Decades later I am still stuck in that moment at the Girl Scout hut when I determined that Carlene W. was the nicest girl in our troop. I wanted to be her friend, and being the direct person I’ve always been, I sat down right next to her during refreshment time with our Hi-C fruit punch and Nutter Butters and popped the question.
“Carlene, will you be my friend?”
Carlene just looked at me with the deer-in-the-headlights look that people have when they are too stunned for words. She stammered out a “sure” but I knew even then that it wasn’t genuine, and suddenly a saw a side of Carlene I did not like, an uncomfortable and aloof side. Carlene had always been nice to me, pleasant, not mean, and I had construed that to mean that we could be friends. We had nothing in common, no interests, aside from Girl Scouts, and we certainly did not live in the same neighborhood. As she lived near the country club, and her dad was the school principal. I lived in a mold-infested house between the housing projects and an arroyo that one should not enter alone after dark.
I didn’t understand that friends were made through mutuality of some sort, could be anything, but mutuality was essential.
Of course, Carlene and I never became friends, but the well-mannered girl that she was also meant that she was kind enough not to tell the rest of the world about my awkward request.
And today I find myself with the desire to ask that random nice person if they will be my friend, and then I remember Carlene and common sense takes over again.
I have a few friends scattered here and there, but I try very hard not to overly tax anyone. The friendships I have, even the small ones, are protected and treasured like the first apples of the season that you run over your face for their dewyness and newness and you just want apple picking to last forever.
Even when I acquire a work friend I’m elated inside. My insides get confused, and think I’ve acquired a dog or become engaged.
A few months back when I started the job I have now I knew I would get along well with my colleague as I had met him at a training years ago. Sure enough, we make a good team. I found myself wanting to go to lunch with him. Such a pedestrian thing, lunch, but I had thoughts of Carlene in my head any time I conjured up the idea of asking him to lunch.
And one day, I did it. I tried to be as casual as possible, and I asked the question, “Would you like to go the XYZ Cafe for lunch today?”
And he replied, “Sure, I’m always up for lunch at the XYZ.”
I walked back to my cube as I replied, “Good, I’m ready whenever, my afternoon has no meetings.” I had to walk away as I replied because I felt myself go teary as he said yes. These days every friendship is a miracle to me.
That was a few months ago. Now we take turns paying for lunch at the XYZ Cafe. We don’t socialize outside of work, though we know quite a bit about each others lives. He knows I have PTSD, though he does not know about the DID. Very few people know about the DID. It’s a small very-manageable friendship with lunch 1-2 times a week, and the Monday morning catch-up of our weekends. It’s small, but still important to me. Perhaps more important than it should be, but that’s what happens when you don’t have a lot of people in your life. You treasure those you do have, no matter how small.
The small friendships matter to me. Other people may call them acquaintances, but I don’t.
For example, I look forward every weekend to seeing Sue, the lady with the red hoodie, at the laundry drop-off place who washes my clothes every week. She’s missing a few teeth, and she’s generally very disgruntled with life. But somehow my cheeriness grew on her, and she cuts me a break on the laundry drop-off price, and is always friendly with me. When I ran in a race at the start of the summer she told me she was worried about me all day because of the record heat. When I go on vacation she’s always happy to see me when I return.
No, we don’t have each other’s phone number, and I don’t even know her last name. But I consider her my friend.
I go to AA, and a version of “Will you be my friend?” lives on in the ubiquitous phone number exchange. It’s an accepted practice to approach others in AA and ask for their phone number. I have yet to ask anyone for their phone number. I’ve been given numbers, but I can’t bring myself to do the asking yet.
Carlene still lives on in my head.