There’s a card in the Tarot, the Six of Cups, that I have a special feeling for. Some cards play one clear emotional chord—boom, happy; boom, tormented—but the Six of Cups shifts around. It’s slippery, it refracts the light differently depending on how you look at it. Some decks attach one-word meanings to the face of the cards (which I hate because that sucks the nuance out) but in those decks the word for the Six of Cups varies in a strange and pleasing way.
Innocence. Nostalgia. Goodwill. Sorrow. Pleasure.
I like that there’s no consensus on whether this card plays a minor or a major chord. I love the Six of Cups in the same way I love Pachelbel’s Canon in D, which I think remains ridiculously beautiful no matter how overplayed and ground into our consciousness it is. They make the same sounds, they attack the same feeling.
While it can signify a few different things in a reading, the Six of Cups often references friendship. Sometimes it heralds the return of an old friend, sometimes it points to a feeling of loss. It’s tricky, like I say, this card. It’s soft on the outside, but it has something piercing at its core.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, and also not wanting to do it.
Friendship has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about it more frequently and with more fear and reverence than ever. I lost a major friendship last year, and another friendship may be in critical condition or worse, and…how do I want to say this? If friendship is a warm cabin you can shelter in from the elements, then my
cabin, the place in me where my friendships take place, has a door that feels like it’s come off its hinges. I feel the wind a little more in here these days, hear it blowing louder, think more frequently about the dark outside the cabin, and what might be out there. Anyway, it’s a vulnerable feeling and a protective feeling all at once. I sort of don’t want to let anybody else in until I make repairs, but I can’t make repairs if I don’t let anybody in.
I have great friendships, beautiful friendships, current ones, very sturdy. Let me go on the record acknowledging that and giving thanks for that right away, and I’m going to talk about a couple of those ones more here in a bit. But I can see more clearly that these are treasures that, as with all things in the world, can be taken away, or wrecked, or can fade. This whole enterprise, this being alive thing, is precarious. Care must be taken, and even then, there are no guarantees.
I was talking to my mother-in-law* this morning about this vulnerable feeling, this instinct to protect myself, and she wisely pointed out that going around trying to protect yourself all the time is a bad move. You’re just going to miss everything. And then I think about those Buddhist monks who make sand mandalas, so laborious and intricate and beautiful, and then as soon as they’re done they sweep them away. They know the score.
Yes, it’s going to go. That’s fine. Until then, build the shit out of it.
*She’s not the mother-in-law of popular consciousness. Larraine is snuggly as any of my best girlfriends. I say that because I recognize that the phrase “I was talking to my mother-in-law about this vulnerable feeling” is just begging for one of those record-scratch sound cues.
When I was a little girl living in New York, my best friend was Allison Pykett, as I’ve mentioned here before. Allison and I met in kindergarten and rode together until my family moved to Seattle at the end of third grade. We rode past that, too, writing letters and paying cross-country visits until I was 13 years old, and then we drifted apart in the purest way, time and distance melting the bond by themselves. No angst, no ouches, just a clean dissolve.
She’s the first person I ever called on a telephone. I remember that maiden dialing voyage: standing in front of the old beige rotary phone, taking a deep breath, lifting the heavy receiver, sticking my finger in the “9” hole and—screw it, here goes! I’m a woman now—pulling the dial all the way around. Then I did that six more times with different holes, and it got realer with every number. I felt powerful and too wide-open all at once, the way I still do when I call a friend. Nothing is new. Allison’s mom answered, spoke to me sweetly, and put me on the phone to my friend.
—Do you want to play?
—Yeah, come over.
Success. Nailed it. Phones are go. Friendship is working. Off to walk the four blocks to her house.
Do I want to make new friendships? I think so? I don’t know? No? Maybe? Of course?
On the one hand, there’s nothing like being in the company of your great friend, loving/seeing and being seen/loved, warts out, unbuttoned, dishing it all out, hearing all the dish, plotting, snuggling up, railing, chilling, all of it. It’s some of the finest nourishment on the planet. It’s that stuff that the elves gave Frodo. It’s waybread, that company, it’s that little silvery drink. Your friend beefs you up when you’re low, brings you back from the edge of death. How do you even talk about the blessing that this is? In my worst moments, there it was, and I went on, lifted up.
