For several years one of our best friends, S, has been inviting us to join her family on their annual vacation. We’ve declined the invite in years past for various (obvious) reasons. This year, despite many scheduling conflicts, we decided to go ahead and join them for a week at S’s grandmother’s house in the Casco Bay region of Maine.
I spent the drive from PA in a mild state of panic over spending an entire week in the company of S, her family and the other, unknown guests.
T and I first met S when we bought the house we lived in ‘before.’ She and her husband, K, had purchased the house across the street a few months prior and were eager to meet the new neighbors. Soon after that first introduction we were pulled into their orbit and joined an assortment of friends and family members that attended S’s elaborate dinner parties and various holiday celebrations. S’s easy sociability and complete lack of self-consciousness was the perfect antidote to my surly, homebody ways. As neighbors we shared countless meals, discussed numerous home renovation projects, debated issues, lamented the sorry state of our crumbling inner-ring suburb neighborhood, and generally shared our lives. They kept an eye on our house when my father’s death required an extended stay in PA. They were among the first people to know we were having twins and then, later, among the first to know that we had lost R.
We started to drift apart somewhat ‘after’. First S stayed away because she was afraid that her daughter might pass a communicable disease to C. Then we decided to move back to my hometown when C was just under a year old. We’ve stayed in touch via email, facebook, and occasional visits but it’s been a while since things have felt easy and comfortable. The fact that they’ve been more fortunate with their childbearing has played no small part in this distancing. They’ve had two perfectly planned pregnancies and two successful homebirths and are now the proud parents of two healthy girls--just like we would have been if things had gone differently. Although they have been nothing but caring and supportive over the past two years envy is poison to friendship.
Upon arriving in Maine my anxiety dissipated somewhat, eclipsed by our new surroundings. The weathered cottage sat atop a rocky hillside overlooking the ocean-- roughly a century old and wearing its age like an eccentric dowager. The stair treads worn with use, the plaster cracked by a settling foundation, and the mismatched dishes chipped by generations of vacationers, yet it all came together somehow in a quirkily elegant way. The view over the water brought to mind a piece of moth-eaten lace—water dotted with land fragmented by seismic activity, the scrape of ancient glaciers, and the harshness of wind and water. The enthusiastic welcome from S and the other guests and an offer of ice cream sundaes mitigated the stress of an eight-hour car trip. We settled in for a relaxing evening and an excellent night’s sleep.
On the first morning of our visit I went for a walk on a path running between the cottage and the water. The rocks, which had looked sturdy and uniform from the house, gave a completely different impression from this closer vantage point. Huge chunks had been flipped end over end and broken into pieces by the awesome forces at work in the Earth’s crust. Striations created by sedimentation marked the rocks as siblings but the lines met at crazy, vertigo-inducing angles, a testament to the power of tectonic collisions. Far below, waves crashed against the rocks continuing the tortured process of transformation. Venturing even closer I could see yet another landscape among the tumbled boulders. Water had collected in the spaces between and within these tiny pools, sheltered from the surf by the upended rocks, plants and animals had made their homes—a nursery formed by violence, balance brought about through chaos.
During our week together, watching C run around the yard with S and K’s older daughter and play peek-a-boo with their baby, I started to feel a resurgence of comfort and ease. Though our friendship may lack the bright shine of the days when we were full of optimism about the future and plans for our unborn children it’s taken on the patina of something old and valuable. Though our peaceful lives were set awry by loss and tragedy they will eventually return to a state of rest. The jutting edges of disaster and grief will be worn smooth by the caress of friendship. The dips and gullies that have opened between us will nurture a new kind of understanding. A relationship begun in shared experience will grow richer through difference. And I will learn to make the most of what is rather than long for what could have been.