Friends are the Family you Choose

25 11 2015
Me, Roberta, and Debbie

Me, Roberta, and Debbie

So, yeah, I was feeling scared, helpless, and isolated, facing a huge, ugly problem that I had no idea how to solve. Then a couple of things happened. I spent a Sunday with two old friends who I’ve known all my life. In Debbie’s case, pretty much literally. We went to grade school together. We went through high school and beyond. Both of them helped me with my recent Kickstarter, and initially I was meeting with them to deliver their rewards.

But it turned into something else. We met at Petey’s on the seacoast. I ordered fried clams, which I haven’t had in years. I felt awkward at first, not knowing what to talk about. But then the conversation started to roll. Because in everybody’s lives there are things we have in common: weddings and funerals, tragedies and joys, old acquaintances we have in common, children and grandchildren and what they are all up to. We went for a walk on the beach afterwards with Roberta’s handsome English setter, dipping into the deep pockets of half a century of memories.

Friends. I have friends.

I blogged recently about Mary and Nick and Laura. Laura and I drove to Vermont to visit her mother’s gravesite. She wanted to plant a few bulbs. Her back was bothering her, so I did the digging. I barely had a chance to get to know Laura’s mom, but when I first met her, we hit it off immediately. I wish there had been more time. Laura talked about her, and her family, on the drive there and back. I listened avidly, as I’d listened to Debbie’s and Roberta’s stories about their families.

I remember right after the wrenching experience of my sister’s death, as I struggled to make sense of it, to make sense of a family steeped in animosity, resentments and regrets, my cousin dismissed our dysfunctionality with the comment, “All families are screwed up.”

And I thought, as I listened to Debbie, Laura, and Roberta, No. Not all families are screwed up. Yes, they have problems, they struggle with acrimonious divorces and untimely deaths, wayward relatives and senseless feuds. But there are families who deal with these issues with patience, tolerance and love. They forgive, they get together for the holidays, they laugh and embrace one another.

This past week at the library I listened to people talking about their holiday plans, visiting relatives, often in huge gatherings of fifteen, twenty-five, even fifty. Reunions full of joy, drama, humor and, yes, uneasy moments of controversy. But they get together. They celebrate family in a way that I haven’t known since the death of my mother when I was a child. How wonderful it must be.

But, friends. I have friends.

Ann came over as she does each year. We walk through the autumn woods gathering Prince’s Pine which she uses to make wreaths. Her big old black lab Brutus bounds up and down the trail, his nose buried in the leaves, having a ball. This year is unusual. He’s the only dog. In years past, the dogs have often outnumbered the humans.

I’ve known Ann a lot of years. We got to talking. Serious talking, about my Big Ugly Problem. She said she had hesitated to offer her opinions before because she felt it was really none of her business. But I begged her for some desperately needed perspective. And she shared insights that opened my eyes. An old friend, sharing the wisdom of her many years of experience. I lost my clippers out there in the forest, somewhere in the leaf litter. But I came back with an epiphany.

Dammit, I have friends!

I have old friends like Martha, who came out of nowhere to pledge to my Kickstarter. Like Audrey, who found me on Face Book and rekindled our friendship after years apart. All the folks who helped with my Kickstarter. People who never forgot me. Nancy, whom Roberta saw recently, and who asked her to tell me how much it meant to her when she first came to our high school and didn’t know anybody, I befriended her and took her under my wing. Wow. I never realized. I just thought she was wicked cool.

And there’s Peter, who I rarely see anymore, but who is godfather (actually, Buddha-Daddy) to #2 son.  We’ve had a running on-line Scrabble tournament that has gone on for years (he’s currently winning, but not for long), we still get together to hike occasionally, and through him I’ve got an “in” with the Vipassana Meditation Center, if I ever get up the nerve to take him up on it.

I have friends here in town, including my boss at the library, who has been patient, kind and supportive. I was not always an ideal employee. But I learned. She gave me that chance. There are people who I know through the library, through the Deerfield Writer’s Group, through The Forum, and all the various other random connections that happen in a small town. Dana, who has become my trusted beta reader. And the other Dana, who has been such a supportive fan of my work. The more I think, the more I realize how many friends I have in town. All I need to do is to think back to the release party for Archimedes Nesselrode.

