I think about what kind of gift I would give her if I dared. An image comes into my mind of a glossy paperback with a rough stick wedged through it. Not placed inside but stuck through the cover and the pages, piercing them, almost sewn in like thread, right across the middle in a vertical line. Impossible, the inexplicable violence of it completely at odds with what it means about us, her, my feelings towards her, and yet it feels like the only right answer. Earthy, and all that mothers. Who’s to answer for our such wild notions? I picture her taking it from me, looking at it seriously, and at me, eyes asking, This Is For Me, From You, This Is The Answer? I almost nod, she almost reciprocates, taking the book. The air between us presses like a vacuum, compressing us into a still scene, each part of my intention crumbled like charcoal and dried into paint. She does not touch the stick, but we both feel it as if it were caught through our bodies. We are both here, but are we ready?
My friendships with women have evolved over the years, and are still evolving. I am incredibly grateful for what they are becoming, not least because they have been shaky at times. I had a series of ‘unfortunate’ friends whom I may have mentioned before; the people who I found myself closest to in my new schools, who bullied me in ways both crass and complex.
At college I found myself in the unique position of being ready to finally say, “Fuck you” to one of these friends who was treating me poorly, and got to trot off and choose myself a whole new bunch of friends who excited me and cheerlead(? Past tense…) me, and began a whole new chapter of experience in my life.
Throughout university I struggled to find people I connected with on a fundamental level. I flew the nest in the biggest way I could imagine at the time and left home comforts far behind me. I regret that sometimes. The small northern town and the very small northern campus I ended up at did not yield the open-minded liberal microcosm I had hoped for. I spent these years quite lonely.
Following graduation I formed the most intense friendships I had had for years. Living in each other’s pockets, we literally co-habited, ate almost every meal together and made creative work together, and shared dayjobs. That inevitably burned out.
Since then, I have felt slightly adrift, having invested every energy in this insular dynamic and finding myself now without a permanent home, a best friend I have known all my life whom I talk to every day. This seems to be something everyone has – a default, a backup, a safe bet.
When everyone you know is having children and getting married, you feel this all the more. Guest lists really drive things home.
I don’t always have the tools to honour my friendships properly. I have found myself on the end of a few very one-sided friendships over the past few years that have ultimately fallen apart. It was frustrating thinking I was giving all I could, using my years of focus on communication, and still not finding a compromise that worked. Which really shows how little these friendships were meant to be.
However, I’ve been looking around me recently and noticing that I have a pretty super support network of women who are respectful, loving and accepting, who make the effort to maintain our friendship. I can’t express how much it stands out to find these types of people in your life – people who actively listen, who tell you openly that you are worth their time and that they’re happy to see you, who regularly get up out of the house with no excuse for meeting other than enjoying each other’s company. There’s no need for themed events or activities.
Maybe the others could have been saved with some kind of mutual nurturing practice. I joined feminist newsletter Lenny Letter yesterday and the first email they sent me included this article. It’s about exercising timed conversations as a way of developing your listening skills and making space for both people in a relationship to speak and be heard. It’s used in couples counselling as well as by friends, and it’s a really valuable tool for anyone wanting to better their relationships, or indeed even just to further their own communication skills. I highly recommend it.
It’s ever-more important to value and celebrate our female friendships in this time of violence and oppression, to raise up women’s voices, to ‘build each other up’. Write a postcard to your female friends today. Start a group chat. Share the love. Keep it up.
They say that every time you end a relationship, a ghost of the person stays with you. Every time. Can you imagine the noise? How crowded, how busy your space would be? And never mind you, how busy must those ghosts be? Do they have to split their time haunting all their other exes? Do they split their time or their essence? If their presence gets thinner, I suppose you can tell they have been through and ended another relationship.
Let’s not forget, you ended things with them for a reason. You decided not to spend the rest of your life with them. Surely they do not remain willingly either. Surely neither of you can move on while they linger. Do you get a say in who stays?
How do you quantify a relationship anyway? How long do you get to make up your mind before you have to either break things off or get stuck to a soul for eternity? Or both? And what qualifiers let you know that someone is an essence you do want to be doused in for the rest of time? Do vampires ever really know what they’re getting into when they turn someone? Why am I writing vapid questions like Carrie Bradshaw?
Perish the thought… can you ever leave yourself? And if you do, what kind of ghost are you left with?
I am followed by no less than Stephen, Stefan, James, Jamie, Ryan, Aaron, Nathan, Martyn, Chris, Tom (sorry, Thom), Pete, Pete, Pete (shut up), Jamie, Carl, Brindle, Mark and… phew, no, that’s it. So, that’s seventeen, if you’re counting, and some of them are rowdy fucks. God help me if they were all to surface at once. I think I’d be surrounded by the most intense of British unease of difference of character; the poets, the thugs, the clowns and the cheaters.
That sounds like not much that’s nice to say about you as a collective. Which is a shame, really, given my ethos of honouring the connection, of respecting one’s past decisions. Maybe I’m not so upstanding after all. Maybe I don’t practise what I preach. But there’s time.
As he talks
She inches towards the shower
Spotted in Sainsburys
The ghost of you hovering
In the aisle next to mine
An instance, flash reminder
In the big bright window
To warn me from treading
In the crocodile water
Just in time probably
To escape your notice
Thankful to keep this
Moment of inner terror
To myself and to the cigarettes
I want so badly to buy
Without you seeing
And judging that you were right
To fall out of love with me
I creep out from the fluffy covers
To feed the cat
Is my excuse to your clutching arms
But really I am clamouring for tea
Upstairs you snore and I hear you rearranging heavy furniture
Downstairs I make arrangements with the cat
To keep farts to a minimum of decibels.
The postman knocks the peace into our dreams,
But he is friendly and bears gifts for you.
I creep back up again
And slide your tower of parcels along to your side of the bed
You roll over, grinning at my sneaking,
And deliciously we unravel the postman’s treats.
I choose an outfit that is modest
That will eke out the worst in him
If it is there
Only if he likes
Will he pass the test