|"Wherein she looks like her friend"|
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner living in central Vermont. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as prose poetry and articles. Her first book, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women, has just been published by She Writes Press. Most recently her creative non-fiction is appearing in The Best of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop, upcoming in Mothering Through Darkness and the tentatively titled collection Shrink/Shrunk. She has guest blogged on a number of sites including Brevity.com, and infrequently on her own website. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, as well as other collections. Follow Nina on Twitter.
When I began pitching my idea for Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women I was met with a not-so-surprising number of reactions that confirmed the topic. Women clutching their chests or grabbing my arm: “Yes! Yes!” “I have a story!” “What a great idea.” Then there were the surprising reactions: “That never really happened to me, I never had a friend dump me, but it must be awful.” (I never completely believed those.) And then there were the male editors and writers who who would stare at me for a moment before saying, “Wow, yeah, that really doesn’t happen to us guys.” “But great idea.”
I’d made the decision to solicit essays and edit a collection of stories about women losing those friendships that are sustaining, wanting to honor those relationships the way we honor romantic relationships. But as I wrote my own piece for the book and did that self inventory so essential if we are to be honest with our writing, I realized how I’d let go of friends without much fanfare myself. I found myself going back to my hometown a bit more, looking people up, doing some research. Wondering about those lost friendships and worrying about the dynamic between us women who always considered ourselves feminists. On one of those trips home I found out that my old friend Fran was very sick with cancer. Two dear friends had already died very recently and I wasn’t going to let any more time go by.
Fran and I had met in 1973 after some confusion about college ID badges- I was going into the semester as a full time student, she’d signed up for a night school class, and we were both filed under “G.” We both had registered for art classes, and we looked very much alike, curly-haired with wide, trusting faces and the round glasses so popular back then. In the registration line, Fran saw my badge and insisted that it was hers. She hunted me down, intent on finding this mysterious twin. Indeed, she soon became the kind of friend that is more like a sister, with all the accompanying jealousies. Weight, for example, was a constant topic of conversation, and that I seemed able to lose it more easily, albeit not always in the healthiest of ways. And that I was able to attract men, often the wrong kind of men, more easily, again a constant topic of conversation, with appropriate sisterly concern on her part. I was a full time artist but she was a professional therapist and seemed so much smarter and made more money than I did. We easily discussed our mutual envy, our life choices. We were both voracious readers, and when she opened a book store, I was jealous as well as excited. But we laughed, we partied, we gossiped, we talked about books and politics. She helped me stay sober. Her intellect and humored wisdom always a touchstone for me. When I got married, and changed careers, again, my assumption was that she was jealous. But she was able to travel more, still had her freedom, so I was jealous. Once she said she had figured we would always be friends who would travel together, spend time together, but now I was married. I told her that didn’t matter. But in some ways it did and we drifted farther and farther apart. Then I had a baby, a full time career, a husband in grad school. We stopped communicating, at least I thought she had stopped communicating with me. I felt dumped but it didn’t mean I was. I moved to a different state and didn’t even bother to say goodbye. Well over twenty years had passed when I heard about the cancer. With some trepidation, I called her. She was delighted to see me. Her first comment upon opening the door, after a long silent hug, was that cancer was a bitch, but she loved being thin. The rest of the afternoon is a warm blur. Her home, the scene of many parties and long intimate conversations was now a soothing blend of warm pinks and ochres. African art on the walls, restful photographs. We talked, barely noticing that the sun had gone down. Barely noticing over twenty years had passed. I told her about my book, and that it was a catalyst for my desire to reconnect. I promised to send her a copy as soon as it was out. I did not have to say “if she lasted that long” because she said it for me, with her wise laugh, and was genuinely pleased for me. Fran had developed other wonderful friendships in the time we had been separated, but some of the same women who dumped me once also dumped her near the end. That made for some old fashioned gossip. And speculation. These new ones, would these have been my friends too?
The irony? Fran swears she didn’t dump me. She always felt it was the other way around. She had kept an old photo of me on her refrigerator for thirty years. I am still stunned by this. I’ve never parted with a tiny green Bakelite elephant charm she gave me now forty years ago. The message? Don’t waste time on petty assumptions. Please. Your life could always be so much richer.
Thanks to Nina for sharing Fran with us and her book with our readers.
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