To my old friends: you know who you are and you know how much I love you. I'm still enmeshed in my second full repeat exposure to the Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward, and I can't seem to get enough. Not only am I happily drowning in all that leather-clad goodness, but listening to these books has opened the floodgates of my creativity and the ideas are coming almost faster than I can write them down. Talk about a win-win situation. But my personal happiness is not the topic du jour. Or perhaps it is. I just wrote about how the BDB series led me to think about the common human need to belong, and that, in turn, has led me to contemplate the blessings of friendship. Particularly of the long-lived variety (although I have some thoughts on newer acquaintances as well, which I will share in the second part of this post on Thursday).
Old friends knew us before we became who we are. They know what made us who we are—our parents, our siblings, our childhood friends and enemies. They know what we looked like throughout our awkward teenage phase, as well as the disco phase, the Goth phase, and the ever-popular hipster-hooker phase. And they may even have pictures. But we know that they will never show and tell. We can trust them with our secrets. We have faith that they won't betray our transgressions, our pettiness, the times when we were less than our best selves, largely because our best selves had yet to be created. Our old friends knew us before we evolved. And I'll speak for myself here, but my unevolved self was a hot mess, not to put too fine a point on it.
Old friends speak to each other in a special language, and sometimes with no language at all. We have inside jokes and obscure references. We can have whole conversations with a look—kind of like Mac and Barrons in the Fever series. We can meet each other's eyes from across a room and know exactly what we’re thinking. We explode into hysterical laughter at exactly the same time, overcome with a private realization exclusive to us, usually based on a common experience from our shared past manifesting in our current shared reality.
Old friends celebrate and rejoice with us, because they know how much that win meant; they've been there when the tide was against us and understand the toll it took. They grieve with us because they get the depth of our despair; they understood the intensity of our feelings and the true nature of what we have lost. They smile when someone praises our spouses and partners because they've seen what we've chosen in the past and know just how far we've come. They marvel at our children and wonder how the best of us has been passed along to the next generation. They validate, they criticize, they lift us up when we need support and take us down a peg when we've gotten too big for our britches. There is never a question of abandonment or moving on. There are no thoughts of betrayal or exploiting weakness. That is the gift—we can show our soft under bellies (not to mention our sagging tummies), secure in the knowledge that we are safely held no matter what.
Old friends have seen us at our absolute worst and at our triumphant best and they love and accept it all. We can be wholly, fully ourselves, and maybe even take out our inner children together occasionally and play like we're not middle aged women anymore. We can also be middle aged together, assuring each other that whatever the calendar says, we're still young at heart, and we can still rock our stilettos, even if our feet are a bit worse for the wear.
Old friends never bullshit us, and they tell it like it is. But we don't get offended because the advice, or criticism, comes with the associated certainty that even if we do exactly the opposite of what our friend thinks is right, she'll stand behind our decision and be there to help pick up the pieces when it all comes apart, just as she predicted. With nary an "I told you so." Or maybe just a quick one, after we've dried our tears and can laugh just a little at our stupidity and ourselves. Our friends will definitely laugh with us. And maybe just a little bit at us, but with lots of love and tolerance for our foibles and blind spots and our stubborn insistence on doing it our own way and damn the consequences.
At this stage of life, I have friendships that have spanned almost five decades, which is mind boggling in and of itself. The best part of old friends is that we know they will continue to make the journey with us as we embrace each new chapter. They will be there to tether us to the finest parts of our pasts, and to face what is yet to come, both good and bad. They are there to remind us of who we have been and all that we have become, a yardstick by which to measure our progress, a touchstone to hold us to this reality when the path is difficult.
Old friends are like the most comfortable pair of slippers we've ever worn. They are our threadbare pajamas that we can't relinquish because they are so soft and they fit so perfectly and they just feel so good. Old friends are the place we can be ourselves so completely that we can forget we're not alone. And we're not alone. We're living in a Carole King song. We are blessed and rich beyond measure. And not just because we get to listen to all the Black Dagger Brotherhood books on Audible. Lucky, lucky me.