I don’t know if it’s the lingering pneumonia, the cocktail of medicine, or the fact that I took the night shift with Lincoln last night so the Ogre could rest, but this whole day I have felt like I am walking through a dream. The day itself seems to have always been happening, slowly, slowly, but what I do within it is irrelevant. Everything seems to belong to the day but me; my children laughing, the baby crawling, the bread rising, the sun slipping through the blinds. I feel out of place in time.
I slept on the couch for a bit after Sienna and the Ogre left, while Lincoln took his morning nap and Liam and Charlotte watched a movie. I slid into sleep like drowning, though, and came out of it just the same; no rest, no dreams, no grogginess even. Just awake one second and asleep the next. Asleep one moment and awake the next. When I got up from the couch I absentmindedly moved the top-heavy bookshelf back to its corner from where it stood askew in the middle of the sitting room. It was thirty minutes before I realized that one of the kids had moved it, and another hour before it occurred to me that perhaps they shouldn’t have.
My best friend had a baby today. Her fourth. We swap maternity clothes through Fed-Ex, but this time I forgot to send them back to her. I saw the box in the corner of my closet today, tucked away, full of clothes she won’t wear this time around. There was a blue dress that would have looked so good on her, too.
I haven’t seen her in four years. Four years ago she had a little boy and a girl, my goddaughter, was growing in her belly. I had Sienna, her goddaughter, and a newly born Charlotte. We plan each year to see each other, to find a way, to save a little until we have enough, but the years have slipped past and I’ve never met my goddaughter. I only know her through pictures, stolen seconds of her life, frozen little Shirley-Temple ringlets, her father’s impish eyes, her mother’s kissable cheeks.
We used to talk every week, Meg and I. Sometimes twice a week. Then the second babies came and we got busier, and the third ones, and jobs changed and we moved and they bought a house and a dog and we moved again and her sister moved in and out and in again and we moved again and all the while we talked less and less until whole months had gone by, and then half a year, and then one whole pregnancy of mine where we talked twice and one whole pregnancy of hers where we talked once. She wrote me a birthday card and said she missed me and she knows that our relationship has changed but she still loves me. I felt a little panic when I read that. I hadn’t realized our relationship had changed just because we never talk anymore. Does that mean we’re not best friends? I don’t know what I would do if we weren’t best friends. We’ve been best friends since college. I’ve only ever had two best friends in my life, and it’s a little late in the game for me to try and find a third.
How long can you go without speaking to a friend before you’re no longer friends? Is it quantifiable? There hasn’t come along a friend to take her place or to pick up the conversations I would have had with her. I just haven’t had the conversations. Things I would have said have gone unsaid and I have gone on, missing Meg but busy, busy, knowing that we’re both so busy, that the days tip into each other like dominoes until we’re standing in the midst of four scattered years and wondering if all this time gone by means that things have really changed, after all.For I have known them all already, known them all; have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
That last line was written on the wall of the Cap Bar at our school. We did, too. There were finals and midterms and 40’s nights and a semester in Rome and a million different lives being lived on that campus, but we all orbited the Cap Bar like satellites, drawn back in to replay the night’s festivities over a morning cigarette, circling back for another iced mocha to keep us awake for that killer afternoon lecture, spreading our books and papers across the tables and chairs for all-night study sessions. Our days and nights were measured there. My friendship with Meg was forged at those wrought-iron tables over iced mochas, Parliament Lights, and Badly Drawn Boy. She broke up with her (now) husband there, and made up with him there. I met the Ogre there, and Meg told me how much she disliked him there. We hashed out every dramatic detail of our relationships there. She sat there with me when I told her I was pregnant. I sat there with her when she thought she’d have to leave UD before graduating. I showed her my engagement ring there. She fished cigarette butts out of Sienna’s 6-month-old-mouth there.
I kept forgetting she was in labor today. I read her text this morning and said a prayer and fell asleep on the couch. I woke up, moved the bookshelf, saw her picture on facebook, kicked myself and said a prayer. I made bread and took a breathing treatment, froze the chicken stock, nursed the baby, and then I saw her husband’s text message that baby Benjamin was already here, and I kicked myself again. All that time was agony for her, labor in the realest sense, while I was moving slowly around my house, disoriented by the way time was slipping by in fits and starts, confused about when my day had started or if it had at all.Maybe it has been too long since we talked. Maybe we let too much time go by. Maybe that friendship that I always counted on as fixed and eternal, like a constellation, was more like summertime. Brilliant and warm and enveloping in its season, but not immune to time and space and the revolving of the planet.
