants. Fireplace.

We're staying outside until the first flakes fall.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"...and we reach for the stars"

I posted this quote - one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows of all time - last year after the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I am re-posting it here because I think it is particularly apt for the events - and the people - we remember this week, here in New York and around the world.

"...More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom, and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive...The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They are our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. But every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America."
                                                          -President Josiah Bartlet
                                                           The West Wing, Season 4, Episode 2

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Ago

Thirteen years ago I was a mere three weeks into my freshman year of college.

Thirteen years ago I was passing through the student center after an early morning class when I saw a huge group of students huddled around the TV.

Thirteen years ago I joined that group just in time to see the South Tower collapse. I was still standing there half an hour later when the North Tower fell.

Thirteen years ago I sat in the dorm room across from mine with two girls I barely knew and watched the news for hours. We knew each other very well after that day.

Thirteen years ago I watched as a girl on my floor tried to get in touch with her mother, who worked in the towers. She was safe, on her way to work but not quite there yet.

Thirteen years ago I watched another girl on my floor crumple to the floor in tears when she learned that her good friends had not, in fact, been on that United flight bound for Los Angeles, like she thought they were supposed to be.

Thirteen years ago I watched a roadblock set up at the entrance to lock down my predominately Jewish college campus located in the suburbs of Boston, ten miles from the airport where the planes took off. No one was allowed in or out without passing through security.

Thirteen years ago we all wondered what this would mean, and what would happen now.

Thirteen years ago today.

This morning on the train to work I sat next to two men who were talking about fleeing their World Trade Center offices on that day. We were sitting in the quiet car but not one single person told them to be quiet.

This morning Grand Central was filled with police and the extra security that always marks this day.

This morning I walked to my office in Manhattan. In this city that is my city now.

This morning I thought about the life I have built here and the memories that I have made here, and how proud I am to be here to experience the grit and glamour and energy of this city that is unlike any other.

This morning American flags lined my way to work, flying at half-mast to remind us all of the darkness of that day, and how nothing ever will be, or maybe should be, the same ever again.

Here are those flags.