Saturday, July 30, 2011

The One in the Hospital.

There are certain senses that elicit emotional responses, and in particular, trigger memories. I heard once that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, and I believe it. 

I spent a couple of hours yesterday at a local hospital having a mammogram (which, thankfully, isn't nearly as painful as I imagined it might be before I had my first one. Awkward and uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? No). Not really knowing where I was going, I ended up parking at the exact opposite side of the hospital from where I needed to be (I'm really good at doing stuff like that), so I spent a good ten minutes wandering through the building on the way to my appointment. Through it all, and the further into the depths of the place I got, the stronger the hospital smell became and the more the memories came flooding back.

Back in 1997 I was 23. After three weeks of a fever I couldn't shake and swelling in my neck and throat, I was admitted to the hospital with the initial diagnosis of acute tonsillitis. On Day 5 of my hospitalization, my lung collapsed and a CT scan revealed a serious infection in my chest cavity that damn near took my life. I spent two straight months in the hospital, was on a ventilator via a hole in my throat, endured 10 surgeries and extreme medication, lost 35 pounds and, eventually, all my hair.

My memory is a bit patchy from the experience, but there are certain (occasionally random) bits that are burned into my brain - like the clink of the glass tubes as the lab technicians set down their equipment on the days they came to take a blood sample. For much of my stay, the curtain was drawn across the entrance to my glass-encased ICU room, and I spent what seemed like hours watching people's feet as they passed my way, inventing personalities and agendas to each set of shoes.

Sitting in the waiting room yesterday, gowned and watching some really awful daytime talk show, my instinct was to block out these memories - figuratively sticking my fingers in my ears and going, "lalalalalala." 

I don't often talk about my illness anymore, mostly because I don't often find a good segue for, "So, did I tell you about the time I was given a 50% chance to live?" But the truth is, it still colors my views and actions, and perhaps it would be easier for those around me if I did talk about it once in a while. With the exception of family, most of the people who knew me when I was sick aren't the people I spend time with today (a cross-country move does a lot to change your social circle).

I'm sure we all have experiences in our arsenal of past memories that we tend to sweep under the rug for one reason or another (surely, I'm not the only one, right?), but maybe it's time we consider taking them out, dusting them off, and sharing them with each other. 

I dunno, yes? No? Bad idea? Good idea?

See, I'm sitting here feeling like, "Oh crap, did I say too much?" just by blogging about it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The One about friendship.

I'm on vacation, and I'm doing a lot of nothing, which is amazingly enjoyable. Currently, while my husband sits in the kitchen trying to pretend he isn't working, I'm watching an episode of Sex and the City - a show that strikes a chord for me, for my generation, and probably for women in general. I particularly love the different friendship dynamics among the four main characters. They mesh well as a whole, yet they're also believable as individuals and in their individual friendships.

It got me thinking about my friends.

I grew up in a small town, and I have friendships that have lasted since kindergarten. Particularly, with my best girlfriend. We met at five years old. Though I don't recall the specific circumstances of our initial "best friends" label, it might have been something as simple (yet profound to a five-year-old) as sharing a cookie.

Growing up, we shared homework assignments, inside jokes, and college visitations. If she weren't a good eight inches taller than me, we might've even shared clothes. When our lives took us to different states for college and beyond, we maintained a connection, albeit occasionally sporadic, that felt like home each time we made contact. She was at my side when I lay, clinging to life, in the Intensive Care Unit in my early twenties. She also flew out for an entire week when my daughter was born, doling out maternal secrets with the perfect balance of love and tact.

Having lived in four different states in the past decade, I haven't been able to cultivate long-term friendships, so I've been taking solace in old friendships, even those I'm guilty of neglecting from time to time. When I was home for my high school reunion, I was excited to get to spend some time - in person! - with my longtime bestie.

So I was literally stunned when, during lunch with a few high school girlfriends, I heard my original best friend refer to someone else as her current best friend.

If my first emotion was shock, my next and more pervasive emotion was guilt. I haven't cultivated this friendship as it deserves. I have taken this friendship for granted. Over the years, I haven't invested in this friendship nearly as much as she has. I was naive in thinking even though we live 3000 miles apart and lead increasingly different lives, that our friendship would remain pristine and uncompromised.

Back at the table, I felt myself flush and I begged a minute away via a trip to the restroom.

I don't blame her for finding a new best friend. I blame myself for not maintaining a relationship that was once (and perhaps remains) the most important friendship in my life. And partly, I don't blame anyone or anything. I know it's normal and natural for friendships to evolve, and even though our friendship may not be the same as it once was, it's still an incredibly special relationship to me.

I'm sitting here making a mental note to contact her and apologize for my neglect.

I'm also left feeling an odd void. If I no longer have a best friend, who do I have? I have friends, certainly, but I don't have that one girlfriend I go to each day for advice, commiseration, support and shared excitement. Instead, I have a circle of friends with whom I share different bits of myself. As time goes on and friendships lengthen, I'm sure some of these current friendships will become less compartmentalized and more broad, intimate.

I do have a army of women with whom I share virtually everything. The only problem? They're literally virtual - it's a small group of mothers who convene in an online forum. In a way, this is fantastic - ideal, even - since working around individual scheduling can put a damper on real world get-togethers, but the truth is, I long for a real-life someone whom I can call without a second thought when something happens that is good, bad, or otherwise.

I guess I wish I had a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte - a small group of women as varied in their lifestyles as they are passionate about their friendships. I think the impetus is on me, here, as there are several women in my life right now with whom I can envision that sort of bond.

Maybe I need to start sharing more cookies...