I’ve put the most effort in this friendship. The most!
Keeping time is a curse I may have to die with. The rest of them have never kept time and if you ask me that speaks volumes for how much they value this time…and the friendship. I tried to come late for it, but even thirty minutes late I’m still early for our reunion.
The location is simple - Max picked it - no fancy wall art, no comfy looking chairs but for the booth in the corner next to the kitchen door, no classy music playing. But it also lacks any intimacy. I’m not sure if this was a sad coincidence. And I have traveled miles for this get-together. Max could have invited us home - that place is large enough to house an army. I can’t understand why we all keep each other at arm’s length.
I pick out the booth. We may not all be about intimacy but I’m about comfort. I take out my notebook and decide to get a few ideas flowing before they come in.
I don’t notice Max till she slides into the booth. Her hair is longer than I remember, her eyes are brighter than I remember, her fashion sense has come into its own (she comes in dark jeans with a simple white top and the large brown purse we got her when she got into her first job - Max is into marketing, no makeup or other jewellery but her wedding ring) but that smile is just like I remember. Where Max is concerned, I think she was my friend before I was hers. I had always wanted to be her friend since I saw her in high school. She was very…cool in the most casual way. And, if I’m being honest, I always loved her more even though Viv is the one who brought me into the fold.
Viv is still the reason we are getting together all these years later. I look forward to sitting with people who still remember her and don’t act like talking about her is an inconvenience.
‘Hi,’ she starts. And I watch her. There’s already an awkwardness and nervousness surrounding the meeting. Where do we steer the conversation? I had counted on Max to do all the talking but maybe age has made her quieter.
‘Hey,’ I say closing my notebook. Should I bring up her family? Is that a safe topic? Or her business? Or her hobbies? How do I ease her into conversation?
‘Working on a new book?’ she asks instead and I get mad. Mad because in a twelve year career, with about eight books to show for it, Max has never made it to a book signing or sent a congratulatory message or tried to market them to her many friends or anything. She doesn’t get to talk about my work. I give her a tight smile in reply.
‘Maybe you can write a series about our friendship,’ she continues, perusing the menu. I’ve an arsenal of remarks ready to unleash at her but I calm myself. This is meant to be a happy reunion. I decide to signal a waiter. But instead of a waiter, we get Sue.
Sue - dressed to kill in a green dinner dress and heels, a sequined clutch hanging limply in her right hand and something she’s hiding in her left hand behind her back. I dismiss her dressing to being a side effect of her job. Sue is a lawyer. Maybe she had another event and this was inconvenient for her. Sue has always been the aloof one, always acting like she had other friends she’d much rather hang out with. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling to see her.
‘Sue!’ Max says and hugs her. It doesn’t escape me that she didn’t hug me.
‘Hey.’ Sue answers and slides in besides Max. The waiter comes and Max orders for all of us - old habits die hard I guess.
‘What have you been up to Sue?’ I ask to make any conversation I can as I have never been one for small talk. I study the emotion running across her face and before she says a thing, I already know she won’t be sharing anything personal.
‘Nothing much. You guys? You all look great.’ Shallow conversation. I ignore her.
‘And you Max, how are the children?’ I see Sue wince at that. I don’t think Sue likes children much which might explain why she doesn’t have any in seven years.
‘Same old. Same old.’ Max says. And that would have been an OK answer if I knew what ‘same old’ was. I shake away my frustration. The food comes.
We eat it mostly in silence, with a few comments about music and movies (we all avoid books) and well placed gossip about mutual friends. In short, nothing of substance. Nothing intimate.
Max suggests we play a game and then I’ve had it.
‘This is a joke. I’m sorry I invited you here today, it was a mistake. It’s a mistake to think we can grow up and still hold onto a friendship that helped me sail through the pivotal moments of my life. Its been years. Years! And the best we can do is talk about music and movies and other people but ourselves? Have we fallen that far into stranger territory that you can’t mention anything of substance or ask me anything you want to know….’ I break off. The emotion clouds everything I have to say and I decide to cut it short, ‘Call me if you are ready to get real.’
And with that I walk away from our reunion!
I’ve never quite fit in with them. Never!
