By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, February 3, 2008
You shouldn't be angry when a friend announces she is moving. You can't take it personally. She got a new job, or her husband did. It happens every day. Everything about America says it's the right thing to do. Follow the dream. Reach for the stars. Expand those horizons. Don't look back. Embrace change.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Wendy asks.
"Like what?" I ask.
"Like you want to bash my head against the wall," she says.
"I'm embracing change," I say.
She looks down at her shoes. We both fall silent. I'm sitting down. She told me to sit down before she made the announcement. "I'm . . . sorry," she says.
Five hours away. Maybe six. I don't know. It doesn't matter. It's not in the neighborhood. It's . . . not here. My friend is leaving. "We should fight," I tell her. "We should have a big dramatic argument, so we can dump each other and feel good about walking away."
"All right," she says.
"You start," I say.
"Look, we hardly ever get a chance to see each other anymore, anyway," she says. "You're always so busy."
"You're the one who went back to work!" I point out, realizing even as I say it how stupid it sounds. She restarted her career a few years ago when her daughter began school. Before that, Wendy was a stay-at-home mom and was always available for lunches and play dates and iced tea in her back yard around the little inflatable pool.
"And you were always working, and I had to fit in around your schedule," she says.
"But my schedule was flexible," I say.
She looks at me, winces. We both know what a pathetic comeback that was.
We get back on the subject of the inflatable pool with the slide and the squirting octopus legs. How many hours of our lives did we waste sitting there watching our girls splash around in that thing? I can still feel my feet wading in the shallow water. A puddle. I can still smell the mint in the iced tea. I can still see Wendy's big blubbery dog come running up with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth. Summer afternoons in Wendy's back yard with our two babies with their big bellies and all that joy. I can still remember wondering how to best savor those days, how to hang on to them, how to freeze or bottle or can them like preserves.
"Remember the zoo?" Wendy says. "Oh, my God, remember that little train?"
At this moment, my head gets hot and my eyes well up, so I stand up and start digging through her cabinets for brownie mix. "I hate looking back," I tell her. "You know I hate it, so please stop."
"I'm sorry," she says. Her husband, Tim, walks in. I congratulate him on the new job, joke that it was rude of him not to take me and my family into account before deciding to accept the offer.
A joke. Stupid. It isn't the way it works here in the land of opportunity. Opportunity means splitting from your comfort zone. I did it when I went to grad school. I left my sisters and my brother and his kids and my parents, and never went back. So many of us do it.
I think of Ellen, the woman who has babysat my kids since day one. None of the people in her family ever did it. She still has everyone around: a daughter and a son and six grandkids, and all those nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers -- everyone either within a 10-mile radius or dead. No other choice. Everyone stayed put. Ambition never caught on with Ellen's family, or at least not the kind that grabbed me and pretty much everyone else I know by the throat.
I'm sick of ambition. Or, I'm mad at Tim's ambition. Or, I'm mad at Wendy for sitting by while Tim is allowed to have ambition. When a friend announces she's moving, there is so much anger to throw around that has nothing to do with anything but your own broken heart. "Oh, my God, remember when we took the road trip to Philadelphia to get the puppies?" she says. "Remember, we put all the windows down and pretended we were outlaws?"
"Will you please stop with the reminiscing?" I say. Even under the best of circumstances, I hate looking back. In general, and especially when bad things happen, your best bet is definitely to keep gazing forward. "Don't you have any damn brownie mix in this house?"
"Look, you know we'll always be friends," Wendy says. "It's just going to be a little more work."
"I am not afraid of work," I say.
"Me, neither," she says.
Right. But I've had a lot of that kind of work before. So many friends now so far away. It's the sort of work you can put off, hard work that doesn't always get done. That's what scares me to tears.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.