When I saw Camille’s WhatsApp message, my breath caught. Nobody asks me to think good thoughts and send prayers when everything is fine. And with Camille, everything was not fine. She had found a mass in her breast that was rapidly growing. With an ultrasound and a biopsy lined up, Camille could do nothing else but wait for the procedures. And reach out to the people she knew cared deeply for her.
I stood in my bedroom staring at the phone in my hand, summer light streaming in through the open blinds, the sound of my kids calling to each other in the backyard. And I desperately tried to remember the last time I saw Camille. It had to have been at one of our kids’ birthday parties. Which kid? When? The years have all blurred together and between us we have five children who pull us in as many different directions. Plus we have husbands, extended families, careers, and friends in our neighbourhoods and through work. This has left childhood friendships at the bottom of the barrel and the disappointment in that was never more apparent to me than on that August afternoon when my friend’s health was at risk.
Camille and I met in junior high school when we were 14 years-old. We instantly connected over rap music and Little Caesars’ Crazy Bread. Her kindness and penmanship blew me away. I knew this was a friendship that would see us to old age.
I sat down on my bed, tears welling up in my eyes, and thought about the things we had been through: first serious relationships, the frustration of being caught between what we wanted and our indestructible desire to please our parents, the joy of being taught by some incredible teachers, the excitement over high school graduation and the freedom we thought adulthood would bring. We attended each other’s weddings and kept in touch while I was away for my master’s degree. As we birthed babies, we celebrated them and ourselves and also pined together for sleep and easier days.
But what sets my friendship with Camille apart from others is that she knew me when I was nothing that I am today. She knew me when I was a young girl. She knew me when I was single. She knew me when I didn’t even know what speech-language pathology was (my first career) and she knew me when I was infatuated with writing but never dreamt I could be a writer. She knew me when I was obsessed with the idea of wearing makeup but wasn’t allowed to wear any until my 16th birthday – a day she celebrated with me by buying me my first tube of MAC lipstick.
Did you hear that? She knew me when my biggest problem was that I was not allowed to wear makeup. In other words, she knew me when I lived in a completely different universe than I do now.
A friendship like that is rare and sometimes undervalued. And I was sad and even ashamed that I had let it get to the point where a pleading text in the face of a potentially life-threatening situation was the first I’d heard from Camille in…God, how long was it? And when did I reach out to her last? When did we get beyond the frustrated, disconnected text message conversation we were having about trying to meet up between conflicting children’s schedules and traffic times through the bridge and tunnel? Sadly, we didn’t. And then months went by before I received the kind of message that really gives you pause.
I’m thrilled to say that since that WhatsApp message, Camille and I caught up over breakfast with my youngest colouring on her kids’ menu at the table, too. She has undergone a few more biopsies and testing and is being treated for something not life-threatening. She and I have the chance to be friends for decades and decades longer.
So, how are we going to use that chance? I’d like to say that we decided to move into the same neighbourhood, send our kids to the same school, and have family get-togethers every weekend but that’s far from the truth. We each love where we live, what we do for work, where our kids go to school and all the people we have met that represent the current version of who we are. We can’t and we won’t change that. But maybe we can look at our time a little differently, both our schedules and the grand concept of time…as in what we have on this earth. Maybe we’ll still go a few months without seeing each other, but not a year. Maybe when we have that opening in our calendar (that looks kind of like Heaven’s rays beaming through the clouds) we’ll think of filling it with each other.
One day our kids will be grown up and tethered to us in such different ways than they are now. We will find ourselves with a lot more space in our lives. Many women who are in the thick of their child-rearing years say they will wait till then to nurture the friendships they have. That doesn’t really work for me.
I need my women friendships, and I need them now. I need them when my youngest throws an epic tantrum in Walmart and I have to leave without buying a thing. I need to throw a quick text to my girlfriends to say how much I am looking forward to our Saturday night outing, share about the tantrum and have them reply, “I hear ya.”
I need to laugh with a girlfriend who has known me since I was just me: “Remember when I thought Toast of New York looked good on me?”
I need the women in my life who have my back in my business. They know my goals, they know the grind behind the growth and they lift me up every step of the way.
And no, I don’t think that detracts from my motherly duties. In fact, it makes me a happier woman and that can only make me a better mom.
I also will not put off nurturing my women friendships until my children are older because I have seen a woman do that – my mother – who didn’t live long enough to focus on anyone but her kids. I know she looked forward to ‘her time’ and I think it’s a damn shame she didn’t get it.
We have priorities as moms and we have priorities as women; sometimes it seems like the two cannot be reconciled but I believe they can.
Without waiting for another health scare, I will choose to value the women and friendships in my life.