Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I'm Taking a Ride with My Best Friend

My rock since the age of 10
~~~

"I swear, I almost lost it today." I said as we walked down the back alley to where I was parked.

"Oh, the moaning guy?"

Kavita and I had just finished an intense yoga class at our favorite studio, which was walking distance from her house. Our hair was slick and our faces aglow with sweat.

"I was right across from him today... and I got eye contact mid-moan!"

She laughed her perfect, feminine laugh that had the pitch and time signature of a commercial jingle. Our yoga classes together were the perfect combination of attention to fitness and bonding over the farcical aspects of it all. The studio we frequented sometimes felt like we were in an SNL sketch, but we were also in on the joke.

"So, hey... I wanted to talk to you about something," Kavita said in a sing-songy voice tinged with a hint of serious.

"What's up?"

"Well, you are one of my closest friends ever.... and for my wedding, I was wondering if.."

|| PAUSE

Brain Voice: This is it! My first time as a maid of honor! Yay!

|> PLAY

"... if you'd be my bridesmaid?"

Brain Voice: Oh. Um... oh. Keep your face pleasant, keep your face pleasant. Don't look shocked, don't look bummed, don't look shocked, don't look bummed. ACT YOUR ASS OFF!

"Oh my god, totally! I'd be honored!"

"Great! You mean so much to me, Sheevs. I couldn't imagine my wedding without you in it!'

"Like I'd ever say no! You're only my best friend!" I tried to sound breezy, "Who else is in your wedding party?"

"My bridesmaids are you, Carolynn..."

Brain Voice: DAMMIT LUMP, GET OUT OF MY THROAT! THIS IS FINE! SO WHAT IF SHE WAS YOUR MAID OF HONOR! SHE'S ALWAYS HAD MORE FRIENDS. SHE HAS MORE OPTIONS!

"... and my maid of honor is going to be... Amy."

The moment she said Amy's name I could have sworn I saw a hint of guilt in her eyes. Or perhaps it was just what I was searching for in that moment. Either way, there was a moment of pause and I knew I had to break the awkwardness with reassurance.

"So awesome, Kav. It's going to be so much fun!"

"I know! I'm so excited!" she said. Another awkward pause.

Brain Voice: This lump is getting bigger and the tears are a-coming so get the hell out of here!

"Okay, well I should go. I need a shower bad!"

"Okay! Thanks for saying yes, I love you." Kavita came in for a hug despite the breeze-dried sweat coating our bods.

"I love you, too," I squeaked out as I closed my eyes in a futile attempt to dissolve the oncoming tears. We parted and I looked down at the concrete as we said our goodbyes.

I sped-walked to my car about 100 yards away hoping she couldn't sense my trembling lip and flooded eyes through the back of my head. Even though I reacted pleasantly and said all the right things, I knew deep down that Kavita could tell I was hurt. That's why we've been incredibly close for so long. Best friends. Well, she was my best friend... at that moment my heart was breaking knowing I wasn't hers.

-------------------

Welcome to the post I've been dreading for a long time. In fact, I'm still not ready. This is a hard thing to write about because it cuts into those recesses of my soul that make me cringe. Even though I'm confident about the progress I've made, it still doesn't make it any easier to reflect on times of great selfishness. But I cannot deny it, for most of my life... I've been a shitty friend.

Pride's-maid
The opening story was a turning point for me. Jealousy was an emotion I had long dismissed as useless and beneath me, and I had been cruising on a jealous-free streak for years. But, I had to admit on that drive home... I was jealous. I couldn't deny how close Amy and Kavita had become, but I took for granted that our history would carry more weight for that kind of decision. Throughout our friendship, Kavita had that quality which drew people in, so her friends-circle was always larger than mine. The girl's social life was constantly jam-packed. While there were times of feeling a bit lost in the mix, I never thought for a second that our bond could be weakened by her robust social circle. That conversation in the parking lot launched me into a deep dive on how I've contributed to my lack of social circle. And it hasn't been an easy one.

The Early Days
It was the late 80s and another Indian party was in the weekend plans. I figured I'd see my usual friends, eat the usual Gujurati fare (or pizza, if the host was feeling generous) sitting on a newspaper island, watch the Saturday night line-up on tv (Golden Girls followed by Empty Nest) holed up in one of the bedrooms, and wait until my parents were ready to leave sometime during SNL's Weekend Update.

I had no idea this particular party would be where I'd meet Kavita and the trajectory of my life would change. She was a tiny thing with shiny brown hair and big brown eyes who had just moved to Michigan from California. My memory betrays me as to every detail of our meeting, but I know we bonded over the fact that we were both gymnasts and it snowballed from there. We had all but abandoned the rest of the kids at the party and were in our own world. Our conversation easily rolled from one subject to another and we laughed all throughout the night. Little did we know how many laughs and chats we'd enjoy together for years and years to come.

Kav and Sheevs
Kavita and I were inseparable for the better part of our tweens and teens. Countless weekends spent at each other's houses, sleepovers, movies, going to the mall, you name it. It was as close to a sister as I could have imagined. We had our own language, tons of inside jokes and plenty of in-depth conversations about every trivial concern that youth presents. I mean, was Tom Cruise hotter in Top Gun or Cocktail? (Always Cocktail) She was my refuge from the mean girls in junior high, the nice girls with whom I couldn't seem to connect and really, from myself. As I wrote about in a prior post, I never felt like I belonged, so sometimes I'd recoil and feel sorry for myself. Kavita changed all of that. It was a friendship the likes of which I had never known before, and from the onset, I knew it was very special.

As you grow up and learn about yourself, the same happens with the close friends in your life. This was no different for Kavita and myself. Once we broke out from under our parents' roofs and our worlds broadened with college and beyond, so did the situations that tested our friendship. We saw sides of each other that were surprising and, sometimes, we didn't like what we saw. We got through those strenuous times, but not without some temporary bruises and permanent scars to our relationship. Looking back, I know I could have handled so many of those times with more maturity... after all, Kavita had been the one constant in a revolving door of friends, and many times, I neglected her needs in favor of my own.

Shit Streak
Sigh, here's the tough part. I've never been under any delusion that I'm perfect, but looking into yourself and facing all the shittiness is on par with watching a sex scene with your parents. It's uncomfortable and you just want it to end. Unlike watching simulated humping next to your mom, the outcome of this soul-searching is positive and totally worth it. So... here goes:

The Ways I've Sabotaged Friendships:
  • Avoided calling friends back
  • Put boyfriends ahead of friends
  • Never reached out to friends in need 
  • Forgot milestones and special occasions
  • Pretended to be too busy to help friends out
  • Took friends for granted
  • Avoided conversations to address real concerns
  • Lied in order to maintain an image
  • Got defensive if any of these shitty actions were confronted and never took accountability
All of this started in junior high and continued from there. In a nutshell, I was selfish. If I wanted to hang out with my boyfriend when I had plans with girlfriends, I'd ditch my girlfriends. If a friend was going through a hard time to which I couldn't relate, I'd make up excuses to avoid them. I hated talking on the phone, so I lost some friendships because my selfish ass couldn't be bothered to call someone back. Now, I know these could be a lot worse. I wasn't shitty in the sense of starting rumors about people or stealing dudes away. It was the lack of nurturing that slowly eroded relationships that, believe it or not, I did care about. But, I didn't put in the work, took them for granted and then played the victim. So gross, right?


A Deserved Honor


