One week after I separated from my ex I started back at work. I remember REGULARLY driving to work with tears and snot pouring out of my face. I would pull myself together in the parking lot, walk into the office and pretend for six hours that nothing was wrong. And when I finished, I drove to Rachel’s house.
Rachel and I worked it out to share a nanny. She worked east coast hours from her home office and I arranged my schedule to be finished around the same time.
When I arrived at Rachel’s house at 2pm, she would be getting off work. Our kids, both one-year-old at the time, would be napping. She had some weight training equipment on her side patio and a program she had purchased online from a personal trainer, so I agreed to lift with her each afternoon while the babies napped. They were BABIES back then! Oh I miss those days.
It’s amazing how few pictures I have of Rachel and me together. I think it’s because most of the time we’ve spent together, we’ve been immersed in our conversation or lifting or playing or all three at the same time. I’m going to count that as a win!
The first week we went at it full tilt. We lifted four days in a row and could barely walk or sit on the toilet, or get up from the toilet by the end of the week. Those weight training sessions kept me afloat through the most difficult and disorienting season of my life. Rachel taught me a little about lifting, but mostly she introduced me to friendship.
I’ve wondered what it was about Rachel and me that worked. If we had met five or ten years earlier, I don’t think we would have had the same connection. The thing that spurred our relationship was our willingness to NEED each other. We really needed each other. For the first time in years, it felt safe to need someone and this opened me up.
I clearly needed her. I had so many problems to unload. In the beginning, my ex was still trying to work things out with me. I had been swimming in the water of my marriage for so long, I desperately needed a view from the shore in order to find dry land. Rachel was the only one outside of my immediate family that I trusted with this.
Her perspective was so healing, not because she’s some amazing therapist-friend, but just because she was willing to let my stories, thoughts and fears reverberate off of her in a way that sent them back into my own ears sounding different. Actually maybe that IS an amazing-therapist friend—good job, Rach!
We talked some issues TO DEATH. When I was crushing on my married co-worker, she heard all of it. And she, so generously, reassured me that I was not a terrible person for this and communicated complete trust in my ability to navigate it.
We shared our joy. We watched our kids grow from one-, to two-, to three-years old. We chased them around the yard, took them to the swimming pool, and watched them play on the living room rug. We indulged in treats and stuck to our diets. We found ways to celebrate the little things.
We talked about all the boring stuff too. Kid drama, work problems, family issues, church responsibilities. No topic, no matter how boring or scandalous, was out of bounds. I know I’m a nice person and not terribly difficult to be around, but I get why people might pull away from someone going through a messy divorce and cancer, that works with mentally ill people. It’s a lot. And it’s not fixable. Really.
This is the biggest gift Rachel gave me. She stayed with me through this—even though she couldn’t fix it. She spent countless hours talking about unsolvable problems, having the same conversation twenty times in twenty different ways. She was willing to talk through the craziness with me, often without offering a solution, just validation that it was hard and that I was strong. And I desperately needed to talk; I needed to bleed out the poison slowly over years.
When I say she stayed with me, I don’t mean that it was one-sided or that she endured me. She was wiling to tell me about her problems too. Some of her problems were big, like mine, but many were the normal-life things. After unloading a story about a bothersome work colleague, she would joke that her problems were small and now we could talk about mine which clearly merited more time and attention. But her willingness to share those things with me was everything. It allowed me to feel like a complete human and not a project. That was essential. I loved Rachel for it. I needed someone who could depend on me and ask me for advice and appreciate my listening ear even when my response was, I have no idea what you should do.
And as we were throwing our problems at each other and ranting in defense of each other, we were proving to ourselves how physically strong we were. Rachel was always pushing for heavier lifts. I followed her lead and I pushed myself too.
I watched my body change along side of my mind, and actually, what Rachel taught me, day in and day out, is that both were strong. I could trust my mind in the same way I could trust my body—and that I could trust my friend.
R is in preschool now and Rachel has two little ones. We haven’t lifted weights together for a long time. But today when I got off work early and had a couple of hours to kill, I went to Rachel’s and I sat on the bed in her guest bedroom/office while she finished work. And we talked for three hours. And it felt like I was following the recipe for a dish, I had made so many times, that I knew it by heart.
As I’m reading through this, it feels inadequate. I guess that’s a testament to the power of small and simple things. How do I measure the value of hundreds of wandering conversations? How can I quantify the effect of a second home for R and me, a place where we were always welcome and loved fiercely?
What about the old man chocolate lab that preferred to lay on the couch? What about the neurotic sheep dog that barked every time the door opened? What about Rachel’s first pull up? What about the sensation of maxing out my back squat and bench press?
What about the repeated viewings of Moana. What about Jared, walking through the back door after work singing, You’re welcome! along with Maui? The races down the front sidewalk? Lying in the grass, watching the kids look for rollie-pollies?
I’m forever thankful for my friend.
“You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.”Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar