When I’m really upset there is only one person I want to talk with: my mom.
“Mom?” I said, my voice wobbling. “Ashley got into med school.”
“That’s great!” Mom exclaimed. Like me, my mother has known Ashley since we met in kindergarten.
“Yes … but … she got in med school in Israel. She’s moving to Israel in July.”
“Good for her!” My mother didn’t understand what I was trying to tell her.
“Well, yes, it’s good she got into med school, but Mom, she is moving to ISRAEL in less than two months. Friggin’ Israel. Another one of my best friends is moving away. I should just move across the Atlantic Ocean at this point.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Maybe you’ll make some new friends?”
Ashley isn’t my first friend to defect from the United States. In fact, she’s the fourth. In high school, my closest guy friend moved to England when his father’s job got transferred. Another one of my childhood friends joined the Army and served in Iraq and Afghanistan after college. Then four years ago, my bestest friend in all the universe, Christiane met a woman visiting from Germany. They fell head over heels in love and in less than a year, Christiane was buying schnitzel at the local Munich grocery store. (I’m not even sure she eats schnitzel, but whatever.) The happy couple has been shacking up for the past three years and intend to stay there for a few years longer, at least. While I’m delighted that BFF is in wuv, I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t suck that the person who knows me best in the world lives five time zones away.
Oh, we keep in touch. Of course we do. In fact, we talked over Skype twice this weekend. We instant message and email constantly. When Ex-Mr. Jessica broke up with me, Christiane called me long distance every single day for a week. But as anyone who has a loved one living far away from home can tell you, keeping in touch is not the same as being there in person. God bless modern technology, but it is no substitute for the real thing! She’s not there to watch “Mob Wives” with me on Sunday nights or to cook dinner together after work. We can’t go shopping together or hit up the beach in summertime. Instead, we’re almost like extremely-close pen pals. Or a platonic long-distance relationship.
I suppose that I feel these friend defections especially acutely because my friends are few, but very special. My entire life I’ve had a small group of extremely close friends and just a few friendly acquaintances on the periphery. There have been many times I wished I had a larger group of not-so-close friends because then there would always be people to hang out with. My shyness means it takes me awhile to open up and feel comfortable around strangers. Loneliness is a common feeling for me, given how small my social circle already is. On the plus side, the friendships that I do have are strong and I trust the women in my life accept me completely; when I say “I love you” to my girl friends, I truly mean it. The negative, of course, is when my friends are not around or are busy, I feel quite isolated. And now with Ashley moving halfway around the world, I am starting to wish that I had a big group of friends — acquaintances, even — all the more.
Losing my girl friends — and yes, it feels like a loss, even if it is not permanent — feels like pieces of my safety net being snipped away. The reality is friends are my safety net, even more so than my own family. These are the women who’ve been there for every demoralizing breakup, every ludicrous boss, every tax-bill freakout, and, of course, every triumph. This weekend I was reading Anna Quindlen’s new memoir and there’s a chapter in it where she writes that if you ask women what gets them through each day, they might say it’s a great babysitter or an understanding boss. But the truth of the matter, Quindlen writes, is that what gets us ladies through each day is our girl friends.
The night after Ashley told me she was moving to Israel in (gulp) less than two months, we met up for dinner. She was understandably nervous about packing up her entire life in New York City, taking out loans up the wazoo, and moving to a country where she doesn’t speak the language (and they get inexplicably huffy about the correct ingredients that belong in hummus). I offered her as much help as I could, but I still had a lump in my throat.
“You know, I don’t mean to make you feel guilty,” I told her carefully, “but I’m so sad about you moving away. I’m going to miss you like crazy. I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”
“It’s only five or six years,” she said. (Only!) “And you can come visit! If you get on an airplane. Get some Xanax!” Ashley has flown enough times with me digging my fingernails into her arm in terror to know, well, I prefer not fly.
“Maybe,” I replied. Xanax? Yeah, I could do Xanax. Lots of Xanax, I suppose. “I really love you. I might just have to.”