On the other hand, what a roll of the dice. Jesus. Terrifying. You let somebody in past one layer, and that goes well, but then what about the next layer? That might go well, too, but what about the next one? You like me now, but wait. Just wait. Broom’s coming.
Allison and I are sitting across from each other on my basement floor, humming The Mexican Hat Dance and passing back and forth a sombrero in rhythm.
Ba DUMP Ba DUMP Ba DUMP
Ba-dada da-dat-da DUMP
The idea is that the sombrero gets slapped onto one of our heads on every two-count. We’re
-ing fast, in a frantic rhythm. It’s hilarious. We’re dying. This is the most hilarious thing of my whole life to that point, all six years. And it’s stupid, we’re not doing anything but passing a hat, but it’s the best. We keep going and going and the humor is amazingly durable.
Once, about a
ago, my friend Barbi and I went to
movies. We made a last-minute date
she picked me up at my house and we
both raggedy and undone in our sweatpants and general I'm-not-leaving-the-house clothes, but we were going
Mountlake Terrace where nobody would see us,
movie theater where they bring you real live food to your seats, so we ate cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies and I drank a margarita because I wasn't driving
we snuggled up in our dumb clothes in public and
The Wolf of Wall Street
. I want us to have that same date again with a different movie. (Barbi, I'm asking you right now, right in front of the world and everything. This is like one of those proposals people do at sporting events over the Jumbotron. You'd probably hate that, but marry me for this date anyway.)
Dicey news. I’m facing a demotion. This is what happened: Allison and Tracy Munz were playing outside Allison’s house, out on Woodland Drive, when a car drove by. Tracy thought that the car might hit Allison, so she pushed Allison out of the street, thereby apparently saving her life. So a code of honor that’s never come up before dictates that Tracy now be Allison’s best friend, since she saved her life. I’m going to have to be her second-best friend. It’s hoped that I’ll understand. I’ve just arrived at Allison’s after this close call with this car driving by, and we’re all standing out on the street, me and Allison and New Number One Tracy Munz, and I’m just hearing about this.
Allison informs me of my new status in a kind and matter-of-fact way, and Tracy looks partially regretful and partially hopeful.
Huh. Well. Wow. Okay. I guess I do, I guess I do understand. Tracy is usually kind of a mild, dare-I-say mushy presence, so it’s not like I’ve been hip-checked aside by some mean little cow. This is a good deed that’s just spun out of control. So, okay. Well, shit.
(My demotion didn’t last long, but it introduced the notion of shakiness into my conception of friendship, just the way a tiny trembler lets you know you’re living in earthquake country.)
I don’t call people enough. I never have, but now with two children I really, really don’t. Some of it is that I’m talking all day. I live with five other people: my husband, our two children, my brother and my mother. I love these people, but that’s a lot of talking. And with children, talking isn’t always casual chatter. There’s a lot of urgent talking, the kind that requires projection. So at the end of the day, I’m usually talked out. I don’t want to use my voice any more.
So I don’t call people enough, and then when you don’t call people or otherwise communicate frequently, you both have more to talk about when talking time comes, and so the phone call feels bigger.
But more than anything I have a horror of imposing myself on someone who would rather be doing something else, and I assume that most other humans would rather be doing something else than answering a phone that I’ve made ring.
Whatever. If reasons were wishes, cows would have wings or something. Having reasons why doesn't pay the friendship bills.
I remember sitting on the couch at an old friend’s new place, and something was different. I’d taken my shoes off, as always, and curled up expecting to stay a while. This was a long-awaited visit, so we’d be snuggling on into it, I figured. We started talking, but the talk never settled. I mean, we talked about everything that was important, we talked about all the things you’d talk about with one of your best friends, but it all felt technical and phoned-in. It didn’t settle. We didn’t unbutton. I started to wish I’d left my shoes on. I even started to wonder if she'd prefer me to have left my coat on. I wondered when I’d made the transition from “best friend” to “kindly old aunt who could use a good visit now and again”. Everything looked right and sounded okay but something didn’t transfer. No nourishment. Sterile feeling, like a house staged for market, or a showroom. You can’t live there.
