Heavier Reading

I finished reading Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend a few days ago.

I’ve been thinking about friendship, and when I found the book, it seemed fitting. Between infertility and infidelity, over the past few years I’ve become more and more reclusive. I stopped working full time about four years ago, but I still socialized with real live people on occasion. That slowly slipped away into once a month, then once a year.

My BFF since sixth grade lives less than five miles away, but we rarely see each other, and we seldom even talk or text. She has other friends, and I crumbled in on myself.

I used to go out and hang out and do things. I remember doing that, but it feels so far away now. I think I’d like to do that again, sometimes, but it’s scary.

When I got the job engraving two years ago, I completely freaked out more than once before my first day. I didn’t want to leave my safe place. I couldn’t leave it. Stupid comfort zone. Mine had gotten very small. By that time, the only way I interacted with anyone outside my immediate family by myself was here.

But I went anyway. And I talked to people. And oh my goodness it was hard. But at least I only had to talk to my coworkers, as I hadn’t been trained in anything besides engraving.

Then last year I decided I wanted to get back into pizza, because I needed some time to myself, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to take any if I didn’t feel obligated. Even with that familiarity, it was hard. And still scary. I cried a lot. More than I’ve ever admitted to anyone. I don’t know that it was a bad decision to go back; I just know it wasn’t right.

Really, what was I thinking, going back somewhere that I’d had to pop a pill just to function there most days?

When I left I was already back engraving, and I was actually glad to stay after the season when asked. The past few months I’ve been making more friends at neighboring kiosks and in housekeeping, and I’ve come to realize what I’ve been missing.

That’s wrong. I realized it when a friend came to visit from Wisconsin, and I met her to help with a research project and catch up a bit. I even told her that it was the first time I’d left the house to do something just for me in years.

I want to do that again. It’s so hard not to say I can’t, but that’s how it feels, almost a physical impossibility.

So I read this book.

I marveled throughout at her ability to actually go out and meet new people on purpose. To actually call them back and make and keep commitments.

And since I couldn’t possibly do anything like that, I bookmarked passages to write about.

Because that’s my thing. You know that saying, those who can, do? I’m the addendum: and April, go ahead and write instead of doing.

But I notice now that what I marked for later thought isn’t really about making friends in general but about being picky when making friends.

One passage was about friendships outside of your own race, and she confused me a bit:

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I have only a few black friends, so I’d be thrilled to add some diversity. [. . .] I’m not going to befriend someone I wouldn’t otherwise, solely based on skin color. But would I be happy if one of my best friends ended up being black? Or, just not white? Yes.

I don’t get it. And I don’t know if I can really explain how I don’t get it, but I’ll give it a go.

When someone says they’re ‘not particularly proud of’ something, doesn’t that boil down to at least a little bit of shame or embarrassment? It’s a subtle undertone, but it’s there. People are ‘not particularly proud of’ cheating on a college final or drunk dialing an ex. The phrase has no place in a description of friendship.

And being happy because a new friend is not white? Let’s substitute, shall we? But would I be happy if one of my best friends ended up being fat? Or, just not skinny? Yes. how about tall/not short? Or pretty/not ugly?

Your friends are your friends because of who they are, not what they look like.

I remembered this tidbit when I reached another section when she arrives at a birthday dinner party of four in which she’s the only white girl:

[T]he truth is I infrequently end up at dinners with more than two races represented. Which is just embarrassing. Needless to say I’m pleased, as I’m hoping this dinner will be an opportunity to change that.

Aha! Embarrassing. I knew it! See? Undertone.

But why be embarrassed? That’s what I don’t get. Your friends are your friends. So what if they all look alike?

I will say, because of where I went to school and lived and worked, I’ve been the only white girl at the table more often than not. But that doesn’t explain her embarrassment, only my confusion at being happy about non-white friends.

A friend is a treasure. Not an embarrassment. Unless you mean an embarrassment of riches.

But what really gets me is one sentence later on:

And I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.

Because gay men are a much more valuable commodity in the friendship game than brown women. I guess I’m hipper than I thought. You remember those new mall friends I’ve made? Yup. One’s a black gay man.

This post sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Like I hated every page of the book. But I didn’t; I simply made note of the parts that stuck out to me.

I’ve read more memoirs so far this year than the rest of my life combined, but none so prosaic as this. Long distance hiking,
being lost at sea, having cancer in China, and yes, Orange is the New Black as well.

It’s easier to read between the lines when the subject is familiar. Everyone makes friends; Rachel just set out on a mission and wrote a book about it. I never got so involved in her story as to ignore the words she uses to tell it.

But these are my favorite:

The courage to wear plaid pants has, to me, always signified the sort of person who isn’t uncomfortable anywhere.

That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

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