Maybe it was the wine. It could have been the wine. But, whatever it was, there was this moment when the energy changed. You wouldn’t have noticed it unless you were one of the three of us. Sitting at the edge of that bar table. Talking over the music. Forgetting, for a minute, that we were at a party with 20 of our friends.
"I’m just saying… you can’t force things. Friendships have a limit. We’re friends Here. We’re friends Now. I don’t expect anything more."
"But you must believe there CAN be more…? Some people are capable of maintaining long term friendships… and some people get a lot from the friends they’ve had for years."
"Honestly, Jess, think about your oldest friends… what do you really ‘get’ from them?"
"I have lots of long term friends… good friends…"
"But that’s perseverance… and after a while it’s just forced. It has to be. People change. I expect my friends to change. And because they change I expect them to stop being my friends at some point. There’s no hard feelings. It’s just finite. That’s the reality of human relationships."
"But that expectation limits you… don’t you think? If you’re always expecting people to change and evolve past your friendship-- then you’re never fully investing in them. Your philosophy makes you hold back… and if you’re holding back, how do you ever know the real potential of your friendships?"
"Maybe you don’t. But, I’m telling you-- it’s safer-- no, smarter, that way. No one gets disappointed. No one gets hurt."
Brad wears a red bandana and a button-up shirt. Last month he dredded his hair and it’s finally looking nappy enough to qualify as proper dreds. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sarcastic wit, intelligent banter, life of the party… that’s Brad. He’s addictive. People fall for him all the time.
And then, apparently, they fall away.
"No, Brad, I agree. Especially since coming to Peace Corps. I totally believe that now."
Holly has been listening to the conversation for 10 minutes in silence. When she speaks her voice trembles in a way that makes me look at her a moment too long. She wears a purple sundress and long curly hair. She sips red tinted vodka through a straw.
Holly’s been here a year longer than us and she can feel it. And I can feel it. The thickness of Away. The attention to Change.
"People disappoint you. People forget. The oldest, deepest friendships I’ve ever had just fell apart when I left."
Holly talks into her vodka and Brad smirks at me over the rim of his glass.
"You know what it was: they knew I was happy here… they knew I had met a nice guy… and that seemed to be enough… and so one by one they just stopped writing."
This is that strange little island between stone sober and sloppy drunk where people get cynical, emotional or philosophical. We manage to reach all of three of these and sit in silence for a moment. The music and the lights and the booze feel far away.
"All of them?"
"Yup. Every one. Even my most of my family. I’m going home in 3 months and I have no idea who will be there. Or how I’ll be with them. I mean, how do you go back to those relationships now that you know how shallow they are…?"
Brad slams down an empty beer glass and lets out a brash sigh.
"Yup and That’s Is Life. That’s people, Hol. It stops sucking so much when you stop expecting everyone to love you eternally. That’s not realistic. It’s society. It’s movies."
"But there are exceptions, I say staring at him and holding the air like that.…Brad, come on, you have to admit there are SOME people in your life who’ve stayed. You must have some people who you still enjoy… who still fill you after years of friendship…"
"Sure, some. But they’ll go. And I won’t ask them to stay."
Someone throws a round of shots on the table and the music leaks in and Holly gets dragged to dance and Brad gets snapped into a photo and I’m left standing on that tiny little island with the weight of a very heavy ache that is not my own.
That conversation happened well over a month ago but I have played it over in my mind so many times since then.
People let you into their Pain here in a way they never would at home. They’re more open here because they have to be. There is only so much solitude and difference and stillness that one person can hold on their own.
And so I pick up this thing they’ve placed on me. And I look at it long and hard. And I realize it is true… this painful reality…. but also relative…
like so many truths.
I don’t relish seeing people in pain. I care about Brad and Holly and I hate to see them hurting.
But something about that conversation did help me. Like someone stretched out the spectrum in front of me. Like a map or an ocean. And I looked at that space for a long time and saw myself there and felt incredibly lucky. And incredibly comforted.
Thank you to the Email Writers who talk me through my days.
Thank you to the Package Senders who break the monotony with surprises.
Thank you to the Letter Writers who give me pieces to hold on to.
Thank you to the Phone Callers who nourish me with voice and laughter.
Thank you to friends, families, colleagues, classmates, professors, old friends, new friends, best friends, boy friends, and even strangers who have taken the time in big and small ways to support me in this experience and affirm their commitment to whatever level of relationship we’ve built.
This is the time when it counts. This is the time when it is needed and appreciated without the shadows and distractions of home.
Some relationships are finite, yes. But there are also those that are strong and constant.
I am incredibly alone here.
But I have never felt so far from loneliness.