I thought of sitting out this reunion. I was the last friend they made and found them already a tight unit. There was hardly any spot for me to join in so they attached me to the outside with the glue of the need to belong. Over the years, I have sent messages and emails that sometimes go unreplied but I’ve tried as much as I can to show these girls I’m all in.
Somehow, I still stand out.
I make it to the location (small and forgettable) before Lyn and that’s something. If this was ten years ago, I’d be sending messages and bragging about it. Instead, I sit in my car and wait for the two of them to arrive. I’ll tell the mood from the two - if we are still using ten year old jokes or we are moving on to the selves we’ve become.
I watch Lyn walk by, all proper and in control. She is dressed in a simple denim dress with two deep pockets at the front, her signature scarf tied around her neck and plain brown sandals, no bag - her pockets must be full, and the earrings we gifted her with for her first publication at 23. She makes me appear a little overdressed in my dinner dress and heels. Lyn is a writer, a wickedly good writer. Her career has always been more than enough for her and she looks it. Single and content.
Max comes running past about twenty minutes later. Casual, as only Max could ever pull off, with hair flying in the wind and talking furiously into her phone. Max is a mother. She’ll probably say it’s a lot of work being a mother. And I know that she has other work aside from her home life but the first thought that comes to mind about Max is ‘mother’. And lucky her too, she gets to be a mother. I’m not sure my marriage will survive my infertility. So, of course, I’ve needed company which is why I agreed to this.
I breathe in deeply and prepare to meet the people who were key in all my milestones ten years ago and bridesmaids at my wedding seven years ago. I walk into the restaurant.
‘Maybe you can write a series about our friendship,’ I hear Max say. It seems to be a lighthearted conversation. Maybe we are reliving the past and capitalising on things for Lyn to write about. The book would be a good touch even though it doesn’t make mass publication. Something for us to have for all eternity. I want to use that as my entry point in. Talk about the good times. But Lyn turns and sees me and her face doesn’t necessary scream excitement to see me.
Max on the other hand reaches out to hug me and that hug feels secure. Makes me feel like finally I belong. I want to hang on because it’s always nice to have another shoulder to lean on. She orders for us and I smile a little at that. Motherhood has probably slipped into everything she does.
‘What have you been up to Sue?’ Lyn asks and I’m breathless at how loaded that question is. I wonder where to start, what to leave out and how to deliver the news. I want to talk about work and how I don’t think I’m making the change I had dreamed of. I want to talk about how my marriage survived a divorce but is not out of the woods yet. I want to talk about how much I miss us, miss Viv. I want to talk about how much I want to be a mother. I settle for ‘Nothing much’.
Lyn, as unforgiving as ever, doesn’t allow me to recover from that mistake. I expect her to ignore me for the remainder of the meeting. But it doesn’t matter because all of a sudden I’m not in the head-space for deep conversation. I wish to escape the conversation about Max’s children and luckily enough she doesn’t dwell on them. After that, we talk of nothing of substance till Max suggests a game and Lyn blows up. I barely make out her words as I’m lost in my own mind but I don’t miss her exit. The one phrase that lingers from her impromptu speech is ‘far into stranger territory’. I think I have been in that territory for a while. I examine it further in the silence that ensues.
To say Lyn leaves us in a daze is an understatement. There’s truth to her statement but I don’t think she had to leave like that. Max and I order our desserts. We both don’t want to be here but none of us is willing to cave and walk out next. We talk of more mundane things. I almost want her to start that game she wanted us to play. I think to ask her how she’s handling today. She was Viv’s best friend but I shove it aside as ‘too personal’ and I don’t think we are doing that.
‘How’s work?’ I finally ask Max something with a little more depth.
She sighs before she answers and I wish to take back the question, ‘Not very exciting.’ There’s more to say and more to ask. We both know it but the silence envelops us with its ease and comfort.
In the silence, I think of telling Max about my infertility.…she might understand. Ask her what she thinks of adoption. Ask her anything so that I don’t feel like I’m dealing with this alone…even though I truly am. Max gets a phone call before I have the chance to talk deeply, her children asking her for a goodnight story or if they should stay up late waiting for her. I can’t take it in so I don the jacket they gave me when I won my first case and walk away while she is still on phone.