I keep thinking of that box of maternity clothes in my closet. We measure our days differently now, Meg and me. We measure them with the expansion and contraction of our waists, with the spiking and abating of a fever, with fresh reams of paper for a new school year, with soccer registration fees, with tax paperwork. We could measure our friendship with those boxes, criss-crossing the country. DC to Vegas to Virginia to Vegas to Virginia to Florida. The clothes changed, even though we tried to keep track and make sure we were sending back what wasn’t ours. Still, I think there’s only one shirt in the box that was in her original box for me, six babies ago. She has other clothes and I doubt she even missed them this time, but that box is haunting me. I never sent it, and baby Benjamin is here. I might as well just keep it now, to save her the postage if I need it again. Without the impetus of the box, who knows how long it will be until we talk again.
I wonder if Meg is asleep now, exhausted from bringing life to the world, or if she’s still riding that post-childbirth high. I know exactly what she is smelling right now. I can’t picture her hospital room, or even her, really, but I can smell that peculiar potpourri of post-baby bliss. The astringency of hospital ammonia. The musk of blood and sweat. The impossibly delicious sweetness of a new baby’s skin. The light fragrance of flowers. The stale odor of bad hospital food. The baby-powder “scentless” wipes. Clean cotton. Orange juice. Familiar laundry detergent. Salt from the IV. Salt from sweat. Salt from tears. Salt from blood.
Maybe I should take up letter-writing. I’m terrible at communication. It’s all I can do to remember to return text messages. Voicemails, emails, and facebook messages…forget about it. I can’t imagine I’d be anything but abysmal at letter-writing. But maybe if I wrote her a letter once a month, we could use them to shore up the fragments of our friendship so that when another four years slips by, we’ll have something tangible to measure them with.
I won’t write letters, though. I know I won’t. I’ll probably just keep calling her every once in a while, and she’ll probably keep calling me every once in a while, and maybe it’ll be two months before I talk to her again or maybe it will be two days. The thing I love about Meg, the thing that makes her my best friend, is that even when it’s been two months or two years since we’ve talked, she’s still Meg. She might have two more kids or a new dog or new friends, even, but our conversations are like chapters in a book. We can pick up right where we left off again. I can’t even really work myself up enough to worry that that might not happen one day, because it’s such a leap of the imagination. Maybe what I’m really worried about is that she’ll find a new friend, or new friends, that she likes better than me.
Maybe I’m still in middle school instead of being a year shy of 30. Maybe I should run to Claire’s and buy her a BFF charm necklace and overnight it to her just to make sure she doesn’t find someone new to be BFFs with.
Or maybe this odd, unsettled day in which my best friend had a baby boy and I couldn’t seem to get my feet underneath me just reminded me of how important that friendship really is. There’s something infinitely comforting about knowing that somewhere out there, all the way up the coast, there is another young mother who whispers my children’s names in her nightly prayers along with her children’s names. Someone who not only knows me now, as a spazzy blogger and unhinged mother of many, but someone who knew me then, when I read The Iliad upside-down while blow-drying my hair and left parties early to sit alone in our dorm room listening to Poison and feeling sorry for myself. Someone who knows that there are times when I need to hear the truth and times when I need a good laugh. Someone whose opinion I trust on everything, from cooking to child-rearing, but who gives me her opinion without giving me advice.
It’s strange, going for years barely speaking with my best friend because neither of us had time, and then realizing all at once how infinitely poorer my time has been without her in it. I think I’ve been missing her keenly for a long time without even knowing it. There are lots of things I’ve substituted to soak up my loneliness, but nothing can really replace her. I keep thinking, “we’ll catch up later, after the semester ends, when the baby is here, when the kids are better,” but it’s never later and there’s always something, and in the meantime years are slipping between us and pulling us apart. There isn’t enough time to let a friendship go like that. Baby or no, as soon as I get over this pneumonia, I’m sending her that box of maternity clothes.