I've just finished reading a book of essays on women and their friendships: She Matters by Susanna Sonnenberg. I love that I can read again, that when I have time I can tear through books one after another as I used to do, before chemobrain temporarily took that from me. But sometimes I wonder if too much life has transpired; I have trouble relating to anything. I kept wanting to see myself in these stories, to gain some kind of understanding, but it was like I was reading a foreign language. I could not separate the stories from the scenes that made them possible: boarding school; communities of artists; Montana; lines of coke on a coffee table in Manhattan. And then, I could not focus on the descriptions of the friendships when I was trying to understand how other things came to pass: an affair with a 34 year old teacher that began at 16 (didn't I learn to ditch school to avoid that very thing?); screwing your good friend's ex-husband; telling a friend who has had trouble adjusting to parenthood "yes you are a bad mother;" being so needy and impossibly intense in friendships; crashing and burning through one woman after another, all the time; resenting a friend for not visiting within two weeks after your baby is born (I just saw a friend who had never met my six year old son, though we live in the same city. I feel no resentment at all); telling a reserved and embarrassed friend about your sexual adventures in detail (why would anyone do this?); sleeping with a female friend out of boredom in France.
I was looking for something else, some way of describing friendship that made sense to me. I was looking for someone to play cards, to tell stupid jokes or make mix tapes or pancakes. Didn't anyone play sports together or drive around aimlessly in cars? What about book club? I've thought a lot about friendship over the last five years, and what it means and how it ends; what people can give and what they can't, and when and why you choose to care. I've thought a lot about how we forgive each other our trespasses. But I haven't really written much about it here. I guess I'm glad I still have some friends left. This cancer, and more than anything, this blog, has created a rift between me and many people. It's hard to reconcile the person I am in everyday life, the goofy vaguely pissed off person who talks loudly with her hands, with this.
And so I read this book and I didn't relate to it, but it got me thinking about friendship. And so because I have time as I sit in the woods in weather more conducive to November than August, I decided to write something about how writing about friendship is different than friendship. It was the only thing I could think to say, and this is where I say things.
For Amy Ishmael
By Katy Jacob
When I was eight, I wrote a story
about what friendship was like at six.
No, that’s not quite right.
I wrote about how it might have been
if we had been friends at ten, or twelve,
how I imagined it would be in that impossible future.
I wrote a story about worlds
when mine was stiflingly small.
The Philippines was another world
and she was going to it.
No one’s parents promised to keep us in touch.
No one wrote letters.
There was one last visit at her house,
but that memory is a cloud.
We both disappeared.
I had romantic thoughts even then,
of finding her someday, of coincidences.
When I was seven, I could no longer picture her face.
I wrote a story that had little to do with either of us.
My story won an award.
I met people, politicians.
I was asked to read to them.
I was supposed to know what to say.
I could not explain that writing that story
was easier than forgetting
or admitting I’d already forgotten.
My details were praised, but what I described
would never come to pass.
I was learning that if you can give a name to grief
and a space to memory, you will be praised.
I was learning that the notion
that nine months in the life of a child held importance
could bring tears to the eyes of adults who hadn’t realized.
I was supposed to be proud.
The world was a lie though, even then.
How could I explain?
I thought somehow she would know,
that the praise I received for remembering her
would mean she remembered me too.
I had written a story.
I titled it, simply, “Amy.” It won an award.
And now I am confessing to you.
What is important to me now
was important to me then.
I’ve just turned forty.
I can finally admit that I’ve never gotten over it.
I can confess to you that I still mourn its absence,
the absence of the story,
the one titled, simply, “Katy.”
I grieve the story that was never written
by a girl in another world
when we were eight years old,
remembering being six.