And speaking of writing, there’s Elaine, who I stalked at her writer’s group in Peterborough back when I was just starting to try to get published, who has been a loyal friend and mentor. And Michelle, who I once mentored, and who I am so glad resurfaced and got in touch with me. And all the Broads of Broad Universe, some of whom have become friends to me outside the organization. Morven and her kittehs, Vikki, the Queen of Feisty, Trisha and Scott, the Couple of Awesome, and so many more. I’ve met folks at conventions who welcomed me and became more than just acquaintances, Eric, Lisa, Bill and Jeff, and wow, the crew of the Shameless! When I hit my big slide, when the Ugly Problem of Size began seriously crippling me, they assured me they had my back. They messaged me (you know who you are) and asked if they could help. They offered to be there if I needed them, even if just to talk.

The more I think about it, the more I realize what an idiot I’ve been. I’ve let myself become isolated. I’ve surrendered to helplessness and self-doubt. I’ve wept under the blankets in loneliness when there was no need of it. I am not alone.

My new counselor (and yes, I’ve found one, and by the gods, this one seems to be okay, fingers crossed) advised me to attend AA meetings (some of you out there will applaud; others will shriek in horror) because she is concerned that I have no support system. That’s the impression I gave her, because that’s where I was at: Scared, helpless, and isolated, facing a huge, ugly problem that I had no idea how to solve, which was why I forced myself to try yet again with another counselor.

I’m still scared, I’m still the filling of a rock and hard place sandwich, and I still have no idea how to solve the Problem That is Eating My Life. But I realize now that I am not alone. Far, far from it.

I have friends.

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12 responses

25 11 2015
Mary Jolles

What a great celebration of your “family” of friends! You do have friends, and you have them because you deserve them. We are none of us perfect, but we can give what we can, and our friends appreciate that. You obviously have such a great collection of sisters and brothers–not the blood relation kind, but another kind which is so valuable and lasting. Better still, you can add to the family! If you would consider me so, I’m proud to be your “sister!”

25 11 2015
justinegraykin

Absolutely! You have done so much for me. You can be sure that when it comes to “giving thanks”, you and the rest of my “family” are who I’ll have in mind.

25 11 2015
dibblealfonso

Another story to make me cry. But this one was real. I lost my best friend last month, Chalupa. In comparison, I guess I’m maintaining and moving forward. I wish that for you and it will happen. Maybe not in your timeframe but in time. I’m always here, no matter what, for you.

25 11 2015
justinegraykin

Thank you so much for what you and Roberta reminded me of. I have so much to be thankful for. I know how much Chalupa meant to you, and you have my sincerest sympathies.

Know that I’m here for you as well. We need to get together more often.

25 11 2015
Audrey Burgwin

My mother told me that to have a friend you have to be a friend. Well, I’m happy I can count you as my friend. One more thing to be thankful for.

25 11 2015
justinegraykin

You are so right. I hope I can do justice the the friends who are there for me. Too often I tend towards reclusion. Under stress, I disconnect and shut down, absolutely the wrong thing to do. I am aspiring to change that. May I be there for you should you need me.

28 11 2015
Inanna Arthen

It’s nice to think that some people have friends like that. I’m glad that you’ve found a counselor that seems right for you and you’re starting to grapple constructively with your Life-Eating Problem. {hugs}

28 11 2015
justinegraykin

I know, it’s about time, eh? Thank you for the good words and sympathy you’ve sent me in the past. I know you have struggles yourself, but you always strive to put others first. I have a great deal of admiration for you, Inanna.

1 12 2015
Inanna Arthen

Golly. Thanks. I feel like I’ve let you down a lot. 😦

30 11 2015
heretherebespiders

You gave me goosebumps – I’m so happy you can see this now! You are loved, and your company is cherished and welcomed. I hope one day I get to meet you, too – maybe it will only be vicariously through my friends in Barfleet or those who run cons, but I’ll pass on my appreciation for you 🙂

1 12 2015
justinegraykin

Life has some strange twists and turns. Perhaps one will bring us together. I hope so. In the meantime, thank you for being such a faithful follower and commenter on my website.

1 12 2015
justinegraykin

Inanna: Pardon, but bullshit. You have sent me caring, concerned messages when I was scared and suffering. Did I ever ask for anything else? I have absolute confidence that if I had asked for more you would have done everything you could to help. You have dedicated yourself through your faith to helping others. You do more than I ever could. For that, you have my admiration.

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