“She taught me this above all else: things which don’t shift and grow are dead things.”
“There are balances and harmonies always shifting, always necessary to maintain…It is a matter of transitions, you see; the changing, the becoming must be cared for closely.”
from Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony
Real talk: It’s ridiculously difficult for me to make friends because I am so slow to trust others and open up. Usually, I end up making new friends because the new friend is connected to a person I’m already friends with and trust. It just so happens that was exactly how I became friends with one of my best friends in Colorado, Mary. I’ve known her for about eight years now, and for five of those years, we’ve also been coworkers. We’ve always worked well together: she challenges my thinking, my teaching practices, and my constant tendency to withdraw into myself rather than talk much to other people. Our snark and inappropriate factor when working together is, probably quite literally off the charts.
We’re the kind of friends that sit in meetings and have entire conversations just by making eye contact, but still email each other the things we can’t say out loud. Having her here as a friend, coworker, as my instructional coach—and this past year as a co-teacher in AP Literature—has been amazing, a gift. Throughout all of our years being friends and teaching and working together, though not always teaching the same class, Mary has helped me be a better teacher, and on many days, a better person.
But, as we all know, transitions must happen. They are a necessary part of life, a time in which things “shift and grow” and become better, though not always “other.”
Before, when she left our old school to come to the one in which we currently teach together, our friendship was not as strong, and so I didn’t feel her impending transition away as greatly as I do now. Here, in this other, smaller school, our friendship is stronger, and she bolsters me, grounds me, and knowing she is here is a constant comfort. I rely on being able to reflect with her, or, sometimes, just to sit in the same room with her, no talking required.
Now, as she prepares to transition away to a different school again, her move is something I can’t even think about without feeling a growing panic I attempt to tamp down because, hey, I’m the person who doesn’t wear feelings on my sleeve, or show how I feel very often, if at all.
I don’t mean to say that because she’s moving to a different school, I’m losing her as a friend. That is not even remotely the case. But her move does take away that sense of security I usually need to feel comfortable in a place. I suppose needing that security comes from an inherent fear of letting people see who I truly am, and always needing at least one person around who knows “the real me.”
Not too long ago, I made a new friend, almost completely on my own. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes thinking, “My god, you’re closer to forty than not, and making friends is a big deal for you still?” Well, yes, it is. I’m an introvert. I’ve already said I don’t trust easily. I learned from a very young age to hold people out at arm’s length, because the closer I let them to me, the easier it is for them to hurt me. When I told Mary I’d made a new friend, she said to me, “Oh my god, Heather, I’m so proud of you!” It wasn’t sarcastic, because she knows exactly how difficult it is for me to be around people I don’t know, to make friends, to expose myself to what I think of as a risk.
The risk I’m facing now is consistently being in an environment where I have no “security blanket,” no one that I trust enough to send a snarky email to during a meeting we’re both attending, no one who knows what I’m thinking when I make a certain face, no one who knows when I need to just walk away for a minute.
Yes, again, I promise I’m an adult, and I understand this is life, and something everyone has to deal with on a consistent basis. Some of us go to a work situation where we have no one we trust, and some of us work in unfriendly environments; some of us have that one friend like Mary. Life is life no matter how we live it, but it’s almost always easier when we have that person. But, as my husband said to me when I first found out she was moving, again, to a different school, “You can’t follow Mary around until you retire from teaching, Heather.”
Thinking about her move as much as I have been is killing me—so many things lately have been “the last whatever” of us working together—and so, like so many of us that rely on writing to say things we can’t say out loud, this is my release.
This is my way of saying that, beyond any words that I could possibly use, I value and treasure the strong and unique friendship I have with Mary, and that though our friendship will not go away, I will likely feel her absence more in this school than I have consistently felt her presence these last three years. I will miss her challenging my teaching practices as much as I will miss sending her snarky emails and making inappropriate jokes about nearly everything everyone else says. I will miss reflecting with her as much as I will miss saying, “That’s what she said” when someone asks how many of something can fit “in there.”
So, as our teaching careers again take us on two roads, and we transition, and grow, I know we will still care for each other as closely as possible, because that’s how we roll. And I know that I, for one, will have to grow in my ability to let others in, at least some of the time.
Long time, Mary, long time.