It’s morning. In one hand, a chalice of china cradles caffeine. The other, a couple of chocolate cookies clutched, is poised to dunk. I am arrested before a steel kitchen sink, pondering the intricacies of friendship. While out the window, a Pipal tree burgeons in the summer heat outwards, skyward. Seven stories high, it’s a giant, a million heart-shaped leaves sussurate hypnotically to me standing still inside, armoured with coffee and biscuit. These leaves, connected to each other through near and distant branches, twist in the wind in all directions, turning toward one another, then away.
Friendship is connection and distance, a puzzle as convoluted as the botanical complex outside. A mystery at the best of times and not as concrete as the concept depicted on classic television. Frustratingly abstract, it does not obey any of the rules and resolutions arrived at on TV and if you go looking for a friend to meet vexing TV criteria only disappointment awaits.
Some years ago, I went to meet a wonderful woman slipping slowly into dementia. In a moment of lucidity, she said something so poignant I never forgot it. The only blissful thing about losing your memory she said is you no longer dedicate hours agonising over all the things people you know said and did to hurt you.
I got really weary one day and asked myself why I spent so much time answering passive-aggressive emails and receiving curiously malefic visits or phone calls that made me feel like I was living in a Jane Austen novel. Austen had a knack for describing the delicate animus in relationships. It feels inexplicable though also sadly pedestrian to encounter subliminal grudges and veiled resentment in unexpected places high and low, conversations online and offline, in relations professional and private, with acquaintances and comrades alike.
And yet we go on, the tree branching forever fractally, doomed to repeating the same patterns every day, finding ever more embroidered ways to disguise that inherent insecurity and spite. Self-deception is useful when we are the ones indulging it, and wearisome in others. In my loneliness I often return to old archetypes and the persons they represent, fooling myself into believing that people can change. But is it just a form of masochism on my part, perhaps an adjunct to solitude? Better the old than the fear of the unknown that comes with the new.
Perhaps the idea of friendship is the ultimate long con. Literature and its derivative television build these constructs for us, as a way to dot our i’s and slash our t’s, which go undotted, un-slashed in the daily grind of our actual lives. I find myself even if momentarily surrendering to the hope that such and such imperfect person full of her own individual uncertainties and gnawing flaws can become a classic friend. Then my naive hopes are inevitably dashed. There can never be or never was such an individual. Casting back, rummaging among my recollections, if there ever was a Gayle to my Oprah, it was just my invention. Another of those self delusions that had helped me along or so I thought. Self deceptions sometimes keep essential truths from us, especially about the people around us.
The human condition is in truth a lonely endeavour, how lonesome that Pipal leaf subsumed in the arcana of its million neighbours. We best dot our own i’s, the best we can and not look to our social bonds for solace that will not come. If solace comes it is always piecemeal and transient. If this is cynical, look at it this way. We put a lot of pressure on our friendships looking for quintessential fulfilment. If I have learned any lessons, it be these: Speak your mind, as politely as you can; Sometimes a little assertiveness, a bit of sass goes a long way especially in the face of casual domineering. Don’t be, what I have been guilty of in my ties, timid. Timidity leads to inequitable friendships. Finally; Read between the lyrics of The Beatles and just, Let it Be, let others be.