Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Molting ...

Every year, my yard transforms itself from brown, barren winter blah to lush, green spring. Most of my yard is not the result of my effort. It's the result of perennials that were planted before I bought the house, that dutifully come back, year after year. The foliage of my day lillies snakes like spiky feather boas around my yard. The peonies are ready to explode into enormous blooms. The ivy is climbing, the clematis is, too. Green everywhere.

Last week, I looked out my dining room window and spied something in the grass. I slipped on shoes and headed outside and discovered a patch of feathers and down. There was no bird among it. No evidence of a bird's lost struggle. Just feathers and down. I chalked it up to molting and went back inside.

We don't molt in obvious ways. We may exfoliate, but our sheddings are much less overt. We clean out closets and clean out refrigerators. We strip our beds of heavy blankets and flannel and put on cool, crisp sheets. We switch out our wardrobes and shop for summer shoes.

But the transformations that matter start on the inside. Maybe the change of season plays a part. Maybe not. But lately, I'm very aware of the relationships I'm shedding.

Some friends are temporary. Some are permanent. Sometimes, we think one is one kind and they turn out to be the other. Some friends are daily fixtures, some are peripheral, entering our orbits with a Christmas card or an unexpected e-mail, only to fade again.

When I was growing up, I lived next door to Michele. She was two years younger than me, but we were thick as thieves. I was always at her house. She was always at mine. I spent part of my summers at her family's resort in Door County. Sandy, the neighbor on the other side of Michele's house, would enter the fray from time to time and the balance of friendship would be thrown off, but Michele and I always found our way back to the center.

I was 16 when her family moved away. Michele and I stayed in touch. I'd visit her in Colorado. She'd come back here. But eventually, the visits stopped. We'd write cards and letters. But those began to wane. One year, she called me for my birthday and I didn't recognize her voice. I confess that she was better than me about sending birthday cards. I still think of her on her birthday, but we're not in touch. Her mom and my mom are still fast friends, so I get the occasional update on Michele's life, but our lives took very different paths and we ended up with nothing in common.

I wonder how many friendships are truly balanced. There always seems to be one person who's giving more than the other. I am often that person. And then I wonder if I'm giving more or simply trying too hard to sustain relationships that would otherwise die.

And then there are those relationships that have become so enmeshed that to sever them seems unthinkable and at the same time entirely necessary. It seems strange that people who have grown the closest are sometimes the people who must cut all ties. Sometimes it takes a while for that lesson to sink in and we go back for more.

I once had a bitter fight with a now-former friend that literally left me shaking. How could we have devolved so? I used to tell this person I loved him, yet that day, my parting words, spit out with anger as he walked away, were "Fuck you."

For a long time after that, we avoided each other. Eventually, we came to exchange greetings as we'd pass in a hallway or on the street. Civil, we were. A couple years ago, we almost seemed back to our friendly ways. He suggested getting together for a drink, as we often used to do.

We never did. And I've tried to be in touch with him a few times since then, but it's finally sunk in that that relationship ran its course, and for both our sakes, we could no longer be around each other in any way.

It was a sad reckoning. Painful. And maybe that's why we avoid ending things that we know are no longer right for us. Losing a friend, a true friend, is a form of mourning and we instinctively avoid pain.

Some might say that if a person is a true friend there's no need to end the friendship, that any friendship that's reached a breaking point was something else.

Maybe that's true. Or maybe it was both.

Some relationships end without any appreciable pain. We just drift apart and one day realize that we're no longer friends. Other friendships hang on, a shell of what they once were, but comfortable in their familiarity, the sense that in a crisis, they'd be there.

But others. Others make your heart hurt. When you've come to see another person as a permanent part of your life and one day realize that the day has come to say goodbye? And maybe the other person doesn't even know it. Which makes you wonder if they'll notice that you're gone. And if they don't call, if they don't say, "Hey, why haven't I heard from you?", was it all in your head?

Did you imagine a relationship that wasn't there?


Anonymous Ethan said...

I like the "molting" analogy. In many cases, what seemed like an eternal friendship ends up being the wrong relationship for both parties. For example, elementary school may be a blast, but sooner or later you have to move on to the higher grades. It's not mean-spirited or anything, it's just necessary to grow.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

I just had an errant thought: Since on the surface (without getting into heavier metaphysical stuff) we don't generally know which relationships will last for how long, in the near term we should tell the people who are close and important to us that they are close and important to us. For whatever reason they may drift away (etc) but in the "now" they are valued.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molting, or a very skillful butcher cat, or perhaps a mother rabbit who had started a nest, but was interrupted. Did you know that the songbird populations of Wisconsin and Minnesota have been decimated by feral cats?

5:12 PM  

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