The Fine Line of Friendship

It would be wrong to say that we’re now not friends any more.

We haven’t been for years.

They say there is a fine line between madness and genius, between love and hate, between pleasure and pain. There’s a blurriness there, A haze where you cant quite tell which state you’re in. I think that happens in friendship too. We definitely used to be friends. Oh yes. I remember that part clearly. Lots of laughter, lots of sharing, lots of making the choice to spend time together, to meet up between classes, to wait for each other after the final bell, to awkwardly save each other a spot on the bus ride home, That familiar sensation of shifting your bag across two seats and hoping no-one else asked to sit down before the other one showed up.

And then school days finished, and it took more effort to see one another. But we made plans, we used the lack of awkwardness when we saw one another as proof of the strength of our friendship. We hardly ever see one another, but when we do-it’s like no time has passed! We never wondered whether that was because we only ever lived in the past, with a brief “how’s the husband, how’s the job?”

How long has it been since you were excited to see me? How long has it been since I didn’t wonder about the benefits of our friendship and weighed up whether seeing you was a ‘worthwhile’ use of my time? It must have been years since you made me feel good about myself, since I got home after a night out feeling refreshed and invigorated rather than beaten down and used. I’m sure the same is true in reverse. I’m not the person you call when you need a shoulder to cry on. I’m not the name you search for on your contacts list to share good news. I’m not the spontaneous night out, the I was just passing by, or even the saw this and thought of you. 

And life is too short for that kind of functional friendship, which survives because of a history of existence rather than continued building and fortification. I’m past the fear that if I let go of friendship I won’t find a replacement. The nervous voice inside me that lies, in whispers of “you cant make new old friends” when the truth is, you can meet a soul mate at any age. So I should thank you really. I’m glad that we don’t have to waste time any more. I’m glad that you made the choice for us. You chose you. You made it clear that I’m not worth fighting for, I’m not worth keeping in your life when you clearly need so much space for yourself.

There’s a fine line between friendship, and not. But the real pretence is in the assumption of loss when you move from one side to the other. The idea that when you cross that line you take on a heaviness or a pain that wasn’t there before. In reality that must come earlier on, almost without you noticing. At some obscure point you quite cant put your finger on, that was the moment of loss. Because now? Moving over that fine line into not caring one bit about you?

I’ve never felt lighter.

Eight Years On

I grew up with a father who loved me more than any single thing in his life. He put me first, he loved me fiercely, and he would have done anything in the world for me. Eight years ago this week he died, and as most of you who read my blog know, it is a loss which I carry with me daily. It hits me unexpectedly, it catches me unawares, and yet sometimes it also arrives with a punctuality I almost admire; on birthdays, on anniversaries, at moments when I know he would do anything to be there. It’s a dart through my heart and yet I feel it in my throat. choking me, blurring my voice with tears until all I have are my fingers to write, or the very emotion of it will drown me entirely.

Like I said, none of this is news to those of you who read my blog. And tonight is a dark night with my grief. But he brought so much light into my life, so much kindness and joy, and that should be remembered as well. So this year, I’m going to try to push aside the crushing weight of the loneliness, and blink through the stinging ferocity of my tears, to tell you eight things about my daddy, eight little pieces of light which I’m remembering this week, on the eighth anniversary of his death.

1. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, so I have no memories of them under the same roof. My main memories of my dad as a child are ‘weekend’ memories. Walking the journey from my house to his together on a Saturday morning, playing the number plate game and 20 questions. Being tucked in a bed that was never quite ‘my bed’ and playing silly games like a version of hide and seek where we hit each other over the head with a long green polystyrene tube when we found one another. As I got older, he played board games and card games with me tirelessly, and it’s only now when I think about how exhausting it is playing with my own son, that I think about how he never suggested he needed a rest.

2. As I got older, and craved more independence, he used lifts as a way to spend time with me. In high school, he offered to drive from Hendon to Mill Hill to pick me up every afternoon after school, driving me to Wembley and then himself back to Hendon. It must have been a nearly two hour round trip, to spend 15 minutes hearing about my day. What naivety I had, the days I turned him down so that boyfriends I barely remember could pick me up, or so as not to miss out on the bus gossip. I must have thought that time would be endless for us.

3. The year before he died, I was 18, and we talked more deeply than we had the whole of my life. He told me the reasons why he made aliyah to Israel, and how frightened the decision made him at the time. How happy he was there, how much he felt like he belonged. How he carried around in his wallet a dollar from the first pay cheque he made in Israel, a dollar I still have to this day. He gave me Zionism as a gift, packaged up with happy stories as wrapping paper and fierce belief as a ribbon around it, and told me how important it was that we had a homeland. He taught me with his actions that even though he had been forced to return to England, we should never stop striving to be there.