We’re at Allison’s. Allison has found a coral lipstick that used to belong to her grandmother. The lipstick is ancient and waxy and has that broken-down old powdery floral smell, but it’s lipstick, so it’s a priori going to work. We smear it on. We’re wearing leotards—Allison’s is black and mine is dark green—and long fringed leather vests.
The concert is about to start. We’re ABBA, the blonde and the brunette lady thereof. Tickets are sold out. The concert will take place in the mirror. We’re either performing or watching or both.
*I only know that one lyric—“Waterloo!”—because I doesn’t have the album at home, but Allison doesn’t care if I fudge. It’s about the vibe of the thing.
We look sexy as shit. We should dress like this every day. Later, in other news, we agree that we have both seen Santa in real life. He was on Allison’s roof, and I offer that he was on mine, too—I figure, why not? What can it hurt?—so she’s probably right that it was him on her roof. Two roofs. It confirms it.
My youngest son, Fred, came home from school yesterday with a picture he’d made of how he’d spent his Thanksgiving. In the picture was the frame of our house with sky above/grass below, and in the frame was our dining room table and chairs, and my friend Morgan and her dog Maisie, who in fact had come over for Thanksgiving. The rest of us were AWOL. We must have all been in the bathroom or something.
Maisie, who’s a tiny little schnauzer-y mutt, looked like a giant fluffy friendly ram, and Morgan was a red-lipped siren wearing yet more red, standing with her arms wide out for a hug.
I love this picture. Morgan’s our girl, all of our girl, and if my children draw her likeness unbidden, that tells you how far she’s inside the bullseye.
Year 2000. This was our first date, our first friendship date. We’d known each other peripherally for a few years, Morgan and I, but one night we ended up next to each other at a bar and we had the classic forehead-slapping,
realization that this is a hot one right here, this is a kindred spirit. So we made a date.
We arrive at Cafe Flora early on a June evening, with sheaves of our favorite poems all bundled up for each other. We were going to do it right from the beginning. Here, a me packet: I’m
lights me up, and
. A little Rilke, a little Wislawa Szymborska, a little Edna St. Vincent Millay, some Hafiz. Oh, man, a you packet. Give it.
Dinner is great, but Cafe Flora’s not enough, not even close. We’re not done. We have to go somewhere else. It’s still light. Woodland Park. We’ll go to Woodland Park. -
How the hell did we choose Woodland Park? That’s not near anywhere we were.
But we go to Woodland Park and sit in that never-say-die midsummer dusk, and we talk, and peel that onion deeper and deeper, and we both confirm the feeling that we’ve kind of left the normal planet and we’ve traveled to some timeless in-between place, like we’re hanging out somewhere eternal that only happens to
like Woodland Park, like we’re old friends meeting, beings who have never not been friends.
I don't know what it is with me and my bathroom, but I can't take a shower or wash my face or do anything in there without thinking about the friendships I've lost. All the dark feelings and cranky thoughts that leave me alone all through the rest of the house swarm me when I go in, and I'm constantly having daydream summits with these lost ones, telling them how it was, asking them why it was, lecturing them, having imaginary encounters where I act like it's no big that they're gone. It's like a friendship graveyard wifi hotspot in there. I'd like to heal these things because it's good for you to do that, but I'd also like to heal them so I could have a plain old shower once in a while.
I’m working on this post tonight and I get a friend request on Facebook. I don’t recognize the name immediately, and we don’t have mutual friends, but glancing at her page I see that she looks like a cool person, so I confirm it. A minute later I get a note in my inbox; this is an old friend from 4th grade, with whom I used to play dress-up in my yard. I remember her. Yes. We were only in school for one year together, so we didn’t hang for very long, but her mom had just found a certificate from me in her childhood stuff, a certificate in which I’d honored her as The World’s Greatest Friend.
When we move away from New York, shortly before my ninth birthday, I go visit Allison one last time. I’m wearing a dark red and white pinafore and dark red sandals, and she wraps a lei around my neck and prepares to take a picture of me. So I do the hula, both arms to one side making a wave. I’m smiling in the photograph, but it’s a sad hula. I don’t want to leave her.