Allison and I met at a dinner party held at someone’s industrial loft/apartment out in Brooklyn, with the Brooklyn Bridge looming grandly in the windows. The loft was so big we played Frisbee, and at one point a person circled around on roller skates. It wasn’t a huge party, there was lots of space for in-depth conversation, improvisational in nature, going from topic to topic to topic. At one point, during a conversation about religion, things got heated. But not in an ugly way. It was heated in an engaged way. To quote Anne Sexton, these people are “my kind”. The party went on late, and I headed home via subway at an ungodly hour. Allison was also heading back into Manhattan, so we commuted back together. We sat in the echoing empty-ish subway station waiting for the train, continuing the conversation that had been going on in the loft. We talked about religion. We talked about the hotheads at the party and what we thought of their hothead-ness. We rode the train back home, talking the whole time, in that otherworldly intimate feeling that Manhattan at 2 a.m. can sometimes bring. Then we parted ways. See ya!
We would eventually become the best of friends, although I had no idea during that midnight subway ride that that would be the case, although I can see the birth of our eventual friendship and the form it so often takes in that initial conversation. Allison and I have always cut to the chase. We get to the Big Topics. We hash them out. We pull books down off of shelves to illuminate this or that point. We have spent hours discussing IDEAS. Of course, we have also spent hours discussing Celebrity Rehab. It’s a good mix. But there it was, that first night: who we would be to each other, what the friendship would be. I felt enriched by my brief time with her. I still remember that conversation and some of the things we said to each other.
It’s a funny thing, becoming really good friends with someone as an adult. I have friends whom I have known since I was three feet tall. We have grown up together. We have made it through changes, and alterations in our personalities. Oh, so once you were this way, and now you are THIS way, and let’s try to adjust. Sometimes you can’t make the adjustment. People drift apart. But I am fortunate to have friends who “knew me when”. I value continuity. But to make a friend in your thirties. A true friend. An intimate friend. I’ve only got a few of those, and I treasure those friendships so much. They still have the same improvisational quality (all good friendships must be in flux in order to survive). But you are more formed as a human being (hopefully). You, hopefully, know how to value a friend in a way that you might not have when you were 14 and took such things for granted. But still: it’s a leap to become really good friends with someone. It’s like deciding to date someone. Friendship, as I define it, takes time and attention. I am not interested in shallow friendships. I value my acquaintances, for sure, and do not require soul-upending depth from every interaction. But to become a True Friend to someone takes a moment of recognition, first of all, that that is where these two personalities WANT to go. And to become a True Friend means you have to take that risk. In my experience there is the same feeling inherent in first dates and flirtatious initial interactions. Will this person like me? If I tell them this thing about me, will they shrink away or judge? Only way to know for sure is to take the risk and share such-and-such thing and gauge the reaction. Is there a sensitivity to the details? Is there the capacity for inspired listening? Is there a simpatico sense of humor? All of these things reveal themselves in the initial moments of getting to know someone.
And in our first conversation, Allison and I were in sync. Perhaps not on our specific ideas (we often disagree), but in HOW we talk.
However, a friendship was not born that night. It was an opener. Neither of us followed up on it, though. Neither of us suggested we should catch a movie sometime, grab some dinner. Maybe we knew we were in the presence of someone who would become Important to us, and it made us shy. That certainly happens. In retrospect, I can see that happening with many people who become truly great friends of mine as adults. Jen, Ann Marie. Our initial dealings with one another were very open, and yet with a shyness behind it, a sort of, “Hmmm, should I take the leap here? Because if I do, man, we will be friends for life.” Of course it’s not a bad thing to be friends for life, but if you’re like me, if you’re the type of friend who is loyal and true and devoted in an old-fashioned sense … then, yeah, you’ll hesitate before you let just anyone in. It’s a time commitment! You have to be sure!
I can still remember my first conversations with Jen, with Ann Marie. They were eloquent of who we would be to one another. But it took time to warm up to full-on Kindred Spirits.
