About eight or nine years ago, when I lived in Chicago, I took up tennis and joined a team. We played other women all over the western suburbs, and I had a partner I played with constantly. We drilled together, we practiced together, we won matches together. It was fantastic. I was really quite mad about her – she was funny, kind, and had a gloriously wicked sense of humour. Sparkling wit, and a ferocious forehand. What more could a girl ask for in a tennis partner?
We went out to St. Charles one afternoon, and though I didn’t realise it at first, Cairy was already acquainted with our opponents. In my pathetic panting enthusiasm to be friendly and introduce “our team”, I stuck my hand out to shake, and said, “Hi, I’m E. And this is Cairy.”
The other girl said, “Hello, nice to meet you, E! Don’t worry, I already know Cairy. But how did you meet her?”
“Ah. Yeah, well, we play tennis together all the time. Almost every day. She’s my best friend,” I gushed.
Cairy looked up, laughed gaily, and added, “Well, in this venue.”
Momentarily taken aback, I gulped, and quickly agreed, “Hah, of course! Tennis best friend, I meant.”
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, because really, Cairy was right.
We were best friends on court, but we really didn’t know each other all that well. We loved playing tennis together and we were tennis best friends. And that was a lovely, lovely thing.
People can have so many different kinds of friends. School friends, childhood friends, workplace friends, neighbourhood friends. PTA friends, “Orchestra mom” friends, lifelong friends, recent friendly acquaintances. Friends share interests, hobbies, car-pools, responsibilities, …whatever. But moving to new places over and over again has altered my feelings about friendship.
Leaving good friends behind is heart-wrenching. I cry bitter tears as I pack boxes and load up possessions, thinking of all the people I’ll miss once I’ve moved on. If one could measure tears, I’d have to say I’ve cried buckets full. After all, we’re on about move number 13 or 14, depending on how you count. So, lots of experience over the last 30 years. You’d think I’d be really good at this by now. And you’d be wrong.
It is always surprising to me, though, how much of friendship is simply being in the same place at the same time. Sharing the same venue, as it were. After moving away, you just don’t share the same experiences anymore. It takes real effort to re-tool the relationship so it can carry on without the continuity of that day-to-day input.
Cairy’s comment, all those years ago, made it somehow easier to let go, with the next move and the next and the next. After all, if you have friends in this venue, you’ll surely have friends in the following one.
And if you ever come back to this venue, why, your friends in this venue will surely be waiting for you, even years from now.
Weirdly, the people who remain good friends after you leave town aren’t always the ones you would have predicted. Some of my very favourite people I’ve come to know and like better after I’ve moved away.
It’s a little bit of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” And it’s a lot about the new intimacies created when you come back to old stomping grounds on a Bunburying expedition. There’s really nothing like a girly sleep-over. That, along with killing a bottle of wine in your PJs, cements the bonds of friendship for good and forever.
I did get to see the beautiful and clever Cairy last summer, when I buzzed through town. She’s still funny and kind and marvellous. I love her now, just as much as I did then. I still consider her a dear friend. Cuz she is.
In Chicago or in any other venue.