Family is given to you with your first cry. Friends come later. Choosing them may bring the earliest realizations that we’re in charge of something. Even before we learn how to cross streets on our own, we are capable of finding folks we like.
Our choices take political proportions; no longer based on je nais se quoi (I don’t know why I like her-I just do), we seek friends with benefits, not sexual but the longer lasting-What can they do for me? We weigh their qualifications: She takes great Chemistry notes--or he has a back-yard pool-- or we need a dog sitter and she loves Fido.” My dearest friend owns an ice cream factory. I’ve enjoyed years of loving her and her lychee ice cream.
Growing older may have us seeking other benefits; a friend who will carpool, a neighbor with a vegetable garden and for men- any guy with season tickets to any game anywhere. I prefer friends who care for my heart rather than my handiness.
In 2009, while on a book tour in rural New England, I spoke at a spacious mountain side home. I was New York City fashionable in my most inappropriate daywear: black velvet and spike heels. The audience was made up of forty-something year old females eager to learn of bi-racial (Korean on American) romance from this city girl. I was poised and cocky as I heard my introduction. But at my entry, the front door opened, letting in a bone-shaking, unseasonable chill and a formidable woman. Tall and sturdy, her arrival was announced by the clop-clop of her boots on the hardwood floor. She wore a Sherpa vest over a turtle neck and dungarees (please note, I did not say jeans). I condemned her at the get-go. She couldn’t have possibly gotten the nuances of my cosmopolitan love story about women who wore Jimmy Choo shoes and the exotic foreigners who longed for them. I stood at the podium; pointedly facing the rest of the room. Her hand went up in question.
“Excuse me, may I just say one thing?” she asked in a soft voice that belied her rugged New England presence. Every one of my big city nerve endings shouted, “Noooooo.” I stole another glance at her complexion that surely had no other beauty regime but a thorough daily scrub with Ivory soap and was sure she’d ruin my moment. Still, a proper upbringing is hard to dismiss and I offered my wimpiest, “Of course.” The mountain woman stood. “I want to say this is the best love story I have ever read.”
Flattery will get me to jump through fire hoops with the agility of a circus acrobat. The rest of my book talk was directed towards her. Later, over wine, we talked of authors and poets. I hadn’t expected to see her again, but life is more circle than circumstance. When Deb (my mountain friend) began thinking seriously about publishing her poems, she and I ended up in the same writers’ workshop. Over the next two years, as I wrote my third novel and listened to the brrr-whoosh of the morning rush-hour buses passing by my window, Deb e-mailed her delicate yet authentic poems about small town coffee shops and neighbors who meet in hardware stores.
I have no interest in moving to Vermont. The thought of long winters and no Nordstrom’s Rack gives me the vapors. I‘d rather have neighbors who don’t know my last name and I prefer the heady scent of expensive perfume in a packed elevator to the robust aroma of campfires in a wooded glen. Yet, reading her poem, But is it Enough, I’m delighted to cast my reel next to her fisherman with a face “like a withered pumpkin….”
–A friend who writes poetry--now that’s a friendship with benefits far more desirous than a pal with a pool.