But what is fascinating to me is that the entelechy was there in the initial conversations.
I’m not sure of the timing, but the true breakthrough for us came later. Our mutual friend Rebecca, the one whose party in Brooklyn it was, got married out on Block Island. Four of us New Yorkers who were all attending teamed up and rented a car together. They were: Felicia (still a good friend), a guy named John, and Allison. I knew Felicia through work (we both worked with Rebecca), and of course I had met Allison that one time. I did not know John at all. And it was one of those magic weekends that casts a long shadow. We all still reference it from time to time. Even though we all were there for Rebecca, some alchemical magic erupted between the four of us, due to the close proximity of our car ride as well as sharing rooms at the hotel on Block Island. By the end of the weekend, we had become inseparable as a group. We even went out together as a group a couple of times afterwards, because we hadn’t had enough. John was awesome. He was in his glory, hanging out with three women. Of course we tormented him by talking about gynecological functions in his presence, merely to tease him, and of course he did not disappoint, and reacted with, “Girls. Please! That’s gross!” Which, naturally, made us talk about tampons even more. The weekend was a beautiful one, Block Island was gorgeous, and there were many good friends gathered. And Allison and I, to put it mildly, hit it off. There was one moment when we actually, unironically, held hands and skipped across a field.
The breakthrough had arrived. And there was no turning back.
The overall feeling was: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
That was 15 years ago, maybe. I lost count. Since then, we have had many adventures. Some of them were actual (we went to Ireland together, for example), and some were just intellectual and emotional. Our favorite thing to do, as friends, is hole up in her apartment and watch movies and TV shows devoted to forensic pathology and murder. Our shorthand for this is “Blood Everywhere.” A couple of weeks will pass without us seeing each other and either she or I will email the other, “I’m feeling in the mood for a little Blood Everywhere. What’s your availability?” I have lost count of how many things she has introduced me to (movies, books, TV shows) which I not only responded favorably to but fell in love with to the nth degree. I love that aspect of our friendship.
There are the small moments I treasure. One time, we pulled out her dictionary and looked up famous people. We realized that you know you’ve really made it in the world when they actually include a picture of you in the dictionary. We played this game for hours. There was one day that glowed like a jewel, for no apparent reason, or no specific reason, it was just the accumulation of details, and we both still reference it. A beautiful crisp fall day when we went to go see Reds, playing in a movie theatre for its 25th anniversary. Allison bought a pizza and snuck it into the movie theatre, draping her coat over the box. “What does this look like?” she asked. I said, “It looks like a pizza box under your jacket.” But the whole day had this perfection to it, the weather, the feeling, the conversation we had afterwards about the film … our friendship and how it operates, in full force. Any time there’s a perfect autumn day, we will refer to it as “Reds weather.”
She knows everything about me that is worth knowing. She’s there for me. She is honest with me. She can cut me down to size and I usually appreciate it afterwards. I love how her mind works. It never ceases to fascinate me. I always want to know what she thinks about things. It’s usually not the expected. She has a very interesting “way in” to the things that engage her. I always want to hear about it. I still remember one dinner at a restaurant in Greenwich Village where we somehow started talking about Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley, and Allison happened to have done this whole term paper on what that book was about and how far-reaching its implications were. I still remember her telling me about that paper, telling me about how she thought about that book and how often it comes up in her mind. That was early on in our friendship and, again, contains the entelechy. This is not to say that there is not an emotional content to our friendship. As a matter of fact, these intellectual or philosophical discussions ARE emotional. It is how we get to know someone, it is how we are let into how that person’s mind works.
In many ways, that first conversation between us about religion on the echoing chilly subway platform has never ended. It is ongoing. It is a conversation we have never dropped, never let go of. It has taken on different forms, it has deepened, for sure, and there is always room for more Blood Everywhere. But it’s all part of the same organic phenomenon.
Today is her birthday, and I am so glad that we both took the risk to become real friends. I am so glad that we took that fearless leap.