do you know who your friends are?
To explain what I believe to be the dynamics of friendship would take story after story yet, so suffice it to say that I do not believe in easy true friendships. Of course, a friendship should begin naturally and should always remain organic, but like a romantic relationship, once hardship inevitably pays you visits, the “friend-ship” will require efforts from both bow and stern. It is due to imbalance and/or plain letting go that causes you to capsize (as someone who has once fallen into the River Thames, I’d know).
In any context, knowing exactly who your friends are is not easy. But it is when you are most in need of them that they best prove themselves, and not even necessarily in the most obvious ways.
You’d think it could be as easy as saying “the people who came to visit you at the hospital, those are your friends,” but actually it’s more like a series of exams, with hospital visits being a mere quiz, a quiz that weighs quite a bit but has hardly anything to do with the end result.
The problem with quizzes and homework, I’ve discovered in various science courses, is that you have to do them — and do them well — and no matter how well you do, in the end they don’t guarantee an outstanding grade. But botch one or miss one entirely, and you’re faced with a notably deficient mark.
The friends who came to visit me at the hospital were a fair number, and the most impressive accounts were that of my best friend, Sarah, who immediately flew out to Chicago from her then-home in Arizona to come see me every day during her stay, and that of another girl somewhere between friend and acquaintance that I had met in high school a year before. Upon hearing about my incident, she came with her mother to visit me for a little while, and henceforth came every morning, sometimes even before I awoke for the day. I could hardly believe her consistency: prior to that we had only been shopping a couple times, eaten together, taken a day trip to the Naperville beach on the Riverwalk.
I also met a pastor’s wife who took it upon herself to visit me every day and get to know both me and my family. She was, age being purely a number, probably elderly, but exuberant and otherwise quite young, much like my attending physician.
She prayed ceaselessly for me and shared stories of Jesus with us, while I, her captive audience, found that which all religious people gain from their faith: access to hope and a sense of safety. For that, even if I am not Christian, I can thank her God for — even if He didn’t exist, for that period of my life He was as real as He could ever be, because I needed that. She was also a friend to me during a time I needed her, and I’ll call her “friend” even if she is no longer a part of my daily life, because she sincerely wanted to give me the greatest gift that in her heart anybody could ever offer another: salvation.
On that note, my first roommate at university was a Christian named Erica*. We had many important things in common: we were both on the goody-two-shoes side, she more than I, as I was always a friendly but bitingly honest girl, and sometimes the concept of tact eluded me. Neither of us drank or even swore for that matter, and we both took our “virtue” seriously.
We had the foundation of a lasting and real friendship, but alas, even if Erica fancied herself a better person, it was never I who excluded her from my heart because of what she believed. But despite how close we did become that year, it was not to last past that — even if the friendships she formed with the other devout Christians across the hall flourish still to this day.
She knew about my hospitalization, as it was only a couple months after our cohabitation, but I heard nothing from her until I returned to school several months later. It is this indifference that makes me severely question if Christianity really brings out the best in us.
Erica is married now, to someone I have never met (not the non-Christian she was with freshman year), and I was not invited to the wedding. I only found out through the invasive power that is Facebook.
As a freshman I was very clearly an extravert. I had all the energy in the world and literally climbed the walls of my dorm. I was a free spirit that was loyal to nothing: not my schoolwork, which I only did because I had to, nor a schedule, with no boyfriend to speak of, so the best way to illustrate what I was is by saying I was an electron, except not at all negatively charged.
Over time I have noticeably begun to look far more inward than I ever had before, and I believe this to be due to the onset of my condition: I have had to slowly learn that my physical presence has become a burden to many others than just myself. And the knowledge of this is a weight on my spine which makes me hesitant to openly share my disability to strangers, because I know now that in addition to my fussy nature, I am even more an inconvenience than I ever was before.
My true friends do not simply tolerate the fact that I cannot walk as fast as they can; they happily walk at my pace because it is not the speed that is important but rather my company. They do not feel discomfort when I make light of my gimpiness, but rather they too make jokes. It is the way we deal with the gravity of the situation.
I went to a psychologist shortly after a breakup, and I had explained to her why I believe it is better to be hard on the outside, yet soft on the inside. It is not on purpose that I run hot and cold like a broken faucet. The bare minimum to true friendship is the willingness to endure the bull shit before you get to the real stuff — if you can’t get past a hard exterior in order to better know me, you won’t make the cut.
I doubt I would have become this way had I entered my twenties in the conventional way, and in some ways I have been accused of being overly critical. It is hard for me to decide whether I’d have been better off like this or as the more open, superficial me that I was at nineteen. It’s moot, anyway, because this is the way it is, and I suppose it is how I protect myself from false friends because they are those closest to you who have the most power to hurt you. So with each new person I subconsciously ask, is this person worth risking a broken heart for?
*Names have been changed.