4. He told ‘Dad jokes’ more often than anyone I’ve ever known. Tell him something was cool? The reply was inevitably ‘has it been in the fridge?’ He would ask what my hairstyle was called, only to hear me say ” a bun” so he could reply it looked “more like a doughnut.” If I made similarly terrible puns in response, his answer would be an expression I to this day have never heard anyone else use, the weird sounding, archaic, yet grammatically correct, “very comedical”.

5. His best friend was my mother. Despite the divorce, despite a fierce custody battle, and years of ups and downs, the very last day of his life he spent on an outing with my mum. They were closer than many married couples, and I put much of my own happy marriage down to the kindness of only a handful of unhappy memories of the two of them together. There were times they understood each other better than anyone in the world, and times where they were making the effort just for me, but I never once in my life felt put in the middle by him.

6. He had magic. Instead of a toy kitchen or a workbench, we had a puppet show and hundreds of card tricks. He made up songs and remembered the nonsensical lyrics long after he remembered why we made them up to begin with. He used to write me birthday cards from all the stuffed animals I had. Not just when I was little, I still have the one for my 19th birthday, four days before he died, signed by Tom Teddy and Herbert the Hedgehog.

7. My son R reminds me so much of my dad. Whether it’s his bright blue eyes, so different from our green ones, his kindness and interest in animals, when we have little interest, or the uncanny way in which R reaches straight for a map when we arrive somewhere and peruses it throughout the afternoon, with the exact same studious expression that my father did.

8. I tell him about his Zeida in little snippets, how he sneezed so loudly that strangers often screamed, how he gave me my first bike and ran alongside me while I practiced, how he made me spaghetti every Tuesday evening, and let me have as much ketchup as I wanted on top.

I tell him how much his Zeida loved me, and how much he would have loved him too-had he been given the chance. And then I tell R not to worry, that I have enough love to give him for the both of us.

Great Loss

72 years ago, a woman got married. She stood up in front of her family and her friends, and was sworn to a man for ever and ever. A ring, simple, plain, was placed on her finger. And she never took it off.

The marriage lasted less than a year. The woman became a mother, although the man left before he had the chance to be called father. This mother, raised her son by herself, and wore her ring to protect her from the cold stare of social stigma, and perhaps, in some small way to make her feel less alone when she remembered how she had lost the man she’d thought she’d have forever.

The child grew up, and grew used to the ring on his mothers finger. Perhaps took it as a small sign of her vulnerability in a world she faced alone. Bringing up a son was no easy job, especially without a partner to lean on.

Eventually, the child became a man, and got married too. He placed a ring on a lady’s finger, but was soon alone again. A second, a third time he tried to make those vows. But it was not to be, and he was soon alone again, this time forever. But he had not left before he had the chance to be called father. And his child, his daughter, they had each other. And he loved her more than he ever learned to love any other in the world.

The woman, now a Grandmother, looked on at her son, holding her granddaughter, and knew that the ring on her finger had not been for nothing, it had been for everything.

12 years later, the grandmother died, and the father, now as good as an orphan, only had his daughter in the world. He said goodbye to his mother, and took the ring off her finger, placing it onto his own. He wore it forever, perhaps as a way to feel less alone when he remembered the woman who had faced the worst of the world for him.

And the father and his daughter had each other. And the daughter, she grew used to the ring on her fathers finger, and took it as a sign of strength that he made his own way in the world without family to guide him. Bringing up a daughter was no easy job. Especially without a marriage to lean on.

Six short years later, the man was taken from this world, and was lost to his daughter forever. She said goodbye to her father, and took the ring off his finger, placing it onto her own. She wore the ring every day, perhaps as a way to remember the man who loved her most of all, to feel less alone when she couldn’t feel him watching over her or when she realised that she’d lost the man she thought she’d have forever.

And the daughter grew up, and on her own wedding day she threaded the ring onto a chain, and placed it as a necklace over her heart, and danced at her wedding with over 65 years of history, and failed marriages, and lost love around her neck. Once the day was over, the ring was moved from chain back to finger, and there it remained. She wore it every day, while she became a mother to a child whose father never strayed more than a few hours from home and his family, while she thanked God for her marriage and her family and her life, and most of all for the chance to wear that ring on behalf of both her father and grandmother, with true happiness rather than loss.

****

I wish I could say the ring remained there forever, but tonight, I lost my grandmothers wedding ring. People who know me would tell you that I’m not very materialistic, and I don’t care much for sentimentality over objects. I own almost nothing of my late fathers, and I neither expect nor want my children to hoard my possessions zealously after I pass away.

But this ring.

This ring is my family history, and so much more besides.

The night I lost my grandmother, I cried like a child because I was a child. I hadn’t experienced the finality of death in any real way, and I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t going to be there the next morning.

The night I lost my father, I cried like a child because I was his child. I didn’t, and often still don’t know how to make my way in this world without his voice at the other end of the phone or his unwavering love to guide me.

Tonight, I am crying like a child for a third time. It’s illogical, and unresolvable, but without this object, this piece of metal, I feel like the child all over again. Lost without a talisman to protect me. Without the very last tangible link to my departed family, I feel alone.