~~~

I met Amy in college through a mutual friend. She was a casual acquaintance until my last year at MSU, when we became very close. I introduced Kavita to Amy, and their bond was born after Kavita moved into a house just a street over from where Amy lived. For awhile, we three would all hang out together and have the best times; parties, dinners, bar nights, movie nights, long chats about anything and everything, etc. But, me being me, my attention strayed to my new boyfriend (now husband), and I selfishly left that incredible friendship behind. Amy was one of those friends who could turn your mood around with one conversation. She was soft-spoken, wise beyond her years, incredibly thoughtful, funny and a damn good time. While I was off in new-love bliss, Amy and Kavita's friendship blossomed into a beautiful relationship I didn't fully understand until years into it. That day when Kavita told me Amy was going to be her maid of honor, I finally got it. I had been too busy nurturing my relationship with Paul, all the while starving my friendship with the one person who really understood me from the age of 10. I could be as jealous as I wanted, but I could never deny that Amy deserved to stand next to Kavita on her wedding day. She was there for her in a way I wasn't for some of the most transformative years of Kavita's life. Sure, I checked in every now and then, but if you'll refer back to that list above, I'd also committed some crimes of friendship that no real best friend should ever be guilty of.

Amy died of cancer at the age of 37. I attended her memorial and it was one of the most beautiful events I've ever been to. In a huge tent on her front lawn in Traverse City, over 300 people gathered to remember her and say their goodbyes to this incredible person. By the time Amy had been diagnosed, she and I had grown apart to the point where our only contact was "say hellos" through Kavita. I was so angry that she was robbed of the long life she deserved. I was also so angry at myself, for squandering what could have been an amazing friendship with Amy. As I sat and listened to person after person speak about how Amy impacted their life, I couldn't help but think of how idiotic it was to let that friendship slip away for absolutely no good reason. That day I vowed to carry on how Amy had lived, and become a friend who isn't selfish and who shows her love every chance she gets.

It's Not Me, It's You
I tell you what, being a shitty friend sure gave me a heightened awareness of when I'm being treated like a doormat. I've given myself a well-deserved flogging in this post, but I do have to recognize that there have been a good amount of relationships I needed to kick to the curb. While I spent a lot of years trying to get validation from the wrong people, this self-exploration into my own actions has helped filter out a lot of folks who I didn't realize were toxic to my well-being. Also, I don't need a ton of friends... and that's okay. I still enjoy nights by myself and rather than seeing that as a flaw, I choose to own that as a part of who I am. People like Kavita are just naturally social, and I've spent a long time feeling lesser than because my calendar didn't look like hers. I'm finally learning that as long as I'm tending to those special friendships that enrich my life, I'm on the right path.

Never Let Me Down Again
My best friend is Kavita Desai Mears; always has been, always will be. I feel so fortunate that my missteps of the past didn't sever the bond we established back at that Indian party. She has taught me so much about love and friendship purely by example, from dropping everything to be by my side during my father's last days to frequently checking up on me after the move to Denver...  and about a million other little things. I hit the jackpot with her and I'll never take her for granted again.

Today, I know I'm a better friend. I'm not looking to tally up a social circle that will fill a sports arena, but rather surround myself with positive influences with whom I can genuinely invest my time and love. I check in, I help when they're in need, I listen when they need an ear... I show up. Life is too short to be a shitty friend.

--------------------

I recently found a note in my daughter's backpack that she had written to a classmate. In it, she stated that she didn't appreciate the way this girl was treating her and that she "didn't deserve it." My eyes immediately welled up with tears for a couple reasons; first, I hated that some little twerp was being mean to my sweet girl, and second, heart-swelling pride for how she confronted it. I asked her if she'd just written the note or gave it to the girl. She told me she gave it to her, but the girl just flung it back at her after reading it. We discussed how that made her feel and some of the specifics of the situation. It wasn't anything major, just the normal crap that starts around 3rd grade. She sighed and looked at me with her sad eyes and I saw myself.

"Sweetheart, if someone shows you they aren't interested in being your friend, just let them go. But for the friends who are kind to you, take care of them and return that kindness and love... always."


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