We compliment each other really well, but I have also threatened to take us to marital counseling. I am the jazz hands to her practicality. I am the feeler; she is the rational thinker. Rebecca is a doer and always knows how to fix everything.
That is, until my mom died.
She could not fix me by organizing meal deliveries or covering my classes. She could not draft an email or orchestrate a plan to put my broken pieces back together. In my mind, I just knew that if I ever fell apart, she would know a way to fix it. Instead, we were both at a loss. I unfairly expected her to be everything I needed, which left her unable to even be herself.
Her M.O. is to ball up her feelings and bury them down deep. My feelings are more like a snake in a can. You never know when they will pop out and scare the sh%& out of you. So, I grieved because she would never be able to understand me, and she buried more and more resentment because she didn’t know the right thing to do or say.
I sit here writing this piece now because we found our way back to ourselves and each other. I had to apologize for expecting her to be soft when I have always loved her for being quite the opposite. She had to— heaven forbid— talk about her feelings. And finally, after weeks of stomach aches, forced texts (she is a short texter— you know what that means), countless hours of analysis, and numerous snot nose crying heart to hearts, we are home. And as often happens in my life, I found my way back through a book.
Malaprops, an independent bookstore in Asheville, NC, has magical powers. Every time I go there, the store guides me to a book that I have never heard of that ends up dramatically impacting my life in some positive way. Seriously, this theory has been tested time and time again. I walk in and say, “What do you have for me this time, Malaprops?” Within minutes I have found my treasure. My last trip was no exception. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett was the gift that Malaprops presented to heal my broken heart.
The book cover reads: “This is a tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save.” Patchett writes about her true and beautiful friendship with Lucy. As I read, I gasped at the similarities. I sent Rebecca screenshot after screenshot of conversations that could have been ripped right from the pages of our lives. She recognized it instantly. “This is us!” Yes, she is my Ann; I am her Lucy.
(As an aside, I should mention that Lucy becomes addicted to heroin and dies, so there are a few differences in our narrative, but that is beside the point).
I cried through the final pages of the book and immediately called Rebecca. “We are Ann and Lucy! It is so beautiful! Please don’t ever let me try heroin.” She read the book in two days and vowed to keep me clean.
Ann and Lucy needed each other because of their differences, not in spite of them. Rebecca is dependable, kind, smart and loyal, but she is not a soft place to land. That is not who she is. While I might be the more vulnerable one, I will never offer her financial advice or help with any practical life task, such as taxes. But I will be her biggest cheerleader and remind her “to fix her face” and soften her tone, and she will be my truth speaker and anchor. In other words, I will be me and she will be herself.
As I am emerging on the other side of this ravine, I can see both the truth and beauty in our story. I would be lying to say there were not moments when I felt the dust would never settle on a new, somewhat whole version of myself again. One of the horrible, unexpected side effects of the grieving process is that we often mourn for more than just those who are no longer with us. Of course, I have ached for my mom, but I have cried because I missed my old self. And, I have felt the sting of the way my raw, injured self has clashed with the rock solid relationships in my life.
If grief has taught me anything, it is that the acceptance and love we so desperately need is our own. My mom was my ultimate soft place to land. Without her presence in my life, I have to keep that flame alive and channel what she taught me to believe about myself. I cannot expect any one person to fill that void. Not even the bestest friend I have ever known.
This lesson was not covered in any of the books on grieving. Trust me, I read them all. This journey was uniquely mine and that of the many people I weave into my life story. I am thankful for the growth and healing. And I am thankful for Malaprops and Ann and Lucy. My life is better because they chose to share their story.
And I am thankful for Rebecca. May she continue to speak the truth as I “remind her to find the magic in everyday life.” She will always be the Ann to my Lucy.
“In our friendship I had spent a lot of time telling Lucy to pull herself up, to get over the past and move on. That was my role, the best of my Catholic education in action… But this time I couldn’t do my job...Instead, I told her the truth that this seemed like the saddest thing of all, and I didn’t think there was anything to do at the moment except be sad about what had happened. She was gasping on the phone, she was crying so hard. ‘What am I going to do?’ she asked me over and over again. I didn’t know the answer.”