So much for friendship reunions!
I’m always the one left behind. Always!
I’ve been known to stalk my friends. I spend hours and hours tracking their progress and lives on any social media platform I can reach them at. I don’t know why we fell apart but I’m so proud of who they’ve become. Lyn - best-selling author and Sue - dedicated lawyer. They all moved on and blossomed. I’m the only one who’s desperate for what we had years ago.
Before we were the Quartet, Viv and I were a duet. Then Lyn joined and finally Sue. Viv chose to go live with Lyn when she was sick and I don’t think I have moved past that. On the day we buried Viv, ten years ago today, we agreed to keep in touch and then have a massive reunion today. I didn’t think any of them would be up to it but then Lyn sent out the invitation and I tried to do my part.
I’m disappointed when I see the restaurant that I picked on a whim. We used to do this when we were younger, pick a restaurant at random and go check it out. We enjoyed getting to new places but looking at this restaurant and knowing that we’ve grown into different people, I don’t think they’ll appreciate it.
I see Lyn sitting in the corner when I walk into the restaurant, studying the people around her, her notebook open by her side. She looks the complete picture of success, with her face drawn in strict concentration. I’ve tried to make it to all her book signings but like an evil twist of fate, my children fall sick around that time. I don’t know how to start our conversation. And I know she’ll be stewing over my tardiness (and she’ll never buy the excuse of motherhood)...and so many other mistakes that pile up in ten years of silence.
I go sit with her anyway and convince myself she looks happy to see me.
I ask about her work and I know it is a mistake before I see her reaction. I kick myself mentally. I was supposed to ease her into the conversation not make it feel like an attack. I try to lighten the mood by suggesting she write about us, ‘Maybe you can write a series about our friendship’ as I bury myself behind the menu. I say it as a joke or a way to dip into who we used to be. But her lack of response tells me she’s not taking that comment nicely either. When Sue comes over, it’s a relief and I reach to hug her like reflex. She hangs on and it feels good but I know it won’t sit well with Lyn.
I order for everyone out of habit with my children and hate myself for sinking this wobbly ship further.
Lyn asks Sue something as I collect my thoughts and I miss it. Then she asks me about the children. On any other day, I would love to talk about my walking hearts but not today.
I want to talk about my grief, how Viv’s death still cracks me open like a bad egg ten years later. I want to talk about how much I have missed this friendship and how much I need it now. I want to talk about us without seeming needy or callous. I gloss over her question with ‘Same old,’ hoping we can get to deeper things faster. We don’t get to them at all. Instead we talk of music and movies and other people.
I suggest a game to trick them into deep conversation.
Lyn beats me to the exit. She makes it a little more dramatic than necessary but I hang onto the words ‘grow up and still hold onto a friendship’. I desperately want those friendships that go the distance. I stare after her and think we could try again.
After her exit, I can’t get away. It will come across as rude and…Sue is still here. We get our desserts and talk some more. Sue has always seemed more aloof which is why am not surprised when she asks about my work instead of talking about Viv. Surely, they all know it has been ten years without her and what day today is. And she was such a central part of who we all are right now. But I want to draw Sue close so I answer ‘Not very exciting.’ Which is partly true. I’ve done the same thing for years and I’m hardly seeing anything new. But the exciting bit is that now I want my own company. I think to tell Sue about that.
Before I can, I get a call from home and I’m a little too eager to answer it. Sue walks away during that phone call. I don’t call her back.
I’m not ready to go back to my large home - messy and noisy and quiet all in the same breath, so I order for two more drinks before I’m ready to go and think through the meeting. Lyn will not count this as a win. A sucker for perfection, this can’t come close. But I see that we have the heart for this friendship, we all showed up, didn’t we? And Lyn wore our earrings, I brought our bag and Sue had our jacket that she tried to hide. That speaks volumes.
I start planning and make arrangements. I prepare to have the children away and invite my friends for an uninterrupted night before Lyn has to go miles away. I call them both and give them the plan. They both work better with a sense of direction. I wait with bated breath for both of them to agree.
I’m not ready to give up on our reunion!